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We Are All Standing in the Middle of Referrals
Training your ear to tune into the needs around you.

Before your BNI meeting, you may be thinking, “Who can I bring a referral to this week?”

I used to be concerned about this regularly until I realized that we are all, each and every day, standing in the middle of referrals. They are all around us – we just aren’t paying enough attention to them. Part of our brain has something called a “reticular activating system.” Your reticular activating system is like a filter between your conscious and your subconscious mind. It is capable of taking instructions from your conscious mind and passing them on to your subconscious mind. For example, have you ever been in a busy airport with announcements coming over the loudspeaker, noise from all the hustle and bustle, people talking all around you but then your name or your flight number is announced and all of a sudden, you think, “Wait. That was something I need to hear.” That’s your reticular activating system at work.   Your subconscious screens out things you determine that aren’t important and it alerts you about things you think are important.

I never fully believed this until my first born child was born. I used to be able to sleep through anything – and I mean virtually anything. There was once an automobile accident in front of my home. Police and ambulance sirens, neighbors, and multitudes of people were outside my front door. I’m told the noise was deafening. I don’t know because – I slept through it all! I discovered it the next morning when I walked out my front door – only to find police tape across the walkway!   Like I said, I could sleep through almost anything.

A few years later, I was about to welcome my first child into the world and I was worried – really worried. What if she woke up at night crying and I didn’t hear her? That would be terrible. I went to bed the first night really concerned about that. Around 2 a.m. I sat straight-up in bed and realized that my daughter was whimpering (not even crying loudly). I immediately nudged my wife and said, “Honey, I think the baby’s awake” (I know – women everywhere hate me now). But forget about the lousy husband issue; think about the power of the reticular activating system. It’s incredible. I could sleep through an automobile accident outside my front door, but I woke up with the slight cries of a baby. Our reticular activating system is incredibly powerful.

We have that same power as it relates to referrals.   We are all standing in the middle of referrals every day. They are all around us. We simply need to put our reticular activating system to work in order to hear them.   For that to happen, we need to start by listening for the “language of referrals.” Whenever anyone says to you, “I can’t,” “I need,” “I want,” or “I don’t know,” whatever they say next is most likely a referral for someone! These phrases (along with many others) indicate that the person talking is in need of something. That something they need is a possible referral that you can give. If you train your reticular activating system to open its filter and recognize those phrases you will almost immediately increase the amount of referrals that you can give to your referral partners.

Giving referrals is one of the best ways to start “getting” referrals (especially in BNI). Giving referrals begins with opening your mind or reticular activating system to hearing all the referrals that are all around us each and every day. When you begin to do that – a whole new world of doing business opens up to you.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author.  He is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI (, the world’s largest business networking organization. His book, Networking Like a Pro can be viewed at Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company (


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20 Responses to “We Are All Standing in the Middle of Referrals”

  1. Lynn Hill Says:

    Great information. I will try using this week by opening my mind even more during our networking time, and asking some direct questions as to what I can do to help them.

  2. Nigel Gilham Says:

    My RAS (reticular activating system) was activated yesterday whilst training delegates on a first aid course. One delegate is renovating a house and so I was able to refer 7 Chapter colleagues (Electrician, Plumber, Window Installer, Carpenter, Carpet Supplier/Fitter, Decorator & Insurer). Ears at the ready everyday!

  3. Jeff Nolan Says:

    Dr. Ivan – Love this post. So true regarding babies and our ability to filter information. I will definitely pass this post along to our chapter (45) here in NYC. Thank you for your continued insight and leadership. Much appreciated!

  4. ballal c n Says:

    Thanks Dr. Ivan. Reticular activation. I’ll start practicing the same hereafterwards. Thanks

  5. G Sampath Kumar Says:

    It happened to me also – sleeping through the noise but when the baby makes a small noise it wakes you up. Never thought about this till now when you mentioned reticular activation. Thanks – learning a lot at BNI.

  6. Dave DeWitt Says:

    No sense leaving $$ “on the table”……keep listening and listening and listening

  7. John Jackson Says:

    I can totally relate to the story of RAS with my many years working in the auto industry with the noise of various machines all around. We had air driven pumps (over 100). If one of them quit, I could hear it and know there was a problem. My job was to fix it promptly. Maybe this has helped me to refer people in my chapter.

  8. Lucília Says:

    Good warning! I think we just have to pay attention to our priorities and how to use our tools (in each environment) to keep us awake.
    Thanks for waking me up!

  9. Stefan Westbunk Says:

    Thank you! You discribe the best way doing business and generate referrals – listen and focus on the needs of others every day.

  10. Michael Beach Says:

    Great reminder of the power of the human brain. I find that when I try consciously to remain alert to the opportunity to refer business to my friends in the chapter and in other chapters, I hear my R.A.S. talking to me more often. Thanks for an excellent reminder!

  11. P.Nagaraj Says:

    Very informative. I will try using this in every week meeting with open mind and also during open Networking , and asking some direct questions as to what I can do to help them.

  12. Susan Wilson Says:

    Ivan, great key words to keep in mind: “I can’t”, I need”, “I want” and “I don’t know” will definitely perk up my ears after reading your blog. I’m sharing this with our Natomas Founders BNI group next week.

  13. Reenie, "The Plant Lady" Says:

    I experienced this very thing at a Chamber of Commerce morning coffee today. Carefully listening to conversations I was sharing, I was able to give two BNI referrals, provided one introduction, and found a visitor who can’t wait to join BNI today. I insisted he attend a meeting first!

    Reading your many choices of referral education, including this newsletter, has helped me develop these very skills!

    Thank you for all of the valuable information I have gained so far! I always look forward to your next broadcast!

  14. John Hoime Says:

    I hope everyone in our chapter reads this article. Very helpful.

  15. Aileen Dawe Says:

    Exactly the same thing happened to me with my baby. My mother always had to wake me when someone serenaded me with full mariachi band. I was worried I wouldn’t hear my baby. My mother laughed and said nature would be at my side. Not the same words, but the same principle. Thank you. I will clean out my ears and pay attention!!

  16. Quintin Tu Says:

    “Our reticular activating system is incredibly powerful”, yes, I truly believe. I discovered this when I was 13-year-old. That is the tool to build a subconscious self, for personality building. Its amazing!

  17. Ross Davis Says:

    This article is also very beneficial for people who need ideas for a more effective training moment.
    Being in the IT Service industry, I always try to train my BNI members to listen for certain phrases such as “I’m sorry this is taking so long, my computer hasn’t had its coffee yet” or “our internet is really slow.” By repeating these things each week, my members become more alert to think about referring me when they hear these things. The more often we are reminded what to look or listen for, the easier it is to refer.

  18. Sam Mugavero Says:

    Dr. Misner,

    Great stuff! We coach our clients on using their RAS. The results are outstanding!

  19. Prakash Chugani Says:

    The RAS really works…its just a matter of priorities and whats important for us! If giveing referrals is, then we all have hundreds of contacts and everyone, at everytime, has wants.

  20. Dawne Brooks Gulla Says:

    BNI works because of the ” “reticular activating system” and we train it well by the weekly presentations and seeing each other weekly so that we have top of mind awareness.

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