Chapter 3 - Establishing Trust

I'm adding this note of caution to each page of my notes because the title is misleading: the author advocates a softer approach to persuasion, but his tactics are often still manipulative. In many instances he proposes a subtler form of manipulation, but one which is still manipulative. I don't expect he has bad intentions, but lacks sufficient knowledge in the areas of rhetoric and psychology to correctly identify and avoid manipulative tactics entirely.

The author suggests that a key difference between a manipulative person and an influential person is that a manipulator insists on being given your trust without earning it.

The Oldest Lesson In Trust

The author speaks to his experience in sales presentations, particularly asking the question of how a person know they can trust in someone else. People have difficulty answering that question, and it is often very intuitive: the other person "just seems like they can be trusted."

So he rephrases, and asks what the qualities of a trusted person are: someone who is honest, empathetic, and has expertise to offer. That is to say, a trusted person acts as if they care about your welfare and interested in and capable of helping.

A personal anecdote about meeting his future father in law, a man who put hum at east, and to whom he took an instant liking. His future wife was able to pinpoint the exact reason people feel comfortable with her father. "Because he never speaks. He asks questions and listens to the answers."

That's a critical quality many salesman lack: they attempt to gain trust by making statements and disclosing loads of information, without paying attention to the prospect. People who constantly brag about themselves (or their products) do not earn trust - but instead create doubt.

To be effective at selling, you have to present your products in a way that matches the prospect's needs - but if you don't ask about their needs, you don't know what they are, and talk about things that don't matter. Which is to say, you bore and offend them, which is counterproductive to earning their trust.

Knowledge and Trust

Certain professions require a great deal of knowledge and intelligence: doctors, accountants, lawyers, and the like are all valued for being smart - having years of university training and experience to enable them to make accurate decisions.

Salesmen are not well educated nor particularly intelligent people, and many have no formal education - it is a career in which those who aren't cut out for college can still succeed, because in the selling process, gaining trust is more important than having knowledge.

That is not to dismiss the value of knowledge, and even a salesman must be knowledgeable enough to help - but per the earlier discussion, expertise is only one factor in gaining another person's confidence, and is far less critical than being attentive.

(EN: I recall it being suggested elsewhere that a salesman gains trust by acting dumb - that is, pretending he doesn't understand their situation as a means of getting the prospect to tell him. The salesman who shows his intelligence by assuming he knows the customer without asking any questions often fails when his assumptions are not correct.)

Asking the Right Questions

The first step in gaining someone's trust is learning about them, an the way to learn about someone is not to talk about yourself, but to get them to talk about themselves. We do this by asking questions.

Of particular importance is asking open-ended questions that encourage the prospect to speak at length. This kind of question requires the other party to give more than a short response.

He suggests that the first word of a question determines whether it is an open or closed question. A question that begins with are, will, can, would, if, or did elicits an brief response. One that begins with what, when, why, or where elicits a more detailed one. (EN: This is a bit oversimplified but the "first word" approach is fairly good guidance because it is often, though not always, accurate.) He particularly latches on the notion of "tell me about" or "describe" as methods to get the other person talking.

He also acknowledges that there is a difference between a conversation and an interrogation, but provides little guidance other than "be careful not to pump your questions out too quickly."

The Necessity of Trust

The author speaks of a company who made an effort to nail down its sales process, and identified a sixteen-step process that was based on a variety of tactics - and which did not work because it neglected the most important thing: gaining the prospect's trust.

The problem is that gaining trust is mistaken for a natural ability, something that is obvious and intuitive, and which could be done quickly and with little effort. This is entirely wrong.

All the various tactics of sales require trust in order to work. Without trust, nothing that you have to say to another person is credible. Without trust, there can be no influence.

The Best Question

The author returns to the notion of asking open questions rather than closed, and suggests that "one of the best salesmen I've ever met" began by asking people "What's your story?" The author suggests that the question is "completely nonthreatening" and insists that people want to tell their stories.

(EN: My sense is that older generations might have been open to talking to strangers and disclosing details about their personal lives casually: ask anyone over fifty that question and you'll get an earful. But younger generations are less open to being asked personal questions by an unknown person, and find it hostile and intrusive.)

Active Listening

When you ask someone a question, they presume that you are going to listen to the answer - and there's no better way to undermine trust than doing otherwise.

Listening is a critical skill to interacting with people - not merely letting them talk, but hearing what they say and responding appropriately. If you can master the art of listing, the results will be "amazing."

The author mentions having attended a "listening seminar" that provide a list of habits to avoid:

(EN: The problem with this approach is that this is not teaching people how to listen - most of these tips are merely teaching them to pretend that they are listening. The problem is that the other party will eventually discover that it's just an act when you ask about something they have already said, or leap at the opportunity to turn the conversation to your agenda.)

Aim Your Questions

The problem with open conversations is that they tend to be free-ranging and stray across a broad array of topics. While this is natural and pleasant, it is not at all productive to chat idly with prospects and never get around to making the sale. A conversation can begin as open and random, but to be productive it has to eventually get around to the point.

(EN: This is another topic that the author fumbles - telling the reader about an obvious problem and failing to suggest a solution.)

Then a channel-switch to a self-aggrandizing story about winning an account with an automotive dealership by asking targeted questions and being frank about the goal of the conversation.

Avoid Problems

The author mentions that people often tailor their answers to avoid having an uncomfortable conversation. People sense what you are getting at, and will be evasive and even lie to avoid being pitched.

Again, the author offers no help, but suggests that such instances are an indication that you have not yet earned their trust.