When customers and colleagues are in denial

When customers and colleagues are In denial

Pay-off: you might just crack that tough nut who’s in denial

Investment: 7 minutes

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Ooh, this is a tricky one isn’t it?

Now, let’s be clear, I’m no expert in dealing with ‘denial’ as such. Having said that, the nature of my work means that I work with people often resistant to selling, or resistant to squaring up against certain challenges and learning to improve how to tackle them.

Tip: if something seems too hard, you could learn to find an easier way? Just a thought. But that isn’t going to happen if your head’s in the sand.

The ostrich effect

I’ve worked with many people who have stood at the bottom of a personal mountain with gold at the top, and who have chosen to bury their heads in the sand at the bottom. (Sometimes when a lion is coming. I mean, what a time to do it!)

And there are customers you talk to who may be in denial in certain areas too. Otherwise intelligent people just being unable (or unwilling) to see things as they are and only seeing them as they wish them to be. It’s common for us humans. We’re LOADED with emotions, anxieties, fears, biases, and beliefs which hijack our minds.

It’s not helpful. Especially when we could be walking closer to a better path to better rewards.

Just consider how many people you know who are in their own way. You can see it, smarty pants, but they can’t.

(A definition of ‘intelligence’ I once came across said: “being able to see things others can’t” which isn’t totally fair as we all have blind-spots and circumstantial perspectives on others, but I quite like it.)

The problem is, when you face someone who isn’t seeing things as they really are, you’ll be tempted to get your logic-stick out and whack them over the head with it. But that will probably make them defensive..

Your logic is invisible to those in denial

I used to tell this ‘joke’ in my workshops. I framed it up as “the unfunniest but most useful joke I ever heard!” I think it’s one you should install and run in your own mind. It may prevent yours or someone elses denial.

Here’s the unfunniest most useful joke I ever heard:

A man visits a psychiatrist because he believes he’s a vampire. The psychiatrist tries everything to convince the man that he’s not a vampire, to no avail. But eventually, he has an idea.

“Is it true that vampires don’t bleed?”, he asks the man.

“Correct”, the man replies.

“So”, says the psychiatrist, “if I prick your finger with a pin and you bleed, is it fair to say that you’re not a vampire and that you’re human?”

“That’s totally fair”, replies the man, willing to take the test.

So the psychiatrist takes a pin, pricks the man’s finger, and it bleeds.

“Unbelievable!”, says the man, “I guess I was totally wrong! Turns out vampires do bleed.”

Laugh or cry! (I’m crying). I think this story is important to consider.

When selling, influencing, persuading or simply helping someone to make a sensible decision, we know that people primarily make their decisions emotionally. Then they twist and select logic to support the emotion or preserve the logic but shift the context it was developed for.

Those cunning (but blind) denialists!

But we all do it in different areas of our lives.

So one lesson here is that your own logic is pretty feeble when it comes to convincing other people. Unless they’re totally on the same page as you. But this post is about people in denial. It’s useful to assume that your logic is invisible to them, so it’s better to try something else. (It’s a major cause of frustration for salespeople who don’t understand why a buyer won’t buy when, to the seller, it’s logical that they should.)

The seller’s logic doesn’t evoke the buyer’s emotion which in turn doesn’t evoke the buyer’s own supporting logic. So, no deal.

And you know what? Usually, these salespeople move on to the next customer and use exactly the same approach. It’s why you need to coach your sales people to approach conversations differently if you want to see your team bring those sales in.

Clearly, we must hit denial head-on with…something else.

So what do we do?

Well, it’s not easy. You’ll win some and lose some. And, it doesn’t make things any easier when you might be the one in denial after all, you wally, unable or unwilling to see the reality the other person sees.

You wouldn’t know if you were. Complicated isn’t it?

We could go too deep at this point, but let’s just say as a rule of thumb that if you’re walking the path you really want to walk, you’re happy, healthy, and it’s all working out for you (and is likely to work out for you moving ahead) then you’re probably not in denial. At least about some of the things that matter.

No one really knows what’s really right or wrong. But squaring your life up against how you really want it to be isn’t a bad measure to test your thinking.

