Sales Psychology and Strong Interpersonal Skills for Sales

Understanding the unconscious aspects of interpersonal communication in skills for sales.

Picture of a horse and rider illustrating the unconscious nature of strong interpersonal skills for sales.

Saying the right thing, in the right way, to increase confidence and move a customer forward is an elusive aspect of skills for sales.

Even the best and most talented salespeople falter now and then. Self sabotage stems from unconscious interference. We desire a certain outcome yet sometimes, our interpersonal skills let us down. It's as if a part of us refuses to cooperate.

If we could train our unconscious mind to work in harmony with our purpose more of the time, almost anything ought to be possible.

Unconscious impulses draw on emotional memories, deep seated motivators, beliefs, and experiences. Perhaps even genetic memory has a bearing. The unconscious mind behaves like a powerful wild horse with the thinking mind as its rider. Riding skills are akin to people’s ability to manage their unconscious mind.

When you peer over the parapet of a tall building or lean far out of a high window, unless you have trained your ‘wild horse’ to accept the danger, you will feel apprehension or fear.

What comes first, the emotion or the rational thought?

Your foot hold is secure. Your hands brace you, yet your unconscious mind stimulates an adrenaline rush. Your heart beats faster, your stomach reacts. Thinking becomes difficult as every part of you seems to try and drag you away from the danger.

'Wild horse’ is spooked and will not let the rational mind retain control. 

It's as if the unconscious parts of our mind, acts independently from the rational thinking mind. Witness how we remember some experiences with great clarity yet others hardly at all. We hear and see everything but only parts are easy to remember. 

Skills for sales depend heavily on the unconscious abilities of the brain. Most language processing, sentence construction, and non verbal communication happens automatically, at an unconscious level.

As demonstrated in numerous scientific experiments, great deal of filtering takes place without our conscious awareness. The wild horse in us is holding the VCR remote control.

Picasso wrote ‘If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes.’ 

How to Improve Skills

Simply saying to ourselves, ‘I want to remember this’, doesn’t work. ‘Wild horse’ cannot understand language. It responds to what comes in through our five senses, according to our memory of comparable events and the emotion attached to them. Information judged unimportant to the moment is ignored.

‘Wild horse’ does respond to imagination. I wonder if the sleeping mind can tell the difference between real world events and vividly imagined events. The emotion accompanying dreams suggests it can’t.

Equally perplexing is the notion that ‘wild horse’ cannot understand a negative. Just as telling a child not to do something usually results in repetition of the offending action. It is impossible for us to not think about something deliberately. Try not thinking about the new car you want for the next minute. The only way to stop a thought is to think of something else. The negative can’t be imagined. All instructions are interpreted as positive and acted on accordingly. The phrase ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ is frequently used in conversation to describe this quirk of human nature.

Imagination is the tool of change. We can nurture skills by using our imagination to envisage what we want to happen. Forethought, planning, and preparation that prompts visualisation and rehearsal is the mechanism for programming our unconscious minds.

I once knew an inside sales person who exhibited great skill on the telephone. He had built strong relationships with many customers. When he transferred to a field sales role he was as surprised as everyone else when his fluency, gained using a telephone, completely evaporated in a face to face situation. His unconscious defence system, unused to getting close up to a customer, panicked and attempted to flee.

Training and persistence on his part, helped reprogram his unconscious mind to accept and welcome the new situation. He eventually succeeded in field sales and went on to build his own international company.

The Importance of Feedback

Acquiring knowledge is easier than developing skills. If being competent in a skill was simply a matter of understanding it, we could dispense with driving tests. Remember how awkward the controls seemed the first time you drove a car. It takes some practice to acquire new physical skills but it is not very complicated. The outcome of a hill start depends on balancing engine power against clutch control. Being too aggressive with the controls results in wheel spin or a jerky start; being too hesitant results in the engine stalling or excessive clutch wear. The feedback is consistent with the action.

The skill of persuasion, or even being understood, is much more complex. For one thing, there are no ‘L’ plates to alert others that you are trying something new. If there were, any allowance given would interfere with the result and render observation useless.

The personality and circumstance of our guinea pig affects their reaction making the feedback inconsistent and difficult to analyse.

The popularity of video and peer feedback in SalesSense training attests its importance. After attending a SalesSense presentation course, a participant wrote of his course experience, “Every presentation given by a participant on the course was filmed. This gave each person instant visual feedback on their strengths and weaknesses and allowed them to see how they had improved over the day.”

Each of us has accumulated years of experience speaking with other people. Deep seated communication and interpersonal skills resist change.

Becoming More Persuasive

Developing skills for sales such as the ability to persuade, takes time and consistent effort because it is the unconscious mind that must do the learning.

The primary purpose of the brain is survival. Although tools of logic and calculation empower us to construct great cities and communication networks, the power that drives us is still centred in unconscious processes. Leaving ‘wild horse’ to function under the direction of our genes and experience is like using only half of the mental resources granted to each of us.

The power of ‘wild horse’ is harnessed by using imagination and memory to programme automatic processes. Ability to reconstruct remembered events in our imagination, complete with the emotion felt, is innate. Just as physical exercise develops muscle and stamina, exercising imagination develops ability to direct unconscious processes. We can influence our state of mind and motivation on purpose. We can choose what we feel.

The method is not through modern language but through the primary language of our brains. That of sight, sound, touch, smell, taste and emotion. Imagine you are about to face a difficult negotiation. You know the attitude you want to convey. It may be one of confident resourcefulness or respectful conciliation or whatever you have decided is appropriate.

If you don’t feel it, will you give yourself away?

If the other party is competent at reading body language you almost certainly will.

Subtle expression movement and tone communicate our thoughts to anyone who can observe them. It’s no use understanding the theoretical meaning of eye movements, stance, mannerisms and gestures. Using left brain logical analysis is far too slow to read and comprehend the signs in a live conversation. The task must be handed over to ‘wild horse’.

Some call it listening to one's instincts. Understanding those we would influence is essential.

At the turn of this century Charles Horton Cooley wrote ‘A person of definite character and purpose who comprehends our way of thought is sure to exert power over us. He cannot altogether be resisted; because, if he understands us, he can make us understand him, through the word, the look, or other symbol, which both of us connect with the common sentiment or idea; and thus by communicating an impulse he can move the will.’

Mental Strength

Developing mental strength or the ability to manage one’s unconscious mind on purpose, requires time and dedication. Speed readers learn to use their brain differently to take in text at up to 20,000 words a minute. This is not a freakish gift. They teach themselves to turn off their conscious linear reading skills and use their unconscious visual processing capability. As with all learning, progress depends on focus and practice.

If you watch top salespeople at work you may be struck by their ability to manage perception on the fly. They appear to have a natural gift not bestowed on others. In truth, they have learnt to use their innate abilities on purpose. By chance or design, their conscious and unconscious minds are working in harmony. They have turned their interpersonal communication into effective skills for sales.

People can become more aware of their interpersonal communication subtleties through observation and training. Skills for sales can be improve and developed.

Horses behave differently according to the abilities of different riders. Extraordinary riders build up a unique relationship with their mount. “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” wrote William Ernest Henley in his poem, Invictus. Being captain of one’s soul depends on a special understanding of the unconscious workings of one’s mind together with an exceptional ability to communicate with one’s self.

Article by Clive Miller


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