How Resilient Are You?

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.

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

How to Give an Honest Self-Assessment

In two previous posts, I shared 12 keys to self-persuasion success.

Now, I’d like to add one more: Create an honest self-assessment.

Begin by developing a document for your eyes only. No one else will ever see it, so make a list of your strengths (how well you deal with people, perhaps, or your ability to solve problems) and your weaknesses (your dislike for conflict or disdain for details). Then, add either a piece of positive evidence or a potential solution after each one. Some examples might look like this:

  • “I keep my promises and am excellent at maintaining long-term relationships, as evidenced by my 10-year relationship with our firm’s top client.”
  • “I am independent and can get myself out of most jams. Many people have contributed to my success, for which I am thankful. At the same time, I need to recognize and admire the nature of my accomplishments.”
  • “When meeting new clients, I get nervous and need to recognize this is a natural and normal reaction. (They’re probably nervous, too!) I will go into these situations with some prepared conversation items and questions, and I will concentrate on being interested in what clients are saying.”
  • “Although I am typically calm and relaxed in social situations, I sometimes make a social blunder, say the wrong thing or use a word incorrectly. But so does everyone else. Going forward, I’ll just make a joke and say, ‘Am I having a senior moment already?’ ”

Remember that nobody is either all right or all wrong. (Even Gandhi probably had a bad habit or two.) But with an honest assessment and a frequent review of what you do well, what you don’t and what actions you can take, you’ll be on your way to destroying that pathological critic.

The psychology of self-persuasion is all about consistency. You never want to get too high when you hear “yes” or too low when you get a “no.”

Mark Rodgers’ Ultimate Guide to Self-Persuasion Success — Part 1

Living with low self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-confidence steals your energy and ability to cope with anxiety, problems, challenges and risks. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that attaining high self-esteem, solid self-efficacy and weapons-grade self-confidence does exactly the opposite. It enables you to solve problems rather than worry about them, find ways to win people over, and work directly and purposefully to address interpersonal issues.

Many of the following ideas could fall under a category of psychology referred to as cognitive therapy. That is, participating in activities, exercises and conversations that improve your “self-talk” or ongoing internal dialogue, and therefore impacting everything from your emotional state to your persuasive performance. For some, this is the purview of incense-burning, beard-wearing types who wouldn’t be caught dead without their yoga mats. If you can break through that bias, though, you’ll discover that it’s powerful stuff.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University studied 240 depressed patients who were randomly placed in groups. Some received anti-depressant medication, others participated in cognitive therapy, and still others received a placebo. After 16 weeks, both the anti-depressant group and the cognitive therapy group had improved at about the same rate. The real difference was that the cognitive therapy group was found less likely to relapse during the two years following therapy. Why? They had acquired the skills and behaviors to think more positively.

This example illustrates the key to becoming more resilient. Just like the body needs air, nutrition and regular exercise, your mind needs a fitness regimen, too. You must regularly stretch, feed, work, coach and rest your mind, so consider what follows as your all-access, lifetime membership to Mark’s Self-Persuasion World Gym.

1. Be cognitively aware of your internal dialogue.

When you make a mistake and find yourself thinking, “I always mess up!” or “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid,” hit “stop.” Don’t keep running the video clip on a loop in your head. Stop and reframe your negative thoughts.

2. Reframe negative thoughts.

Don’t scold. Fix. You don’t always mess up. It’s not that you’ll never get anything right. You did land the job in the first place. And you’ve done many things well and achieved success. You simply have some aspect of a project or relationship that is giving you a hard time. Break it down and troubleshoot. Maybe it’s not the entire board presentation that’s giving you fits; it’s only the intro or anticipating resistance. Identify and fix. If you don’t currently possess the skills to make a fix, acquire them. If you don’t have the information you need, find the data.

3. Use success ranges.

Don’t turn every situation into an all-or-nothing case. In other words, don’t enter every client meeting thinking you need to come out with new business or else it wasn’t a successful meeting.

4. Understand the physical side of self-persuasion.

Get enough sleep and rest, because “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Williams Shakespeare said that first, but U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton and football coach Vince Lombardi also picked up on it. Regardless, it still rings true today. Without enough rest, you won’t be able to form your arguments, look your best and articulate your positions to the best of your abilities. Ask me how I know: I’ve worked myself into a state of almost mental incoherence, and subsequently lost business.

5. Too much caffeine hurts your persuasion attempts.

Caffeine makes you seem nervous and uncertain, even if you don’t have a visible case of the jitters. So much for oozing self-confidence. You might, however, want to hope that your target has downed a few cups of coffee or cans of Mountain Dew. Australian researchers several years ago determined that people who drank two cups of strong coffee were much more easily swayed to change their minds than test subjects who were given a placebo instead.

Look for more self-persuasion tips next time.

How Self-Doubt Can Wreak Havoc on Your Persuasion Efforts

Psychologists say the seeds for self-doubt are planted early in life, during that critical personality development period of childhood and adolescence. As a result, self-doubt can take many forms:

  • A single, stinging rebuke from a well-meaning family member: “I can’t believe you did that at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”
  • A constant harping on your inadequacy in some aspect of life: “You’re so disorganized!”
  • A parental reprimand in front of your teenage peers: “Why did you forget to call us when you got to Brice’s house?”

That said, don’t think all of your self-doubting happened when you were a kid. Plenty of other incidents can happen during your older years to imbue you with enough self-doubt to convince yourself you’re no good at persuading.  Maybe company leaders didn’t take your advice, or you were passed over for a big assignment, or you didn’t get that promotion.

All of these manifestations of self-doubt can become problematic for your persuasion efforts. Why?

Because persuasion is about taking risks. Because it requires you to put yourself “out there” by taking a stance and asking for agreement. Because persuasion is mostly about taking action, not sitting back hoping the action will occur on behalf of someone else (or not at all). And because self-doubt can paralyze you.

One way to minimize self-doubt is by understanding the inter-relatedness and importance of self-efficacy, self-confidence and self-esteem. Whenever I start talking self-esteem, I have to prepare myself for a few eye rolls.

The late comedian George Carlin didn’t care much for the so-called “self-esteem movement” that manifested itself in the 1970s. In fact, in his final HBO special, 2008’s Emmy-nominated It’s Bad For Ya, he railed against the idea that “everyone’s a winner” and claimed kids “have been so crippled” by “all of this stupid nonsense.”

You can find the foul-mouthed clip on YouTube, but here’s a transcript containing some of his warm self-esteem sentiments:

I’m happy to say [the self-esteem movement] has been a complete failure, because studies have repeatedly shown that having high self-esteem does not improve grades, does not improve career achievement, it does not even lower the use of alcohol, and most certainly does not reduce the incidence of violence of any sort. Because, as it turns out, extremely aggressive, violent people think very highly of themselves. Imagine that: Sociopaths have high self-esteem! 

Next time, I’ll get serious again and explain my “Big Bang Theory for the Psychology of Self-Persuasion.”