Now and then I listen to audiobooks on communication, with an emphasis on selling. I do this to remind myself just how important it is.
Selling is not an idea many people have positive emotions about. That’s understandable. Back in the 1980s I did a week-long course with a now non-existent insurance company. I learned how to manipulate people into buying. It was unethical and I knew it. I didn’t last long as an insurance salesman and cancelled the only policy I sold. I felt bad that I had put a family into financial stress through my manipulation. Maybe they would have still bought insurance without that manipulation? Maybe not. Nevertheless, I was immensely grateful that I became conscious of the process of manipulation. I could choose not to act that way.
A decade later I had a regional role in northern NSW with the Department of Community Services. I was licensing aged and disability residential services and disability workplaces. I was often out in the field 3-5 days at a time.
I borrowed a 6-cassette course on conflict resolution from the department’s library. Over the next few months, I played the cassettes repeatedly, using each visit to a service to practice the skills described. That exercise transformed how I worked and served me very well in my in that job and subsequent roles when I was involved in contentious or fraught situations with service providers.
I also had some tapes of Zig Zigler on salesmanship (without the flagrant manipulation). They came from an associate who encouraged me, with no success, to become an Amway distributor. I listened to them repeatedly. Zigler is perhaps the most prolific author on this theme, with books from 1982 to 2011.
Over the subsequent years I have become aware how those three experiences have profoundly influenced my professional life in powerful and positive ways.
There’s nothing more unpleasant than being the target of poorly executed selling. That’s what we remember. Beautifully executed selling is something we rarely see – because when it is done well, we don’t see it as selling.
Selling is also called influencing and persuasion and negative the connotations that fit both words are easy to bring to mind. It is quite simply an activity that we have little respect for, or trust in.
Ethical selling, influencing, persuasion – acts of relating where everyone feels good, and the outcome is good, is what we generally try to do on a day-to-day basis. But we so often fail to achieve our desired objectives because we lack the skills needed to be effectively persuasive.
We all sell
The act is natural to us, the word has been given a bad rap because we recall it being done badly and/or unethically.
Learning to sell well (and ethically) is something we should all be striving to do.
Selling is not just the pitch. For a time, it was popular to talk about one’s personal ‘brand’ (maybe it’s still a thing?). Every aspect of who we are is bundled into the act.
We can use less loaded words like ‘communicator’, or serious words like ‘negotiator’. In the end we all want to be able to convey ideas we think are valuable and generate actions that create good outcomes.
Being able to sell well is a skill we should value and celebrate. The question of ethics is real and must be addressed.
How do I sell disability inclusion?
ERG leaders have the necessity of selling thrust upon them, but they usually do not appreciate this reality, and are often unprepared for the challenge that now faces them.
Let’s rephrase the question as “How do I influence people to be more inclusive of people with disability?” We could also say “How do I persuade people to be more inclusive of people with disability?”
Without the loaded language the task takes on a more noble tone.
What is important is that influence or persuasion is a form of communication and relating that can be done skillfully and ethically or poorly and unethically. It can be also done skillfully and unethically and poorly and ethically. We often do the last when we want to do the first.
So, the answer to the question is: “Skillfully.”
In previous posts I have explored the forms of resistance advocates for disability inclusion encounter. It is important that we don’t misdiagnose the reasons and motives for the resistance met. It is equally important that we do not expend time and energy on remedies that do not work, or which work to only a limited degree. Time and energy are scarce commodities for both the influencer and subject of attempts at persuasion.
Skillful ethical selling/influencing/persuading serves everybody well.
Some books from my audiobook list
These are also available in hardcopy and ebook formats (except the Dale Carnegie book)
- Influence – Robert B. Cialdini (1984)
- Exactly What to Say – Phil M. Jones (2017)
- How to Talk to Anyone – Leil Lowndes (1999)
- How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work – R Kegan & LL Lahey (2000)
- How to Win Friends & Influence People in the Digital Age – Dale Carnegie & Associates (2011)
- The Surprising Science of Meetings – Steven Rogelberg (2018)
The Cialdini book is a classic and a must read. In fact, I have just discovered he has another book that seems to be as good – Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. I bought the audiobook version immediately.
There are a lot of books on the selling/influencing/persuasion theme, including looking at the darker side of unethical manipulation. Books on marketing are also helpful. You will find something that suits your needs.
I included The Surprising Science of Meetings not because it is about communicating so much as the environment or setting for the act of selling to occur. Where and when we seek to persuade are just as important as the how.