Watch Out for Twisted Thinking Part I

Do you manage salespeople? Do you wish they were more productive? Do you wonder what’s keeping them from being as successful as you think they should be? It could be that your sales team suffers from Twisted Thinking.

One of my favorite books to recommend to clients is The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D. This is a book about depression. The subtitle is: “Overcome depression, conquer anxiety, enjoy greater intimacy.”

Why am I recommending a book about depression to my clients? Because the book is really about cognitive behavioral therapy and is a commonsense look at changing the way people think (“cognition” means “thought”), and thus changing their behavior.

In The Feeling Good Handbook Dr. Burns lists “10 Forms of Twisted Thinking” that occur when people are depressed. My years of training and coaching sales professionals have made it clear that people who are not depressed can fall into these twisted ways of thinking, too and many, many sales professionals, unfortunately, employ “‘twisted thinking” when it comes to prospecting.

If your team members are caught in any of these twisted forms of thinking, it will negatively impact their ability to successfully pursue prospects. These types of twisted thinking affect a sales representative’s ability to handle rejection, maintain a positive attitude, learn new skills, solve problems and, bottom line, successfully set up a first appointment.

You can judge for yourself. The following list is the first 3 of the 10 types of “Twisted Thinking” Dr. Burns lists in The Feeling Good Handbook with my paraphrases and sales-related illustrations of each.

1. All-or-nothing thinking

All-or-nothing thinking is black or white. If a situation falls short of perfection, even just a little bit, then it’s a total failure.

An example of all-or-nothing thinking is the dieter who has one forbidden cookie and then proceeds to eat the entire bag since they’ve ‘already blown’ their diet. Another example would be the salespeople who, because they do not have the time to make 100 dials in a day, make no calls at all.

The key to changing this behavior is to help the representative set reasonable goals for the number of calls that can be accomplished on a daily basis. If the goal is not manageable, the representative will not make any calls, so take into account the representative’s other responsibilities. It is much better to get that representative to make a handful of productive dials every day than it is to wait until the day the representative has time to make 100 calls.

2. Overgeneralization

Overgeneralization is a matter of seeing a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. People who overgeneralize use words such as “always” or “never:” “prospecting never works for me.” “Prospects always reject me.”

The key to helping a representative overcome overgeneralization is to first point it out to them and then challenge them to eliminate the words “always” and “never” from their vocabulary.

If they eliminate those words, the most they will ever be able to say is that a particular call didn’t work or that a particular prospect said “no.” Over time this representative may begin to be able to distinguish between the successful calls and the less-successful calls.

3. Mental filter

This means picking out a single negative detail and dwelling on it to the exclusion of everything else. An example: A representative says, “The gatekeeper’s job is to screen sales people out.” This mental filter locks the sales representative into a position that keeps them from being effective.

In this situation you want to try to broaden your representative’s thinking and help them find new ways to view existing situations. Ask, “Is it possible that a gatekeeper’s responsibility is also to put important calls through and that includes your call?”

While they may not grasp this immediately, if you continue to help your team members find different ways of looking at apparent negatives, the more empowered they will be to move past them.

There are 7 more types of “Twisted Thinking.” Stay tuned for future articles.

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