The hidden danger of studying sales persuasion techniques

The hidden danger of studying sales persuasion techniques

The best salespeople I know are those who are life-long learners with a true passion for communication. They read books about the psychology of sales, visit workshops about persuasion techniques, listen to audio recordings about influence strategies, and they utilize the knowledge they acquired in their day-to-day job.

That's great. But there's a hidden danger many aren't aware of, and I see many junior sales reps running into the sales psychology trap. It's hurts them, and it hurts their prospects.

I'm talking about oversimplifying things to the point where it distorts the reality of what's happening in front of them. I'm talking about overeagerly applying labels to people. Don't make generalized assumptions based on isolated signals.

When overconfidence leads to ignorance

Especially because we salespeople possess more knowledge about human nature and the psychology of communication, we need to be more attentive to other people. It's too easy to become a victim of our own "good judgment".

It's great if you're able to read body language. It gives you an advantage over most other people who not only aren't aware of how to read body language, but don't even look at others closely enough to notice their body language. But don't overdo it.

It's great if you can profile whether someone is predominantly processing information visually or auditory or kinestetically ... but don't assume that they "are visual" just because they used a couple of visual predicates and speak quickly.

It's great if you are perceptive enough to notice these things. You want to have that kind of awareness, which allows you to read between the lines and consciously pick up signals.

All these signals are just the tip of the iceberg. People are more complex than that. Don't assume you understand their deeper feelings because of your superficial observations.

The danger is that you'll often find your first interpretation to be the right one. And that can make you believe that all your first interpretations are right—which is always wrong. But at that point, you're so confident in your own judgment that you're not open-minded enough to notice it.

Acquiring the knowledge is easy. Applying it (correctly) is much more important.

Fortunately there's a simple three step process that you can use to keep your own judgments in check.

1. Observation


Most salespeople are pretty good at observing their prospects. They watch their body language, listen to the tone of their voice, pay careful attention to the exact words they use.

Get out of your own head and focus on your prospects.

2. Interpretation


The next step is to interprete what you observed. Ask yourself: what could this mean? (Not what does this mean!)

This is where your knowledge of body language, personality types, sales psychology, NLP and influence techniques is helpful. Many of them provide helpful frameworks that help you to quickly classify an observation, and come up with a set of likely explanations.

But just because an observation you made matches something you read in a book doesn't mean that this is the case. So you need to validate your interpretation.

3. Confirmation


Continue observing until you can see a pattern. Don't make assumptions on isolated observations. You can't know whether an individual instance is a reflection of a larger underlying pattern or just an outlier. If you can consistently observe a particular reaction in another person, only then do you have a stronger basis to make an assumption.

Example: Saying "yes" but shaking their head

Sometimes people will say "yes", and at the same time shake their head "no". Now this is a pretty obvious mismatch between their verbal and non-verbal communication. But so far, the observation you made is just this: They said yes, but shook their head "no" at the same time.

Now how do you interpret that?

  • It could be that it was in fact an incincere yes.
  • Maybe they just told you yes because they want to be polite or because they think saying yes is the easiest way to get rid of you. But maybe there's another reason.
  • Maybe they always shake their head when they say yes.
  • Maybe they always shake their head when they are really excited about something.
  • Maybe they are shaking their head because when you asked them something, another thought came up, they pondered it for a second and then shook it off (physically shaking their head) and told you yes.
  • Heck, maybe they just have something wrong with their neck!

So now you want to narrow it down to the most likely reason for this mismatch.

One way could be to get them to say yes to something else that you know they are fine with. Are they shaking their head there too? If not, then you can conclude that they do not always shake their head when they say yes.

You can bring up the same topic again and observe how they react.

By process of elimination you can identify the real cause of that mismatch.

Or you could just ask them: "Hey, I noticed you said yes and shook your head at the same time. I just want to confirm if you feel really good about moving forward, of if there's something we should talk about first." The point is that you find an external confirmation for your internal interpretation.

Closed body language or coffee stain?

I once gave a seminar where, in the front row, there was a person who had a totally closed body language: arms crossed, legs crossed. And most body language experts will tell you that this is a strong signal that they're closed to your ideas.

I noticed that person's body language and thought, "Wow, this person really hates my talk and probably thinks I'm totally wrong!"

Fortunately, the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy my talk, so it didn't throw me off my game. I just kept going with my presentation, all the way until the end when everyone stood up.

And Mister Closed Body Language? He got up, uncrossed his arms and revealed a huge brown coffee stain on his shirt. THAT was the reason for his crossed arms—he was just trying to hide the coffee stain, not close himself off to my ideas.

More observations, less judgments

Use your senses more than you use your mind. Be open when you communicate so that you are really aware of what's going on. Don't become the kind of person that's filled with well-informed prejudices.

Next time you catch yourself judging or interpreting someone else, ask yourself: "Or what could be another explanation for that?"

See a guy with crossed arms and legs? "Oh, this guy is totally closed to new ideas! ... or what could be another explanation for that?"

Hear someone using a lot of abstract words, appealing to reason, making logical arguments? "Oh, this is obviously a left-brain person! .... or what could be another explanation for that?"

Move beyond the easy answers to understand (and influence) people better. You'll experience the depth and richness the world on a deeper level. You'll make more sales and close more deals.