This is exactly what we find when it comes to the process of making decisions. The art of supporting people in making powerful decisions is a very mysterious gift, and the people who are the best at using this gift reap the biggest rewards. We can, however, unravel some of the mystery and come to understand some of the secrets behind the decision-making process, which is also the secret to the close.

In my last column I noted that one of the most crucial parts of the sales process is the initial small talk. What I suggested was that in addition to the usual chatter, you ask a simple question, and as the person answered you can discover his hidden strategy for making decisions. To get you to that question, I recommended you ask, “how did you first get started in your (business, career, industry, etc.)?” or “what do you find most challenging about (being retired, your line of work, etc.)?”

While the person is answering, we are listening for any point at which he expresses having made a decision, and then we ask them the critical question to discovering how they think: “How did you decide that?” These are process questions that will unveil the mental steps the person follows to come to a conclusion and take action.

Let’s say the dialogue goes like this:

Me: “So Jim, I’m curious, how did you first get into the medical device business?”
Jim: “Well it’s funny you should ask, Sarano. I was at first planning to be a doctor, but when I completed college I took a summer job in medical device sales.”
Me: “Wow, that was an unexpected change. I’m curious, how did you decide to take the medical device sales job?”

Here is where deep listening comes in, where you begin to listen beyond the content to the process they are about to describe. All decisions have a directional component and there are only two possible directions: toward or away from, a kind of variation on the theme of “fight or flight.”

So let’s say that Jim in our example above says, “Well, my family was pretty poor and I had to work my way through school washing dishes, and I was determined to never have to do that kind of work again to make a living. So I went into medical devices sales for what I thought would be mostly a summer job.”

How is Jim motivated in this example? Is he motivated to move toward something or does his answer indicate that he is more prompted by moving away from something? The answer is that he went into medical device sales to move away from being poor and washing dishes. If Jim had said instead, “I saw medical devices as a way to make more money than I had while washing dishes and it seemed like exciting work,” then clearly the motivational direction would be toward.

Remember, this is all being ascertained during the small talk. Jim has no idea that by answering your question he is telling you not just what he did or even why he did it, but more importantly how. But it is not just “how he got into medical device sales,” it is how he chooses or decides anything. This is one of several critical patterns of decision-making I will share with you as we discover the secret of helping people to make powerful decisions.

The most obvious implication is that when you begin your sales process with Jim by talking about what you do and when you make your final recommendation, how will you frame it? Will you frame your solution as helping Jim to move away from or avoid a problem, or will you frame your solution as helping Jim to move towards what he wants in life?