What’s the single most important skill that a sales professional — and, really, all professionals — can have?
This is a question I often ask workshop participants. And I often receive the usual responses: Product knowledge! Adaptation! Listening!
When that happens, I nod as I move the conversation from person to person. When I finish, I pause a beat and say, “It’s none of those.”
The single most important skill that a sales professional can possess is resilience: The ability to recover from failure. And I don’t mean bounce back; I mean bounce forward.
University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman, who is director of the Positive Psychology Center and former president of the American Psychological Association, has done groundbreaking research in this area.
One of his studies was done with the financial services giant Northwestern Mutual Life. When asked to review a survey given to prospective new NML salespeople, Dr. Seligman noted that they weren’t testing for resiliency. They added “resilience” to their hiring instrument and — voila!— the resilient salespeople who were hired wound up outselling everyone else.
How do you become more resilient?
The first thing you must do is be aware of what’s going on in your head, often referred to as your mental dialogue. Your self-talk impacts thoughts, emotions, actions, careers and, ultimately, the rest of your life.
The following quote, attributed to everyone from Mahatma Gandhi and Ralph Waldo Emerson to the president of a leading supermarket chain, illustrates this cause and effect:
Watch your thoughts, they become words;
Watch your words, they become actions;
Watch your actions, they become habits;
Watch your habits, they become your character;
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
The point is made even more elegantly in one of my favorite books of all time, As a Man Thinketh, by philosopher James Allen and originally published in 1902. (It may very well have been the first “self-help” book.)
“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself,” Allen wrote. “He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”
What are you building?
If you want to become more resilient, it starts by dealing with your thoughts and whether or not they are aligned with reality.