Losing Control of Your Persuasion Case? Find Something Positive to Take Away

Staring straight ahead, firmly gripping the wheel, the driver fixated on the snowy road in front of him. His jaw clenched, he steadily — subconsciously, perhaps — pressed harder on the gas pedal as he and his vehicle pushed onward through the driving snow. But he wasn’t thinking about the road; instead, the driver’s mind was on everything else: his job, his finances, tomorrow’s schedule.

Then, as a toy car is at the mercy of a child’s hands, his vehicle began to hydroplane, sending it into three terrifying 360-degree spins before finally smashing into the snow-covered median. Heart pounding, eyes wide open and still gripping the steering wheel, the driver quickly and repeatedly thanked his Creator, and vowed from that moment forward to be more in control behind the wheel.

That driver was me.

If you’ve ever lost control while driving, as I did that frightful winter night, you know how harrowing the experience can be. Losing control can happen so fast, and for so many reasons: driver inattention, road conditions, other motorists’ actions. But to arrive safely at a given destination, you must either be able to retain focus or be skilled enough to drive through any type of conditions.

And so it goes with so many other aspects our lives: relationships, sales and, yes, persuasion. Hopefully your persuasion situations don’t involve live-or-die scenarios (even though at times they may feel that way). Remember, each persuasion attempt can be valuable, even if you ultimately don’t hear “yes.”

Find something positive to take away from each one, and I bet you’ll wind up hearing “no” less frequently.

Stop Twisting Reality into Negative Knots

“Cognitive distortions” is a fancy way of describing the way we twist reality in our own minds. Below are five examples of cognitive distortions that prove problematic for people seeking to improve their persuasion skills:

1. You take one event or incident and apply it globally to any given situation. For example, you make one mistake in a presentation and now tell yourself that you’re a terrible public speaker.

2. You listen to your pathological critic. That critic might be using absolute terminology such as “always,” “every” and “everybody” and “never,” “none” and “nobody.” It’s easy to fall prey to consistent thoughts containing words like those.

3. Your mind is trained to only see and hear certain things. And those things are typically negative: a critique, a look of displeasure, an injustice.

4. You focus too much on your external critics. Madonna once stated that there was a period in her career when all she could perceive was the negative. She’d perform a killer show, with the crowd on its feet all night, but Madonna’s eyes would always find the handful of people who looked like they weren’t having the time of their lives. And that’s, unfortunately, where her focus would lie.

5. You dwell on complaints. For example, although the majority of respondents to a user survey might appear to have gone out of their way to be complimentary about your company’s products, services and customer relations, the few complaints are the ones you can’t stop thinking about.

Sure, it makes sound business sense to be aware of the negatives and evaluate how you can do better. But concentrating the majority of your energy on them without celebrating your accomplishments can seriously derail the self-esteem train.

So this week, focus on the positive and see if you a notice a shift in your persuasive effectiveness.

When Persuasion Hits a Bump, Follow These Five Emergency Actions

In a previous post, I discussed “assent turbulence” — that feeling you get when your persuasion efforts encounter some bumps. I suggested five emergency procedures to follow when that happens.

Below are five more that continue with our airplane pilot analogy.

Here’s what to do when you hit a rough patch of persuasion-related turbulence:

1. Correct the pitch.

Allow yourself to understand your target’s hesitation and work to erase invalid preconceptions. Find areas of potential agreement and collaboration, while unearthing resistance that may be unrelated to what you’re actually suggesting: “Your concern is related to the project’s budget, and I understand that. How about we take a closer look at my proposal and find a middle ground by identifying expenses we could initially forego?”

2. Call a co-pilot for help.

You may need to ask others to have a conversation, offer an opinion or otherwise help you get the job done. An executive, an expert or a strategic ally can assist you in thinking through issues. Don’t feel you’re all alone.

3. Circle the airport.

I don’t like to call this tactic stalling; let’s think of it as “circling the airport.” Sometimes to be successful, you need to keep an idea alive long enough — like a batter fouling off pitches until the perfect one comes along.

4. Choose a different runway.

Provide other options to get your pitch back on track: “We can either choose three of these ideas and determine how best to move forward with them, focus on your favorite idea and make that happen, or come up with a new set of ideas.”

5. Abort the destination.

Land somewhere else. Nothing is ever worth “or else.” The Greeks preferred to die in battle when they couldn’t win, establishing the ultimate example of “or else.” The Romans, on the other hand, believed in retreating in the face of overwhelming strength to fight another day. Be a Roman and not a Greek by leaving doors open and bridges unburned.

