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Changing the World of Sales: Organizational-Change Expert Rick Maurer

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Rick Maurer has built his entire career on helping professionals and organizations deal with change and persuade others to support ideas—two of the core values that are most relevant to sales. With a background in special education, psychology, and organization development, Maurer can teach you all about sales, although he has never formally studied or trained in the area at all.

Maurer went to college to study music before he went on to get his master's degree in special education with an emphasis on disturbed children at The George Washington University. His plan had been to do music therapy, "the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music-therapy program," according to the American Music Therapy Association. Once Maurer started working in public schools with disturbed kids after graduation, his career took him in another direction.

Much of the study and work that Maurer concentrated on in graduate school supported the notion that it is not the children who are disturbed—it is the schools that are disturbed. This way of thinking prompted him to work to convince the school he taught at to change its methods of teaching. When Maurer, a 20-something recent graduate with long hair and a beard, proposed this rapid change to his fellow faculty members, they looked at him as if he was crazy.

"All I had going for me was youth and arrogance. Over the course of a couple years, I came up with ideas that I thought were really good. I would present them to faculty, and I would just get people rolling their eyes. I found that I wasn't successful in getting my ideas across," he said.

Later on in life, Maurer started to realize that his hair and youthful appearance were not what prevented the success of his ideas. When he went back to school to study organization development, Maurer began to see why the faculty was not open to what he had to say.

As a result of his studies, Maurer was encouraged to further explore the power of influence. In 1978, he started his current consulting company, Maurer & Associates, where he has done a lot of management-development work. In the 1990s, he decided to go back to school again.

This time, Maurer went to the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland (GIC), where he studied an "eye-opening" approach to resistance. According to the GIC, "gestalt" means a complete pattern or configuration. A gestalt is a perceived whole. Gestalt theory is rooted in perceptual psychology, holism, and field and systems theory. The institute taught a less judgmental way of approaching resistance that intrigued Maurer and revitalized his way of thinking.

"The notion was resistance is there for a good reason. People come up with resistances to cope with life. If you try to beat it out of people or tell them it's a bad thing, the resistance gets stronger," he said. "The institute focused a lot on the principles that resistance is a good thing in the eyes of the person who is resisting, and resistance only happens as the result of a relationship between people and groups—people are not born as resisters."

This idea got Maurer thinking about how he could apply it to the advice he gave his clients and their organizations. The principles of the institute's teachings suggest that if a person (or a buyer) is resisting, it could be the presenter's (or seller's) fault.

"We need to be willing to step back and say, ' can I be contributing to this? Maybe it's the way I presented the idea. Maybe it's the timing,'" he said. "I looked back at my work as a young man in schools, and here I was, with counterculture written all over me, not listening to these people, not having any respect for the fact that they had 25 years' worth of experience, and I had one. I thought, 'No wonder they didn't listen.'"

In addition to later teaching at the institute, Maurer was able to take these ideas and enhance his teachings as an organizational-change expert and consultant. In his study, he was able to identify three levels of resistance:

Level 1: Based on Information

This resistance is based on information: facts, figures, ideas. It is the world of thinking and rational action. Level 1 is the world of presentations, diagrams, and logical arguments. (PowerPoint was invented for Level 1.) Level 1 may come from lack of information, disagreement with the idea itself, lack of exposure, or confusion.

Many make the mistake of treating all resistance as if it were Level 1. In other words, they give people more information—better arguments, detailed facts—when something completely different is called for.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I am a jazz musician; I play the trombone. I play a lot locally, and I was accepted as a substitute for the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Musically, that has been a real high point for me.
Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
A. This is really obscure. Grachan Moncur, III, a jazz trombonist from the 1960s.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. Fortune.
Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. HBO's Rome.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. John Coltrane. The guy had amazing discipline, and he practiced all the time. I have tremendous respect for him. This guy got where he got because he worked his butt off.

Level 2: Physiological and Emotional Reaction to This Change

Level 2 is a physiological reaction to the change. Blood pressure rises, adrenaline flows, pulse increases. It is based on fear: people fear they will lose face, friends, even their jobs. In The Emotional Brain (Touchstone Books, 1998), author Joseph LeDoux refers to this, quite fittingly, as "the fear response." It is uncontrollable. Level 2 can be triggered without conscious awareness.

LeDoux states that the emotions, not the intellect, are the basic survival mechanism of all living organisms. They are what warns us of danger and allow us to take action instantly, before our conscious mind even knows what is going on.

Imagine talking to your team about a proposed restructuring. People ask you Level 1 questions: "How much will it cost? When will it begin? What's the timeline?" Then you mention that there is a slight possibility that this could result in downsizing. Suddenly, two-thirds of your team drops to Level 2. You may as well quit going over slides that speak to the rational mind; these folks are responding from a different part of the brain. When they are working from Level 2, they perceive the situation as dangerous, and they are preparing for fight or flight—even if they are not aware of it.

Level 3: Bigger Than the Current Change

This is deeply entrenched stuff, bigger than the ideas at hand. People are not resisting the idea—in fact, they may love the idea itself—they are resisting you.

They may resist because of their history with you, or they may oppose who you represent. Some traditional management-labor relationships are Level 3. In these divisive relationships, no idea can be judged on its own merits. The Level 3 relationship almost guarantees that people will oppose any idea.

In addition to these levels, one of the major elements that Maurer implemented into his technique was developing and nurturing relationships with clients and coworkers so that established foundations will help with future endeavors to gain support for ideas. Trust is a huge component in sales; otherwise, the seller may be on Level 3 with a buyer, almost guaranteeing a no-sale situation. Even if the seller is trustworthy, if the buyer does not trust the company, the sale probably still will not happen.

Over the years, Maurer has compiled his findings and training in his books, Why Don't You Want What I Want? How to Win Support for Your Ideas without Hard Sell, Manipulation or Power Plays; Beyond the Walls of Resistance; Feedback Toolkit: 16 Tools for Better Communication in the Workplace; and Caught in the Middle: A Leadership Guide for Partnership in the Workplace.

Maurer attributes much of his success to the example of his father, Ed, who he said "reeked of good ethics." His father owned a furniture store when Maurer was young, and he always watched how he treated his customers. The quiet integrity that Maurer's father exemplified was never taught to him, per se, but it spoke louder than words, affecting Maurer deeply and importantly.

"He's had a tremendous influence on me and how I work with my clients—not in terms of techniques but about what's right and wrong," he said.

On the net:Maurer & Associates

The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland

The George Washington University

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