As summer winds down and we all gear up for the fall, I offer a summer rerun of the most popular and commented-upon post to this Soul of Selling blog: The Seller’s Discomfort Dilemma...
The “Discomfort Dilemma” shows up in almost every aspect of life. We just see it more often, and in more vibrant color, when we sell because selling is life on steroids.
People who enjoy selling have almost always mastered the Discomfort Dilemma. People who do not enjoy selling have rarely mastered it. You can succeed in sales without a command of the Discomfort Dilemma—but it’s not a pretty sight.
WHAT IS THE SELLING DISCOMFORT DILEMMA?
The Discomfort Dilemma is that perilous moment when you stand poised between moving forward and doing whatever is the next step in the selling process—or doing something to avoid it. That next step might be:
- Picking up the phone again to make the next call
- Calling back the person you agreed to call next week (now this week) and who you’re afraid will say “No”
- Making a cold call
- Making a promise for results
- Calling someone you consider intimidating, but who might be a good source of leads
- Anything that involves discomfort, the possibility of failure, or any potential for rejection—or that you just plain don’t wanna do!
When you’re on the horns of the Discomfort Dilemma, the next step always seems agonizing or impossible. You want to dive under the bed and mainline chocolate. You’ll do almost anything to avoid the imagined discomfort of that next step—even when you know from bitter experience that trying to avoid it only makes you more uncomfortable.
That next step is still before you when you ﬁnish mainlining the chocolate, only now it seems even bigger. It’s later in the game. You feel even more behind the Eight Ball, and you’re not sure you can trust yourself now. You feel as if, in order to make up for having gotten off track, you have to produce more results, better results, and you have to produce them more quickly.
“There’s a split second that deﬁnes each day for me,” Jack said. “It’s that instant when I’m deciding whether to pick up the phone and sell—or to play a computer game.”
“Why do you want to play the computer game?” I asked him.
“Because the idea of making the calls is uncomfortable. When I’m actually making calls, I get into it. But the idea of them, before I start, just seems overwhelming. I want to do anything else. I feel like I need a break, even if it’s nine o’clock in the morning.”
“Why not just take the morning off?”
“Because I’m working!” Then he added sheepishly, “Except, I’m not.”
“Do you enjoy playing computer games?”
“Yes and no. It’s fun. I numb out for a few minutes, but after a minute or two, I start feeling stressed and guilty. I know the calls aren’t going to go away. I’ll still have to do them, but I’ll be behind. It doesn’t make any sense. In the end, it’s worse to play the game, but sometimes I can’t help myself.”
Jack is describing the Discomfort Dilemma. Your Discomfort Dilemmas may be light or intense—but you’ll be ahead of the game if you understand what they are, where they come from, how they work, and how to pass through them with ease and grace.
GIMME A BREAK!
In the midst of the Discomfort Dilemma, almost anywhere seems better than where you are. And there are so many more comfortable things to do! You could call a friend. You need to keep up these relationships, after all. You could play with the cat. The poor thing needs exercise. You could email your aunt, or even pay the bills. Righteous activities!
Hey, you could shampoo the rug! Sure, it’s “call time,” but just last week you read an article on how crucial it is to shampoo your rugs on a regular basis to keep them mold-free and extend their life! Come to think of it, you read that article during a “call time,” too. Which only shows how important it is to be ﬂexible about what you do in “call time!” Otherwise, you wouldn’t know about the importance of regular rug care—and you might be tempted to make sales calls, rather than doing what you really need to do, which is obviously to shampoo the rug.
Bills need to be paid. Rugs need to be shampooed. But not during the time when you said you’d make calls. During that time, cleaning the bird cage or ﬁsh tank are going to seem like good ideas—to say nothing of kicking back with a cup of coffee to chat with a friend. Knowing that the Discomfort Dilemma will never go away, and understanding how it works, gives you a leg up.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
The Discomfort Dilemma pops up when you start moving forward, or doing anything new. These things represent change—however small, and however good. Even if you’re just making the same kind of calls you made yesterday, you are talking to new people and moving closer to your promise. That’s change. When change of any kind is in the air, mental chatter gets startled and wakes up—on the wrong side of the bed. It scowls and stamps. It pouts, and begins its siren songs:
- I’m only thinking of you. You need a rest. Take a load off. Relax! You’ll do better in the long run.
- It’ll sharpen your wits to play computer games. You need that.
- C’mon, don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud! You’re human. Life’s too short to work that hard. Give yourself a break. Here, try this tiny piece of chocolate… And before you know it, you’re mainlining.
When mental chatter starts cajoling and nattering, remember that it does not always have your best interests at heart. You can postpone or delay whatever is next, but ultimately you have to do it. The longer you put it off, the longer you prolong the agony and the more uncomfortable it becomes.
WHAT YOU NEED TO SUCCEED
I struggled with the Discomfort Dilemma for years, and became a champion computer game player in the process. I also became quite anxious. The stress of backing away from uncomfortable “next steps,” and then running back to ﬁx everything at the last minute, double speed, started to take its toll. Cortisol and other stress hormones surged into my system until, ﬁnally, I reached my pain threshold. I needed a plan to master the Discomfort Dilemma, and put together two sets of tools: one to prepare me to deal effectively with the Discomfort Dilemma, and the other to use when the Dilemma was already upon me.