Five Emergency Actions to Take When Persuasion Goes Sideways

Fasten your seatbelt: Regardless of your attempts to reduce assent turbulence, sometimes you’ll get the feeling that your persuasion situation is inexorably heading the wrong way. Pilots rate flight turbulence from Level 1 (light, slight erratic changes that keep you from enjoying your glass of wine) to Level 4 (extreme, violent motions that’ll convince you to never fly again).

Your own turbulence on the way toward persuasion success will have degrees of intensity, as well.

Does someone simply not understand a facet of your request? That’s a Level 1 turbulence situation than can easily be overcome. Or has the CEO received misinformation and, in mafia-speak, put a contract out on your idea — which is definitely Level 4 turbulence?

Here’s what to do when you hit a rough patch of persuasion-related turbulence:

1. Be calm.

It doesn’t help if you, the pilot, are freaked out. Remind yourself that — because this is your priority — you may be amplifying facets of the situation in your mind. Take a deep breath. More than likely, your physical safety isn’t in jeopardy, and the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance.

2. Switch on the seatbelt sign.

Let other passengers know there could be a few bumps. If you’re working on a new product training initiative, you might have any number of people aware of your effort and invested in its success. Let them know there figuratively could be some shifting of items in the overhead compartments. Help keep your team calm, too.

3. Use your radar.

You need to locate and understand turbulence. Is it thermal, mechanical, shear or aerodynamic? This is where your networks come into play. You need to have contacts in Sales, Finance, Legal and other departments — trusted colleagues who understand the importance of sharing information.

4. Subtly test your controls.

Ask for opinions, not comments, and certainly not commitments: “Given what you currently know, what are you thinking right now?” Ask about potential storms, and keep an eye out for someone who can help play the role of problem solver, intermediary or facilitator.

5. Level the aircraft.

Always be able to, at any time during the persuasion process, clearly explain what you are trying to initiate, how much it will realistically cost, and what the return will be and how you will quantify it: “We’ve covered a lot of territory here. Just so we’re clear: Today, we’re talking about a purchase order for $225,000 to help our call center talent increase customer satisfaction by a full point in next quarter’s satisfaction index report.”

Next time: Five more persuasion actions you might need to take to overcome turbulence.

Life is Like a Harley-Davidson Transmission

Someday, I just need to take a long vacation to recharge.

When things slow down, I’m going to get that MBA.

I just need to make it past this busy period, and then I’m going to learn that new software program.

When we get through the fourth quarter, I’m going to start eating right and get in shape.

How many times have thoughts like those raced through your brain?

Enhancing your education, learning new skills, and taking good care of yourself are all actions that can provide you with the horsepower needed to propel you to a higher level of performance.

But I’ve got news for you: It’s never going to happen.

All of those good thoughts are never going to become reality if you continue waiting for the perfect time. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a fun fantasy, dreaming about uninterrupted time for you to hone, polish and work on all those self-improvement ideas. And it’s one I indulge in myself. But the only people who can really make those things happen seem to be the ones who take professional sabbaticals – something I’ve heard about, but I have never spoken to anyone outside of academia who has actually taken one.

Year ago, I experienced an epiphany: Life is like a Harley-Davidson transmission; it’s constant mesh. This is a mechanical term that describes when all of the gears are in constant engagement with one another. So, if you’re spending time dreaming about when you can actually unplug and carefully study and focus on the ideas that can launch you toward greater success, I’m here to suggest you need another plan. You’re going to have to focus while you’re currently engaged.

Here are four ways you can create change while surviving the “constant mesh” of your career and your life:

1. Embrace the concept of balance.

To successfully ride a motorcycle, you obviously must keep it upright. But there are other dynamics at play, such as centrifugal force, gyroscopic effects and – not unimportantly – a sense of balance in the rider. Compare riding a motorcycle to creating change in a busy career. How do you balance the constant demands placed on you? First, identify your highest two or three priorities. Not 57, but two or three. Then, be reasonable and balanced in your approach to meeting those priorities. Spend one hour a day reading material in your field, for example, and another hour listening to an informative audiobook or podcast. There’s no need to try to do everything all at once. Gradual change is good and even desired. Everyone probably can find 60 minutes each day to make this happen.

