Written selling

Most non-sales job descriptions underemphasize the amount of selling required as part of our jobs. And, of all the selling we do, the ability to do “written selling” is, ironically, under-sold.

Written selling is all the writing we do on a daily basis – via long form documents, emails, and messaging conversations – to persuade others on the merits of whatever it is we’re selling.

We could be selling belief in a vision in a long form doc, the fact that we’re on top of the crisis-of-the-day in an email exchange, and that the task at hand is the best use of our teammate’s time over a message exchange.

When we picture selling, we picture the verbal version. But, in today’s workplace, our ability to write persuasively is a high leverage skill.


When people are trained on influence and persuasion, they generally study a combination of what master influencers do and what interesting social science research points to. The inherent assumption is that the difference between you and the master influencer that you will become is a few skills.

However, when I reflect on my attempts to persuade people, I realize that I’ve actually not been all that persuasive when I set out to be persuasive. Instead, I was most persuasive when I wasn’t trying at all.

So, what happened when I wasn’t trying? I was influence-able. I was more willing to listen, to ask questions and to have a conversation without attempting to make a sale. As I was in tune with what the right decision should be, I was able to really contribute to the conversation and help make the right decision.

It turns out influence isn’t all that different from most other valuable skills. It isn’t about them, it is about us.

Or, put differently, the hard part about influence isn’t learning persuasion. It is learning to be persuadable ourselves.

PS: You might be able to push your view onto someone else for a while. Or, you might even get them to act in a way that isn’t in their interest. It is generally short term. And, that’s not influence anyway, it is manipulation.

Dealing with type II uncertainty

There are, broadly, 2 kinds of uncertainty. While type I uncertainty is the kind you choose, type II is what you face for reasons beyond your control.

So, choosing to quit your job and start a new business is type I. On the other hand, facing an uphill task trying to get a job because of nationality, religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender is a classic type II uncertainty. Now, some might say that logic is flawed. After all, you choose to apply to that job and face that uphill battle. And, while it is an interesting argument, it tends to fall on the wrong side of history.

The biggest challenge with dealing with type II uncertainty is that it feels unfair. But, dealing with unfairness is a rite of passage if you are a minority, a woman, gay or an immigrant.

It is only once we embrace the inherent unfairness can we get to the two things that help – focusing ruthlessly on things we can influence and being grateful for what you have. This is so much easier said than done. Try telling a Muslim in America that she shouldn’t worry about what the President is doing or saying. Or, try telling the many hard working international students who took on huge amounts of debt that they shouldn’t worry about trying to get a job.

But, it is the only way.

Focus ruthlessly on what you can influence. And, while you are it, develop an attitude that refuses to settle on anything but gratitude. There will always be things to complain about. And, there will be less in your control than you’d like.

But, on the bright side, developing the ability to focus and to maintain a positive attitude despite uncertainty and strife is entirely within our control.

It is how we get made.

Work worries

It’s the weekend. And, there’s a lot of room for worrying about work. There’s probably some office politics. Maybe even some uncertainty about what your manager things about you. Or, perhaps, you’d like that long overdue big raise.

Here’s the issue – nearly everything we tend to worry about is stuff that we don’t really control.

There are 3 things we do control –

1. Investing in ourselves

2. Seeking out growth and learning in our work. (This is the start of a beautiful cycle. We love work that enables us to learn and grow. And, when we love our work, we do great work.)

3. Being conscious in our interactions with ourselves and others.

When was the last time we spent time worrying about these things?

2 year social proof – The 200 words project

After acquiring several small grocery stores in 1934, Sylvan Goldman noticed that his customers would stop buying items when their hand-held shopping baskets became too heavy. This led him to develop the shopping cart. In its earliest form, the invention was a folding chair equipped with wheels and a pair of heavy metal baskets. However, despite keeping them in prominent places and with huge signs, his customers didn’t use it – men thought it ‘effeminate,’ and women felt it demeaned their ability to carry a shopping basket.

social proof, sylvan goldman, shopping cartSource

Frustrated to the point of giving up, Goldman tried one more tactic – he hired shoppers to wheel the carts through the store while accumulating the items they wanted to purchase. Encouraged by some initial success, he continued paying people to push his shopping cart for two straight years(!).

Over time, his customers adopted.. and the rest, as they say, is history. Even if his shopping cart was a superior product, it required Goldman to use the principle of social proof to transform it into a success story.

Nothing draws a crowd… like a crowd. – PT Barnum

Source and thanks to: Griskevicius, Cialdini, and Goldstein – Applying and Resisting Peer influence

Influence and concern

Great books gift us with frameworks that give us ways to make sense of the world. Stephen Covey’s book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, attained legendary status because he managed to weave in a collection of great frameworks to help us think about productivity and life.

(Source: ExperienceLifeFully)

Great frameworks are beautiful in their simplicity. And, there are few simpler than the idea that we all have a circle of influence and a circle of concern. The circle of influence is simply a collection of everything we influence (e.g. our response to situations) vs. the circle of concern which is a collection of everything we don’t influence. And, the way of those who are proactive is to spend time within their circle of influence.

I’ve found an interesting truth in dealing with the circle of influence idea – the more time you spend within it, the more it expands. And, the more it expands, the more you realize that you can have a go at most problems you care about by just focusing on what you can do about them. You also realize very quickly as to where your effort is best spent depending on how much of the action feels within your control.

This is what the smartest people and companies do. As a growing company, for instance, there are many many things outside your control – competition and regulation are two simple examples. It can get overwhelming thinking about all the things you don’t control. So, focus fully on what you control. It is similar in our personal lives – there’s no point focusing on all the external stimuli that make up our day. It has to start with us – our actions and our responses.

Simple idea. Powerful implications.