BEFORE THE DILEMMA STRIKES…
In the world of selling, Surprises ‘R’ Us. We’ll always have to think and speak on our feet, so it behooves us to prepare for anything we know is coming our way. The Discomfort Dilemma is one of those things. These three tools will help you get ready to handle the Dilemma with ease and grace.
1. Identify your “most likely” Discomfort Dilemmas. We all have different triggers. When you know where your personal Dilemmas are most likely to occur, they lose the element of surprise and you are in better shape to handle them. Where are your Discomfort Dilemmas? Do you hate that ﬁrst call, but then pick up steam as you go forward? Do you want to stop after the ﬁrst “No?” What about the ﬁrst time you meet a contact in person?
2. Anticipate your “most likely mental chatter.” Each time a Dilemma occurs, it carries with it surround-sound mental chatter. And not just any mental chatter. The chatter you hear will be put together especially for you. It will consist of the speciﬁc complaints, arguments and whining to which you are most susceptible. Mental chatter is no fool. It’s not going to tempt you with grousing and whimpering that would appeal to somebody else. It will choose exactly the words that are most likely to make you bite! It knows where you are vulnerable, and zeros in on that precise spot. How does it know? It’s been living with you for as many years as you have been alive. If subtle logic works, that’s what mental chatter will use. If smart and sassy works, you’ll hear that. If kicking and screaming draws you in, expect that. It might sound like this:
- Hey, you guaranteed you would do this with integrity. Shouldn’t you balance your checkbook rather than make calls?
- Nobody’s the boss of me. I know what I’m doing, and I say I need a break.
- It’s just not fair. Other people don’t have to be this uncomfortable.
Take the time to anticipate not only when the Dilemma will strike, but what it will sound like. Then you’ll hear a piece of mental chatter ﬂoat through your mind, and think, “Hey, that’s exactly what was on my list of ‘Most likely mental chatter!’ It’s ﬂoating through my mind, right now, as we speak!” The minute you recognize that, you are observing the chatter, rather than letting it drag you forward automatically. When you are observing something, you are slightly removed from it. It’s not you; it’s outside you and you are looking at it. It loses its power over you.
3. Find your “ﬁxes.” For each of your “most likely” Discomfort Dilemmas, devise a “ﬁx” that gets you moving past that paralyzing moment of indecision and takes you into action. Laurie hated to make the ﬁrst call of the day. She realized that she was uncomfortable switching from the personal activities of her morning—getting the kids off to school, meditating, stretching, and having a cup of coffee with the paper—to the activities of her sales job. Her “ﬁx” was to spend a moment before she picked up the phone remembering a recent call that had been particularly pleasant, or even mocking up in her mind how she wanted the ﬁrst few calls to go. That got her energized, and on her way.
4. Plan rewards. When the Discomfort Dilemma is upon you, your mind won’t want to consider ways to reward yourself when you ﬁnish the task. It will want to keep pestering you about not doing the next step. Create a “rewards bank”—a massage, walk in the par, movie with a friend—and be sure to follow through with the reward!
The better prepared you are to meet the Discomfort Dilemma, the easier it will be to walk forward without “postponing” or “delaying.”
INCOMING!! TOOLS FOR MANAGING THE MOMENT
How to manage the moment when you’re standing in the midst of the Dilemma? The negative chatter is getting louder and more persuasive. You’re starting to lose ground, and need traction quickly. What do you do? Here are some tools you can grab quickly, in the midst of the Dilemma, to get back on track:
TOOL #1: Define the task. When the Discomfort Dilemma takes hold, it’s easy to confuse one call with twenty calls, and with the follow-ups to all those calls, and with all the other things you need to do that day like grocery shopping, a staff meeting, a report and your kid’s birthday party. Instead of one phone call, you’re looking at a huge miasma of “to do’s.” It’s staggering, and overwhelming. One task has become, in your mind, a shapeless and growing blob. There is no good place to begin, and so you have to retreat. The ﬁrst antidote is to deﬁne clearly the one task that is actually before you. Is it one call? Polishing one part of your presentation? Write it down, and be very speciﬁc. Only let yourself write down that one task.
TOOL #2: Write down the chatter, and then turn it around. When you feel yourself succumbing to mental chatter’s siren call, take ﬁve minutes to write down everything it is saying. Again, putting these negative or fearful thoughts on paper, or in a computer ﬁle, places you in the observational position. You can observe them, rather than being them.
TOOL #3: Connect with your purpose. It’s easier to get where you’re going if you know why you are going there. Why is this particular task important? Your reason might be altruistic—to share your widget or vision with the world. It might be practical—to make money to pay the rent, or buy a car, or take the family on a great vacation. It might be all of these things. The purpose itself isn’t as important as the fact that you have one, and that you know what it is. That gives you the energy to get there.
TOOL #4: Be gentle with yourself. In the midst of the Discomfort Dilemma, we have a tendency to be harsh and punitive with ourselves. We want to be “disciplined.” We tell ourselves sternly, “Don’t you dare start mainlining that chocolate! Don’t you dare open that computer game!” This strategy almost always fails, and often produces exactly the opposite of the intended result. I have seen it turn ﬁfty-year-old master sellers into recalcitrant teenagers who spit back, “Oh, YEAH!? Watch me!” Do what is there to be done, then let yourself relax into a feeling of accomplishment.
Mastering the Discomfort Dilemma makes you senior to any situation. You own the paradox of becoming more comfortable by doing the uncomfortable thing. That is a key to the Soul of Selling—and to a happy and successful life.