2. Realize that energy makes the difference.

Most successful sales professionals I know are well-organized with daily planners, to-do lists and a strong grasp of time management. Perhaps they don’t execute perfectly all the time, but they understand the importance of heading into a day, a workweek or a sales call with a solid plan. For them, that’s nothing more than standard operating procedure. They just need to channel the proper energy to get them through the required tasks. Think back to a customer-service problem in which you played no role but one that affected you, nonetheless. You know that sale you worked so hard to attain but then someone in the home office messed things up? Remember how getting upset and fuming about the circumstances did nothing to alleviate them? That was because you no doubt were channeling the wrong kind of energy. In times like that, you need calm, cool and intelligent problem-solving approaches that will enable you to rectify the situation at hand and create a process to help minimize the chances of it occurring again. Otherwise, you may cause irrevocable damage. Remember, you need to use the right kind of energy to accomplish the right tasks.

3. Forget about perfection.

Do you know anyone who figuratively uses a five-pound sledgehammer to drive a carpet tack? The sledgehammer gets the job done, but it takes more energy than using a tack hammer – and probably damages something in the process. Think about how much energy you are putting into a special project or an everyday task. One of the greatest energy drains is perfectionism. Take a tip from my friend and mentor, consultant Alan Weiss: “Go for success, not perfection.” The energy you spend trying to achieve perfection is usually wasted. The difference between 80 percent and 100 percent is often negligible, and not significant enough to be appreciated by your buyer. So, achieve success, and then use the remaining energy to work toward your other areas of development.

4. Harness the power of circadian rhythms.

The term “circadian rhythm” was coined by Dr. Franz Halberg of Germany in 1959. Loosely interpreted, it means to find what you do best (and when) and then use that information to maximize your performance.

15 Ways to Punch Out Stress

Psychologists report that stress, anxiety and tension reduce many people to operating at only half of their capabilities. Here are 15 tips to help ensure that you run at full capacity, all the time.

1. Be realistic about your own goals.

Don’t try to conquer the world in one day. A career is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t double your prospect list within 24 hours or convince everyone in the room that your way is best after a five-minute presentation. As the saying goes, the rewards don’t always go to the fastest runners, but to those who stay in the race.

2. Confront the fear of failure.

Everyone experiences fear of failure. But instead of expending valuable energy worrying about what will go wrong, put that extra energy into planning and preparing for what can go right. The best sales professionals experience failure regularly, but that means they are trying new things and constantly expanding their skill sets. So go ahead and try that new prospect or persuasion approach. If it works, great! If not, no big deal. Move on.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

If there is a misunderstanding between you and someone at work, talk it out. Don’t let something simple overwhelm your thoughts or activities. As soon as possible, pick up the phone, or go see that person, and explain your position. Somebody once told me, “If you have to go ugly, go ugly early.” In other words, communicate your position as soon as possible. This allows you time to solve the problem, and then concentrate on the business of getting more people to say, “Yes.”

4. Don’t become a victim of unrealistic demands.

People sometimes make requests that are impossible to fulfill: “We have no money, but we’d like to take you up on your offer.” You’re a sales professional, not a professional magician. If you think someone is making an unrealistic demand, take a few minutes to examine the request more closely. Sometimes the “impossible” really is possible, so do not use “unrealistic demands” as an easy way out. If, however, the demands truly are unrealistic, explain your position to the prospect. If he bolts, that’s OK. You weren’t going to be able to help him, anyway.

5. Get more rest.

Adults average 6.9 hours of sleep a night, even though many experts contend they need between seven and nine hours. The resulting sleep deprivation results in reduced productivity at work, irritability, diminished driving capacity and a variety of health problems.

6. Get to work early.

Employees who arrive early have a few spare minutes to better prepare for the day. Be one of them, and take that time to organize a daily “to-do” list or wrap up any loose ends from the previous day; you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel when you can get a jump on the day.

7. Get in shape.

Being in good physical condition leads to more energy – thanks to improved blood flow to muscles and the brain, faster muscle recovery and better use of oxygen. How do you determine if you are in good condition? Many experts consider the best indicator of health to be your resting heart rate. Physicians rank heart rate as the most important vital sign when evaluating patients. Most people have a resting heart rate between 70 and 90 beats per minute. A physically fit person will have a resting heart rate around 50 beats per minute. Scientific studies show a direct correlation between physical exercise and mental well-being, proving that aerobic exercise such as walking, running and bicycling for 30 minutes three times a week actually works.

8. Eat right.

Nutrition plays a major role in a person’s ability to handle stress. Eating the right foods at the right time gives you more energy and the ability to accomplish more. So, forget about that greasy fast-food burger; pack your lunch. It’ll save you calories and dollars. Or better yet, take a qualified buyer out to lunch, and enjoy salmon and a salad. Get healthy while building relationships.

9. Cut back on the caffeine.

Caffeine does not give you energy; it stimulates your nervous system and adrenals. That’s not energy; that’s stress. It’s been reported that a single 250-milligram dose of caffeine (about 2.5 six-ounce cups of coffee) can increase levels of the stress hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) by more than 200 percent. Be reasonable with your caffeine consumption, and understand that it isn’t a source of “real” energy.

