Why a little doubt is better than supreme confidence

doubtI recently read Daniel Pink’s book To Sell is Human. He makes the case that we’re all in sales now even if we don’t have a “sales” job. He defines non-sales selling as: “the ability to influence, to persuade and to change behavior while striking a balance between what others want and what you can provide them.” He explains why the old sales model got such a bad reputation (used car salesmen) and what you have to do in order to be successful in today’s work environment.

He explains that, contrary to a lot of advice we’re given, it’s actually better to ask ourselves “Can we succeed?” than to simply pump ourselves up with an “I can do this!!” mantra. This is called interrogative self-talk and we should be using it before any daunting task.

In sales particularly, most of the focus has been on declarative self-talk that is positive “I am amazing” “I am the best salesperson ever!” etc. Pink writes, “Yes, positive self-talk is generally more effective than negative self-talk. But the most effective self-talk of all doesn’t merely shift emotions. It shifts linguistic categories. It moves from making statements to asking questions.”

A little doubt: “Can I do this?” allows us to marshal the reasons we can. A question like this forces us to answer it by thinking through our preparation and analyzing our resources. If we’re doubting whether or not we should take on the task, asking the question will also help us clarify our internal motivators, “Questioning self-talk elicits the reasons for doing something and reminds people that many of those reasons come from within.” When we’re intrinsically motivated we are more proactive and often do better at whatever challenge we’re tackling.

Pink highlights a social science experiment where participants had to solve anagrams, “The researchers instructed the first group to ask themselves whether they would solve the puzzles and the second group to tell themselves that they would solve the puzzles. On average, the self-questioning group solved nearly 50 percent more puzzles than the self-affirming group.”

So if you find yourself facing a challenge in the next few days, remember to ask yourself “Can I do this?” and then take the time to answer your own question.