The fine line between being honest, and being brutal

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who just drones on and on about their opinions, without once stopping to listen to what you might have to say? I don’t know about you, but whenever I find myself trapped into a conversation with one of these people, it takes every ounce of my self-restraint

not to scream “Who cares?!” In fact, I have yet to meet a customer who enjoys the experience of having a sales person force their opinions and perceptions on them – even (or perhaps especially) when those sales people felt they were only offering “”their honest opinion.””

Don’t get me wrong, our opinions are important – to ourselves. Nobody needs to hear all your opinions – especially not your customers! The mistake most sales people make is thinking that it is our opinions and perceptions that influence the customer to buy. The fact is, most successful sales people find that the complete opposite is true: they are far more successful when they don’t express their opinions and perceptions, and instead limit their communication entirely to the facts and their emotions.

Making sure you don’t cross the line

Honesty is stating facts the way we see them, and sharing how we feel about those facts. Brutality is attempting to force our opinions on others, blaming others for what we think they did wrong, or adopting an attitude that just screams “I told you so.””

Successfully staying on the right side of this line depends entirely on your ability to get your customers to share with you their emotional reasons for buying your products. How do you do this? By asking them the right questions – questions that will move your prospect from an intellectual position (knowing they have a problem that needs to be solved) to the emotional state of trusting you to solve that problem in a way that will satisfy them.

The right questions, in other words, are ones that will help you to reveal a buyer’s true motivations. To help you get the answers to those questions – and close more deals in the process – try the following four steps to building more lasting and profitable customer relationships:

1. Identify the intellectual problem.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing today in the area of X?

Q: Our clients tell us that we help them solve problems in the area of X. That’s not a problem for you, is it?

Q: What plans have you made to…

2. Develop an intellectual awareness about this problem.

Q: Can you tell me more about it?

Q: Could you be more specific?

Q: How would you improve…

3. Get emotional! Identify the specific business impact of this problem.

Q: How has this problem impacted your organization?

Q: What will happen if this problem continues?

4. Identify the specific personal impact of this problem.

Q: What impact does this problem have on your job / your staff?

Q: What will happen if you don’t find a solution to this problem?

Staying on the right side of the line

Once you’ve revealed your prospect’s true emotional reasons for buying your products, you’re ready to move to the next step in streamlining your communication: learning how to share your emotions during the sales process.

Now, I want to be very clear here: I’m recommending that you describe your emotions, not that you show them – especially if that would mean breaking down into tears or a screaming tirade.

When it comes to expressing your emotions, think of yourself as Tarzan. Tarzan was a man of few words, yet he was always able to express himself in a way that people understood. Keep it simple, and simply report your emotion: I am mad. I am upset. I am stressed.

For example, you might say to a customer: “I noticed that we haven’t received the purchase order from your purchasing department yet, and I’m worried that this will delay your implementation.” Or: “It’s been a couple of weeks since we agreed to talk about your order. If we wait much longer, I’m concerned that they’ll be out of stock.”

You don’t have to go on and on explaining why you’re stressed, worried or concerned, or telling them why it’s all their fault. Instead, just state what you notice, eliminate your opinions and then express your emotions in a clear but concise fashion.

Reporting your emotions helps because it lets the prospect understand where you’re coming from, which ultimately helps you to get your point across. Because you’re not blaming the prospect or customer for making you feel this way, there’s nothing for them to debate. Our emotions belong to us.

In particularly difficult situations, focus your conversation on finding solutions rather than bogging things down with a lot of opinion mongering. For example, try something like:

“I noticed that you weren’t able to get approval for the changes to your order in by the deadline last week, and I’m concerned that we won’t be able to ship the product in time to meet your project deadline. One thing I could have done differently is to have followed up with you earlier last week. Perhaps what we should do now is figure out specifically what actions we can take to make sure that your project can still stay on track.”

A balancing act

Balancing the fine line between honesty and brutality is key to resolving and preventing difficult communication issues. You’ll notice that, in the example above, the focus of the conversation is on finding solutions, rather than assigning blame or trying to cover your tracks.

In short, opinions are subjective, and therefore generally not useful in achieving a sale. While it may seem tempting to bombard others with what you really think in the name of “”honesty,”” a more streamlined approach yields better results – and more commissions!

Colleen Francis is a certified sales professional advisor. You can catch her on the Web at

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