How to sell without being pushy

How to persuade without being pushyPay-off: do this and you’ll get lots more yeses

Investment: 4 minutes

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No one likes pushy.

Pushy pushes people away.

Systems scientist, Peter Senge said, “The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.”

So, at the risk of stating the obvious, if you’re receiving push back, you must be pushing something forwards for others to push back on. (Here’s one way to solve this – but read on too as both approaches are useful to have under your belt.)

We’re sensitive monkeys

Not many people these days want more pressure than they’ve currently got. Everyone is stressed out and frazzled enough, working hard to alleviate their pressures. We’ve all become hypersensitive to pressure, interruptions and pushiness, it seems.

And it’s worth noting that ‘pushy’ is in the eye of the victim! It’s contextual. It can depend on how vulnerable, stressed or tired we are in the moment.

And it’s not just the buyers

But it gets even worse because unfortunately, it’s not just the buyer who ends up becoming a victim of ‘pushiness’. In my market of professional services, the real victims of ‘pushiness’ are the honest, professionals who are selling themselves. Because they are hypersensitive to avoid being pushy, and since, to their minds at least, you have to push a bit in order to sell, they end up just avoiding selling altogether. Even when they have the valuable solutions that their clients need. Seems crazy doesn’t it?

Clearly, this is a costly bottleneck to connecting value and developing both our own and our client’s businesses. Everyone loses.

So, we’d better find a way around this…and the answer lies in being nice to monkeys…

Cruelty to chimps

First, let’s clarify what’s going on when we appear to be pushy.

When you sell, or try to persuade anyone (your customers, colleagues, kids) you might not have realised, but you’re actually selling directly to a chimp. (People offended by that will now start acting like an angry chimp, metaphorically “oo-ah-ah-ing” at their screen and getting all worked up. You know, I think you’re getting this.)


If you have read the excellent book “The Chimp Paradox” by Professor Steve Peters, you’ll know what I’m talking about (and if you haven’t, obviously I highly recommend it if you want to understand more about how our minds work and how to work our minds.)

Your chimp brain (or “inner chimp”)

Strap in, because this might sound a bit silly, but if you understand this and apply it, you’re going to be much more successful at persuading others.

Professor Peters suggests that our ‘chimp brain’ leads our emotional thinking and reactions to things. And your chimp brain (or “inner chimp” as some refer to it) tackles things first before your higher-level intelligent thinking has a chance to work (he refers to the latter as your ‘human’ brain).

So, please don’t get all agitated (like an angry chimp) as you hear this, but the chimp in you deals with your affairs and reacts to your experiences first. (“OH! So that’s why I always…….”)

Every decision and every situation you face are dealt with first by your chimp brain.

If you’ve heard that we buy emotionally and justify with logic, that’s the chimp brain making its mind up first.

The chimp does what chimps do with its chimp perception, and either gets excited and jumps around in joy, or gets angry, nervous, or feels threatened and jumps around waving its arms about and generally acting like a total monkey. (May I remind you that your chimp has been behind many/most of your life decisions..)

The chimp gets the spotlight in your life, and only when the chimp has calmed down does your human mind – your higher level thinking – get a chance to have a say.

This is important.

So, back to ‘pushiness’, it’s the chimp that doesn’t like it. The chimp goes crazy, putting the shutters up to prevent any higher-level thinking or reasoning. (Is it possible that some people who appear pushy could still provide us with value worth way more than the money in our pocket?).

So, you always sell to the chimp first. And the only way to get the human involved is to calm the chimp down.

Your main immediate objectives then, if you want to sell or persuade effectively are:

  1. remember you always sell to the chimp first (no offence, decision makers)
  2. don’t get the chimp worked up – it’s often hypersensitive, so tread carefully and thoughtfully
  3. if you wind the chimp up, calm it down fast
  4. (optional and sensible) never call your client a chimp to their face

So how do you achieve those?

How to calm the chimp (and how to sell without being pushy)

Well, point 1 is straight forward. Why not create a conversational process or checklist that reminds you of this before every conversation that matters?

Points 2 and 3 can be achieved by some of these techniques below:

  • learn how to develop strong rapport that puts them at total ease
  • give them nothing to push back on by only saying things they agree with (in the early stages of conversation). Don’t lie or appear to agree with something that will come back to bite you. But do make statements that you know they have said, or definitely agree with
  • leave your own ideas and opinions out until you have their trust and their chimp is calm (once their chimp is calm, you can challenge their thinking appropriately, and they will know why you’re doing that and won’t start beating their chest or flapping their chimp arms about)
  • get them talking and listen hard
  • never force the conversation in any direction – instead invite them to talk about ‘X’ or ‘Y’ next
  • discover what they don’t like, and instantly remove it if you can
    • They’re thinking “I don’t want to be told what to do”. You say, “what will you do if X happens?”
    • They’re thinking “I don’t want to spend 30 mins of my time talking”. You say, “we could talk for 15 mins and by then we’ll both know if it’s worth talking further”
    • They’re thinking “I don’t want to hear your pitch” You say, “the last thing I want to do is start making suggestions before I fully understand what’s going on and why and also what you’re interested in doing to fix it”

How I persuaded my tired and angry little boy to go to bed

I got my little boy to go to bed once when he was being difficult using this approach. My wife insisted it was bed time and he wanted to keep playing, and consequently, his “inner chimp” got rather angry. He had something to push back on. So he pushed back hard.

So I had a crack at calming the chimp. I said, “OK – you don’t have to go to bed now.” I removed what he was pushing back on. Within 30 seconds, his chimp brain calmed right down. He played another 5 minutes before his tiredness, calmness and subsequently his human higher-level thinking brain kicked in. At which point I calmly offered him to keep playing for another 20 minutes (something I knew would be painful to him to commit to as he was very tired) or I carry him up to bed.

He chose to go to bed. Just 5 minutes after all the fuss.


One point I want to make clear here is that most intelligent people can be helped to think things through and make sensible valuable decisions. BUT ONLY WHEN YOU’VE HELPED THEM CALM THE CHIMP DOWN FIRST!

To be honest, I hate the recent overuse of the “Keep calm and carry on” posters (they get my inner chimp a bit wound up) but a part of me wants to summarise this entire concept by leaving you with this message to embed in your mind whenever you’re selling or persuading:


That’s it in a nutshell, and I believe that doing this alone without any other sales techniques will have a significant impact on the number of yeses you get when helping people to think things through.

If you want your team to learn how to sell, develop business or become more influential using techniques like this (and many more) I might be able to help you. You can reach me here.

The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters


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