10. Lose the smokes.

If reviewing the results of a Google image search of “smokers’ lungs” won’t make you stop smoking, perhaps the fact that cigarettes contain an estimated 4,000 known toxins with several known carcinogens will. Cigarette smoking also contributes to severe vitamin deficiencies and reduces your body’s ability to oxygenate. How do you quit? Try interval sprinting every other day, which should at least make you think twice before lighting up.

11. Spend time on yourself.

Go for a brisk walk early in the morning, or take the long way home in the evening. Everybody needs quiet time to recharge their mental batteries.

12. Get input from others.

Talking to friends, family members and coworkers about situations that cause stress can provide a different perspective. (Be sure to avoid whining to these people.) Constructive conversation can be a great tool for relieving stress. Often, it’s that sense of community and companionship that can see you through tough situations.

13. Use positive mental affirmations.

Much research has been conducted on the rejuvenating powers of the mind. Psychologists claim that most of our “self talk” is negative, which creates a defeatist attitude and low energy. When you feel your energy starting to ebb, and you’re focusing on how tired you are, try passing a powerful, energizing thought through your head. For the spiritually inclined, I like Isaiah 40:31KJV (go ahead, look it up). For something more secular, try the affirmation made famous by late-19th century French psychotherapist Émile Coué: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” I use both. A lot.

14. Understand control and influence.

I was taught long ago that successful people spend the majority of their time on what they can control, some time on what they can influence and precious little time on what they can’t control or influence. Instead of agonizing over the possibility of failure, use your resources to think of ways to get more projects in the pipeline or generate ideas to intensify the desire of your hot prospects. One huge contributor to being overwhelmed is feeling like you have no control. So work on what you can control, and don’t worry about the rest. Not always easy to do, but well worth it.

15. Have high-quality options.

That’s great advice. For whatever reason, the times in my life when I’ve succumbed to stress and behaved in ways I wish I hadn’t typically occurred because I felt I didn’t have options. So, build your skills, have financial reserves, establish scores of terrific professional partnerships, and you will always find that you have options.

Do You Recognize These Three Types of Stress?

Feeling stressed out right about now? To deal with stress, you first must understand where it comes from. The American Management Association identifies three basic types of stress:

1.) Individually oriented stress

2.) Interpersonally oriented stress

3.) Organizationally oriented stress

Let’s break down each of these stress types and explore where and how they originate.

1. Individually Oriented Stress

Face it, most of us create our own stress. It is internal, and very often one of the most challenging types of stress to overcome. Some symptoms of individually oriented stress include:

  • Fear of failure
  • Self-set deadlines
  • Long hours
  • Unrealistic expectations of self, career or goals
  • An overwhelming sense of personal responsibility
  • A self-perceived lack of self-control, personal support or feedback

You are your own toughest critic. As with most things, balance is a significant consideration. You want to take initiative and push yourself, but not to the detriment of your health or well being. (Go ahead: Ask me how I know.)

2. Interpersonally Oriented Stress

When people feel unappreciated or misunderstood by superiors, peers or subordinates, hard feelings take root. Stress also can occur when people believe their colleagues aren’t performing up to par. Open communication works best when battling this type of stress.

I believe no one intentionally shows up at work and says, “Man, I’m going to mess up today!” Most people really want to do a good job. If, in fact, you have an employee who is constantly forgetting to provide the follow-up support necessary to close deals, take the time to show that individual what needs to be done and why. Just don’t berate him.

3. Organizationally Oriented Stress

Employers can create stress in the following ways:

  • Providing unrealistic demands
  • Placing too much emphasis on competition
  • Setting unclear job requirements
  • Not giving enough credit for accomplishments
  • Failing to follow through on expected promotions
  • Providing little information about career paths
  • Allowing workplace politics to fester
  • Avoiding participation in decision making
  • Creating poor work conditions

Managers can easily fall into what I call the “insatiable more” complex, meaning they always demand more and more in terms of business performance. This often can be an exercise in futility, because of all the variables impacting your business.

Don’t Let Your Co-Workers and Clients Stress You Out

Stress can hugely impact how well you interact with — and thus persuade — others. In any job, you need the cooperation of your colleagues and clients, and you’re less likely to get that if you are abrupt, terse and snap at those you rely on.

Additionally, mistakes resulting from stress can affect the workplace environment. A deadline not met on time could delay a sale and upset a big-spending buyer. Or a pricey sale might be stalled because the paperwork wasn’t ready on time, creating tension between you and the finance team. Or a presentation might go downhill because of an unexpected question or prolonged disagreement.

