How to Sell Your Ideas

Like it or not, we are all in sales. We are always “selling” to others (our friends, families, peers, bosses, etc.) through our ideas, conversations, products, services, etc. What I mean by “sell” is when we need to persuade others to take some kind of action. You see, we are always persuading, negotiating, pitching, etc. in some form or fashion. This is as true at work as it is at home (and everywhere else), whether we are trying to pitch a new idea at work, trying to get funding for our “startup”, trying to get our children to study at home, or trying to get our spouse to follow a healthy diet and fitness program. As Dan Pink has aptly written, “To sell is human”. There is nothing to be ashamed about when thinking of yourself as “selling” things (ideas) to others.

The Greeks are attributed to a philosophy known as Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Simply put, ethos = character, pathos = relationships, and logos = logic. Ethos is about establishing credibility with your audience (or whoever you’re trying to sell your idea to; why should they listen to you?). Pathos is about connecting with your audience, empathizing with them, understanding their concerns, and articulating them effectively so they feel understood. Logos is the logic/reasoning of the argument you’re making for your case.

Note that the sequential order (Ethos, Pathos, and Logos) is important here. Unless you can establish your credibility with your audience (Ethos), you can’t connect to them and empathize with them (and understand them), meaning you also can’t explain the logic/reasoning behind your argument because they won’t listen.

Now, the reason we fail to “sell” our “ideas” to others is that we tend to go straight to the facts or the logical reasoning behind our case (logos). We are trying to persuade others of our ideas without understanding their viewpoint first so they know you’ve understood them. When that happens, your audience will turn deaf on you because you haven’t taken the time to listen to them, let alone understand (and articulate) their concerns.

In other words, we want others to do something, yet we are unwilling to make the effort required to fully understand their concerns and thinking. We are solely operating from our reasoning and our paradigms. We don’t have to agree or disagree, but understanding them is a must. We also forget that even though you and others may see the same thing, you may reach completely different conclusions about it. It’s not logical, but psychological.

As Charlie Munger has said:

I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.

Here is how we “sell” our ideas to others effectively. You have to be able to diagnose before you can prescribe. You have to understand (and articulate) the other person’s point of view better than they can. You have to show that you have an in-depth understanding of their reasoning. Only they can be the judge of whether you’ve understood them. Only when you can fully understand their concerns (and they will let you know when), can you begin to explain the logic/reason behind your request. This is how we can significantly increase the credibility of our own ideas. Your “audience” will believe you because you’ve taken everything into consideration. They will trust you because you have their best interests in mind.

You’ll note that this philosophy is consistent with the Golden Circle (which is biological, not psychological) in that the Why comes first, then the How, followed by the What. You have to be able to connect with others on a deeper, emotional level before you can expect to be listened to and understood by them.

It’s only after we can present our ideas in the context of others’ thinking and concerns that we can “sell” them our ideas effectively because then they are not fighting to get air time. They must know that they’ve been listened to and understood and that their concerns have been articulated better than they could have done on their own.

It’s only then we are able to make an effective case for our ideas in the context of their concerns.

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