How to Toggle-off Your Mental Filters (and Stop Annoying People)

pathfinder consulting

When Presales guy Paul entered the Zoom call with his prospect customer Ben, he saw it immediately. The yellow mustard blob on Ben’s blue collar.

Like his uncle Stuart often had, when Paul was little. A funny man with grey sideburns who loved to tell stories and let Ben ride on his shoulders. “Sloppy uncle Stu“, his dad used to call him. Cause he smelled, had bad teeth, and didn’t care much about soap. “We don’t like people who don’t care about soap“, his mom used to add.

Great you made it, Paul“, Ben smiles genuinely. Looks down to his notes on squared paper. “Here’s what I wanted to discuss with you. About our MVP. These digital marketing campaigns don’t reach the target groups we expected...”

You did it all wrong“, Paul interjects. “You should have set the filters differently. Should have paid more attention to the dashboard. Frankly, that’s a very sloppy use of the software.”

Ben looks up, adjusts the right temple of his rimless glasses. “Oh, is that a fact?“, he adds. What follows is a short and polite requiem to the unsuccessful MVP, and the end to what should have been a successful partnership.

Filters influence your perception – and limit your creativity

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
— Anaïs Nin

☝️ You see a person through the filter of your past. Values, experience, and associated feelings influence our view of the world. As a former professor of mine used to say many years ago: there is no truth – just intersubjective verifiability. Even though we claim things we see, know, experience are true from our perspective, doesn’t mean they are true from another person’s perspective.

✌️ You see a person through the filter of other people’s opinion. Imagine if you were told right before a customer meeting: “Oh, he’s quite a character!”, “Mhmm, she’s so difficult…”, “Ah, he’s definitely got a hidden agenda if you ask me!”. Of course this would trigger something in you. A memory of a difficult person in your past, the feeling you had. Would you still look at your customer objectively? Probably not.

🤟 You see a person through the filter of unconscious bias and common stereotypes. People with overweight? Lazy. Old people? Slow and conservative. Women? Bad with technology. Sales? Talks too much. Presales? Too complicated. Customers? Uninformed and backward. – These are just a few examples of unconscious biases that implicitly affect our perception, our thinking, and our actions. Our brain loves to take shortcuts.

Why is it important for a Presales Professionals like you to toggle-off your filters?

Once you free yourself from those filters you…

👉 …build better rapports. You will find easier access to people, and the rapport will be more sustainable if you don’t judge but take your counterpart as he/ she is.

👉 …ask better questions. Open questions instead of closed, suggestive questions that limit the outcome of a potential answer.

👉 …listen deeper. Your interpretation of information you receive will be more focused on topics, not on politics or circumstantial mental noise.

👉 …design better solutions. Your solutions will be centered around your customer, not around the person you think it is…

How you toggle-off your filters?

Here’s the hard part. (The one I can help you with as a coach and trainer.)

Identify your bias – and understand where your thoughts come from.

Either work with a coach, a friend, your partner – someone who really knows you well – to reflect your usual thinking patterns.

Or do it yourself, using the ladder of inference. This powerful mind tool navigates you through unconscious steps of your thinking process that transforms reality into your actions.

Argyris, Chris (1990): Overcoming Organizational Defenses: Facilitating Organizational Learning

At the first step of the ladder, there is “reality and facts”. Starting there, you:

  • Experience these selectively based on our beliefs and prior experience.
  • Interpret what they mean.
  • Apply our existing assumptions, sometimes without considering them.
  • Draw conclusions based on the interpreted facts and our assumptions.
  • Develop beliefs based on these conclusions.
  • Take actions that seem “right” because they are based on what we believe.

Source: How to Avoid Jumping to Conclusions

Using this tool, you understand that your assumptions and beliefs, that are grounded in a selection of reality, influence your actions. So inadequate beliefs (‘this guy is dumb‘) might you to actions (‘displaying arrogance‘) that create reactions (counterpart gets silent, defensive and/ or aggressive) which confirm the beliefs you had in the first place (‘I was right, he is dumb!‘).

The ladder of inference helps you to break this vicious cycle. (I can show you how and guide you through.)

There are many more effective tools and techniques that might resonate better with you:

The tipping point

Keep challenging your thoughts. About customers you meet. About solutions you design. Also, openly test your conceptions and ideas with your customer during discovery. Throw them over board if they prove to be misleading, don’t cling to them. Remember: it’s not about you, it’s about your customer.

Be sure, there is more to a person than you see. Don’t judge. Don’t let a situation or your own filter blur the intersubjectively comprehensible view on a person.

…one more thing

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