These situations quickly escalate into conflicts, which can lead to even more mistakes. Your business suffers when stress takes its toll, which is why you need to treat your co-workers and clients with the same respect and gentility you would a customer.

Maybe even more.

Four More Ways to Bounce Back After Hearing ‘No’

In a previous post, I wrote about four ideas to help you recover from hearing “no.”  I will now present four more ways to bounce back from rejection.

Here we go:

1. Perform a self-assessment.

Heed your own counsel. Is this the first rejection you’ve received regarding your pitch? Or have you been turned down several times making the same pitch? Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence and three times is a pattern. Is a pattern emerging?

2. Immediately do something you’re skilled at doing.

Whether it’s writing a memo, coaching a coworker or giving a talk, go do something in which you know you’ll be successful. This success-immediately-after-defeat strategy is a great way to reinstate positive feelings and get them working again in your brain. Even if it’s a small victory, it’s still a victory.

3. Forget about perfection.

Rather, focus on success direction. Set parameters of success, not “either/or” outcomes. Think about your results as the volume nob on an amplifier instead of the “on/off” switch. You turned in a great project and your boss called it “solid” but not “stupendous”? Don’t worry about it. Who uses the word “stupendous,” anyway?

4. Evaluate your entire body of work.

Hank Aaron had a lifetime batting average of .305; Joe DiMaggio, .325; Ty Cobb, .366; Lou Gehrig, .340; Babe Ruth, .342. Those guys failed approximately seven times out of every ten trips to the plate. Not only are they in the Baseball Hall of Fame today, their names are woven into the fabric of our language. If, when is all said and done, people refer to you as the Joe DiMaggio of new products, or the Hank Aaron of project management, or the Babe Ruth of marketing — well, you’d be in some pretty sweet company. Focus on your whole career, not one or two errors in the field.

The next time you hear “no,” don’t be so hard on yourself and make the necessary strides toward getting to “yes” next time.

How to Bounce Back from Hearing ‘No’

You’ve worked hard to hone your pitch, state your case and present your ask. And then someone says “no.”

What now?

Here are four ideas to help you bounce back:

1. Move on to what’s next.

My favorite TV series was the seemingly timeless political epic The West Wing. In it, Martin Sheen played the role of President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. It  captured a fairly accurate portrayal of life in The White House. President Bartlet — whether triumphant in victory or suffering a crushing setback — always responded in the same manner: “What’s next?” That’s a brilliant example of how to handle any situation. Activate the next issue on your own agenda, and don’t deliberate over defeat. Autopsies are for medical examiners, not managers.

2. Realize that you’re not the problem.

In his groundbreaking work, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Ph.D. Martin Seligman wrote what should be required reading for every persuasion professional. He initially concentrated on the habits of explanation, or how people explain what most frequently happens to them. Those who were pessimistic (and less resilient) when facing setbacks would blame themselves: “I’m the reason this sale failed.” Optimists, on the other hand, (predisposed to being resilient) would blame the circumstances and then move on to the next challenge: “The buyer was in a bad mood, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Seligman notes that optimism won’t change what a salesperson says to the prospective buyer; rather, it will change what the salesperson says to himself after a negative exchange. Instead of telling himself, “I’m no good,” he might rationalize that “the client was too busy to fully consider my offer.” That particular target chose not to agree to your course of action at that particular time. That’s it. There is no connection to your worth as a person or the validity of your viewpoint.

3. Understand the external locus of learning.

For people who claim they already know what they need to know, a setback can be devastating. If, on the other hand, people believe their locus of learning is internal, they can shrug off the setback and tell themselves, I’ll have to get some coaching or read up on how to improve my presentation skills, so next time I’ll experience a better result. The world always seems a little brighter for these people, because they have more arrows in their quiver. You can always learn more about the subject, the target and/or the process of persuasion.

4. Ignore unsolicited feedback.

Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice, tells the memorable story of how — following a rousing talk to a capacity crowd that gave him a standing ovation — a speech coach approached him and asked if she could provide some feedback. “Is there anything on the planet that might stop you?” Weiss wisecracked in his own inimitable way. She proceeded to tell him that she couldn’t concentrate on his message, because he always moved around on stage, and that he should stand still to make a point. My point: Pay no attention to suggestions of your so-called “supporters” — especially if they tell you that you should have tried harder or danced on the ceiling. Instead, seek out constructive feedback from credible individuals you trust.

Next time, I’ll explore four more ways to bounce back after hearing “no.”