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Relationships and the Art of Selling

Like it or not, getting what you want is knowing how to sell your idea.

Key points

  • Navigating relationships often requires persuading others to help you with your problems and solutions.
  • The starting point is helping them understand your concerns, as well as listening and understanding theirs.
  • The keys are not confusing means and ends, and being willing to negotiate.
Source: niewkverlaan/pixabay
Source: niewkverlaan/pixabay

You want to get a dog, have your elderly mother move in with you, have your child do his homework right after school, or transfer an employee to a new team.

But you’re braced for resistance—about the dog, the mom, the homework, the transfer. While you might not be a hard-closing car salesperson or traveling drug rep making your rounds to doctor’s offices, like it or not, you're selling just like they are, and that your goals are the same: persuading someone to agree with your vision, point of view, and goal.

Here’s how to do it right.

Plan Your Conversation

Don’t bring up the dog when you know your partner has had a bad day or talk about mom at 11 at night when they’re too tired. Don’t talk about homework when your child is melting down at 8 p.m. or talk to your employee at 4:45 p.m. on a Friday, when they are ready to bolt for the weekend.

Instead, pick a time when you and they are more likely to be receptive, and if you know they don’t handle change well, consider giving them a heads up: I’d like to talk sometime this weekend about maybe getting a pet, talk about my concerns about my mom, about your after-school routine, or about your taking on a new role in the company at our next supervision meeting. If you can build on something they value, such as more gaming time or a new role, they'll be more likely to listen.

Talk About Your Problems, Concerns, and Emotions

Simply ordering others around by telling them to do what you want them to do because you want it is obviously not the best way to build cooperation. What helps is providing others with the context—the reason, the problem, why this is important.

So, you talk about always having a pet as a child and missing having one now or that it will keep you company when they are away on business trips. You talk about your mother mentally deteriorating and worry that she won’t be able to manage on her own or reference the arguments you’ve been having about homework and bedtimes late at night. You talk about your vision for the team and how you feel this person can make a decisive difference.

Help them understand what is driving you, and talk about soft emotions, like worry and concern, rather than frustration and anger. Sound clear and gentle, person-to-person, teammate-to-teammate, rather than one-up, my-way-or-the-highway.

Drill down into their objections: The cost of the dog or not being able to go away on weekends; the worry about physical space or lack of couple time if mom is always around; the desire to play with friends after school or the anxiety of working with new folks after feeling so connected to the current ones. Resistance is about anxiety that change creates, and some do that better than others. But their fears are valid and need to be addressed rather than dismissed.

Don’t Confuse Means and Ends

This starts with you. Remember your ultimate goal: You’d like a dog, but a cat is realistically less maintenance and still provides companionship. You’re happy to talk to your mom about expectations if she were to move in and whether she would be willing to babysit, so you can have more time as a couple. You’re willing to move homework to after dinner, but you’ll move dinner to earlier so there aren’t the meltdowns. You’re willing to help the employee gradually integrate into the other team: Try it for a few months and then reevaluate.

Don't confuse means and ends. Focus on the goal and be willing to negotiate how to get there.

Come Up With a Concrete Plan

You can both research various pets or go to the local pet shelter on Saturday and just look. You will make your pitch to your mom to feel her out on the idea, or you can have a three-way, face-to-face conversation about what moving in might look like. You will try the after-dinner new routine for a week and then discuss whether or not it is working. The employee will work part-time with the new team for the next two months and then look at moving to full-time.

The keys are making the plan clear and behavioral, so there are no misunderstandings or faulty expectations, and building in a circling-back process to evaluate and tweak.

That’s it. The art of selling your idea is the art of being sensitive, open-minded, and clear, rather than being myopic and controlling. Time to get selling?

More from Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.
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