The other day, I was standing on the sidewalk outside a mall texting my friend when a solicitor began his rant about whatever goods he was selling.  He was a young kid and I felt sorry for him as sweat was pouring down his face even though the sun had already gone down.  I asked him to give me a moment to finish my text and then I would listen to his sales pitch.

Do you lead with the negative?When he began, he started by explaining that he was working for a company to earn extra money for his education and that he knew I had seen the scams on the news recently and he wanted to assure me this wasn’t a scam.

“SCAM” was what I heard.

He continued to tell me that he was from a lower income family and he was selling these luggage tags to earn extra money for his education.  Then he proceed to explain to me that he knows that I probably think he’s lying and there’s no way for me to prove that he’s from a lower income family.

“LYING” was what I heard.

He finally got around to telling me the cost of the luggage tags, which was $10, and that he knew that I thought that was expensive and a rip-off but the tags were really good quality and he was earning $5 for every piece he sold.

“RIP OFF” was what I heard.

I proceeded to stop the junior salesman and give him a lesson in NLP.  You see when you lead with the negative, even if you are a salesman trying to overcome common objections, you do two things immediately:

  1. You implant a negative image into the mind of the person you’re speaking with.  Try this – don’t think of a cat.  For your mind to “not think of a cat” it has to get an image of a cat to then “not think of it”.  It gets implanted first.  What color cat did you “not think of”?  Parents sometimes get into trouble with this when they tell a child “Don’t touch that.”  It’s the basic function of the brain to have to go through the process of first touching it (an image of doing so in the mind) to not touching it.  If it is something desirable to the child, creating the image is planting the desire to disobey.  In my interaction, each time the junior salesman said scam, lying and rip off, I had to first think of those things before I didn’t.  And once negative images are implanted, they are really hard for people to get rid of.
  2. You are mind reading.  The junior salesman assumed (or was trained) that I watch the news and saw the report on the scams that were being conducted on the streets of Singapore.  Of course, I had not seen this and I do not watch the news.  So, just by him telling me I had seen this takes him out of rapport, an essential element for sales.  Next he told me that I probably thought he was lying.  Actually, it hadn’t crossed my mind.  I normally don’t think people deliberately lie to me on purpose.  Again, he was mind reading.  And then lastly, he assumed that I thought $10 was too expensive for a luggage tag.  I have no idea what luggage tags cost.  It really didn’t matter to me.  What mattered was that I would be helping a young man learn about sales and the power of making his own money.

I then reminded the junior salesman that he had never told me anything positive about the luggage tags nor did he show me any of the cool designs he had.  We went through his stash of goods and I pointed out some of his characters that would be particularly good to lead with because of their current state of popularity.  I also told him that if he focuses on the metaphor about giving someone a fish versus teaching them to fish, people will more likely be willing to buy his goods knowing that they are helping him learn how to fish.

So, as you venture out on your day today or tomorrow, remember that when you lead with the negatives, you may just be planting seeds of doubt in people around you.  Stick to what you want others to focus on instead of what you want them to avoid.

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