I read a quote years ago that I liked, but never wrote down! It was along the lines of: “you can tell what someone thought yesterday by how their life is today.” That was the gist.

So, if someone is in denial about something that matters, and their life, work, business or career isn’t where they would like it to be, then the ideas below may help to shift their thinking.

Denial is a tough nut to crack. You’re up against one of the champs of the wonky mind! So I only attempt to tackle it when it matters. And in sales, it’s far easier to find people who aren’t in denial and are ready to buy. But sometimes existing clients need help to think things through and see things differently.

Here we go:

  • Know the game you’re playing, and the tactics e.g. if the game’s denial, drop the logic, step back and try something else.
  • Do all you can to prevent their shutters going up and blocking you out. You can’t do much when you’re locked out.
  • Use lots of statements of agreement. You don’t have to agree with them. They must agree with you. You don’t say “hey, you’re a vampire!” because that would just reinforce their thinking. You say, “hey you know you identify as a vampire?” Get nods. They keep you in the game. Don’t they?
  • Seek to understand their goals, drivers, fears, and their thought process or logic. The closer you get to them, the more influential you’ll become.
  • Seek to understand them better than they actually understand themselves (that’s easier than you think if you know about biases, or if you’re an expert in their problem since most people haven’t a clue why they do what they do..much to my own personal ongoing amusement..)
  • Ask them the questions they should be asking themselves to solve their problem. And wait in silence for the answer.
  • Repeat their key emotions/thoughts back to them for some more nods. Because getting nods = winning, doesn’t it?
  • Consider providing them with support on emotional intelligence (if you’re in the UK, my friend Mark Russell is your man: https://markrussell.co.uk/ give him a shout, he gets great results).
  • If you think their logic won’t take them to their goals, ask them to walk you through how it will (get some dead cert nods along the way in case you run into trouble!)
  • Try to identify the no. 1 reason above all others that’s keeping them in denial. There’ll probably be multiple reasons, but one will surely have more weight than the rest. After lots of nods from them, could you lead them to see how it could be worked around? Or how it’s ‘safe’ for them if they accept it, take charge, and act accordingly? (Be ready with some ideas for them). Or could you help them reroute their path or even their destination? All ideas to throw in the ‘pot’ which they could pick from.
  • Can you help them change their environment to be surrounded by people who think differently? Even slightly? One night a week?
  • Can you somehow create a situation where they continuously see more contradictory relevant evidence to what they think? (Without being too obvious, come on now, leaving books with bold titles on their doorstep might be too much).
  • You could share the vampire story at the right time. Just to alert them to biases. It might put a dent in their denial. (Especially if you over-laugh out loud at the punchline until they ask you to stop.)
  • Know how they see themselves (their self-identity) and see which aspects of that actually point towards a better course of action. “You’re such an open person, so I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ll be absolutely fine considering all these other options available to you..”
  • You could try to sell them a new self-identity! Tricky, that’s hardcore, but…we all change, grow and slowly re-invent ourselves. We all re-identify with new ways of thinking and being as we grow. If we’re at a turning point, it might just need a little nudge further. Could you sell them on already being similar to a person they admire who isn’t in denial of this thing, and then help them become even more like that person? Stranger things have happened.
  • If you can, try to expose them to relationships and groups who don’t share their denial

OK, that’s a big bag of ideas. I hope some help.

Now, don’t expect your salespeople to pick those all up and apply them. If you think that’ll happen, you’re in denial. If you want your team to embed these in their behaviours, you’re going to need to help them pick one up at a time, and practice and hone it, with feedback. I can help you do that – click here.

If you like this sort of tip you might want to sign up to my monthly tips here. I help people to sell (and learn faster), but not just in business. These tips help them to sell themselves and their ideas to become more influential in life and in their careers. You can sign up here.

Want more science?

If you want more scientific backing (but careful, I’ve noticed another bias – people select which ‘science’ to use, and how to interpret it when making their decisions…this is just getting out of hand..) check out this article here (his bag is psychology whereas I help people learn to sell and actually apply this stuff in the trenches when I work closely with them).

If you want my help to support your sales or non-sales people to improve how they engage customers and help customers to make high-value win:win buying decisions, then visit my site here or get in touch here.

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