“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”
“People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”
The quotes above make me laugh. You know: the kind of laugh that comes from someone who gets it.
Now, I’m not suggesting I know everything—duh, that would be totally absurd—but I do know a good amount about a lot of things. Being a voracious reader, a constant doer, and an obsessive learner grants you that. I’ve worked hard developing the contents of my brain, and I have no shame in admitting it. In fact, when I was younger, people would often tell me I came off as a “know it all.” This always confused me because the only times I claimed to “know” something was when I knew it, or when I knew enough to have an opinion on it. If I didn’t know something, I’d have no issue in admitting it, usually while expressing interest in wanting to know the answer.
For example, I don’t know much about politics; ask me the differences are between a liberal and a conservative and I could only guess at the answer. Likewise, ask me to do a complex algebra equation and I’ll straight up tell you, “I don’t know how.” O the flip side, ask me about something I am familiar with and I’ll have plenty to say. Ask me about something I know very well and I’ll have a lot to say—and will say it all with conviction.
I guess people are uneasy with someone that can speak intelligently on many subjects. Perhaps it makes them feel inferior? You know what, now that I think about it, in the 48 laws of power by Robert Greene, one of his laws suggests one downplays his intelligence. As he puts it, “To reveal the true nature of your intelligence rarely pays; you should get in the habit of downplaying it at all times. If people inadvertently learn the truth— that you are actually much smarter than you look— they will admire you more for being discreet than for making your brilliance show.”
I like this. I see how this could be useful in persuasion and power. And, actually, throughout the years of being labeled a “know it all,” I now realize that I’ve been doing this as I’ve grown out of adolescence as a means of trying to curb the perception that I’m a know-it-all. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that importance of talking less and listening more. Overall, as far as meeting new people and establishing friendships goes, this is definitely a thing I recommend everyone try to do. And since most people suck at listening, talking less is going to have an immediate impact on your people interactions.
Now, with all that said, I have learned that there is a downside to downplaying your skills, intelligence or self too much. It’s this: people won’t remember you or think of you when you might want them to.
Being a good listener isn’t as useful as you’d think in a business or networking setting when you need to be remembered. When you are trying to establish yourself as anything, especially as a contact for others to call upon in the future, you have to sell yourself. If you don’t add subtle self-promotion into your conversational repertoire, you may not get the results you want with people.
No matter how good of a listener you are, you will fade into oblivion in the minds of the people you come across if they aren’t given a reason to remember you.
This concept is more important today than it’s ever been due to the vast number of distractions, connections, opportunities, people and things that are all fighting for our attention on any given day. As Oscar Wilde so eloquently put it, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
Maybe you think that only entrepreneurs or business people have to promote or “sell” themselves. If you think that, you’d be wrong. We all must sell.
- Want to attract a mate? You have to sell yourself.
- Applying for a grant or scholarship? Your grant proposal or essay better sell.
- Want that job? Sell yourself or the position will go to someone else that does a better job of selling themselves.
- Want to sell your art? To first sell it, you have to sell yourself, then it.
- Want to persuade anyone to do anything? You must sell.
As an attempt to readjust the perception that I was a know-it-all, I started to talk less and listen more. I started to filter my personality by keeping opinions that might seem edgy or controversial to myself. And guess what? It’s been a long time since anyone suggested I was a know-it-all.
So it worked. That’s good, right? Well, not exactly.
You see, now I’ve run into another problem; the problem of not selling myself enough. I’ve found myself not selling myself enough to potential mates, to potential partners, to potential customers, and so on. I’ve been working on this for a while now, and as a result, have been getting closer to the sweet spot between selling/not selling. As with everything in life, it’s the middle area where you get the best results.
As Daniel Pink writes in his #1 New York Times Bestseller, To Sell is Human, “The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness.”
As I’ve tweaked and modified my personality over the years, one of the greatest realizations I’ve had to accept is what English poet John Donne has famously said, “No man is an Island.” See, I’ve always liked the idea of doing things myself. Within the confines of my business, art, my blog, and other projects I’m working on, I have the tendency (obsession?) to want to control every aspect. I also don’t like asking for help unless it’s within the employee/employer context. So, for me, I’ve always struggled with the idea of “networking.” It’s always felt weird to me to meet someone then followup with them asking for something. Even though I rarely ask things of people, I still find it awkward to reach out to people and ask for help. I just prefer to get stuff done myself.
I’m working on it.
I know that I will get more results in my life, business and relationships if I keep putting myself out there. It can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there. It requires vulnerability to self-promote, especially for those of us that already feel weird about self-promoting (which I always have).
Whether it feels weird or not, we still must sell. If we don’t sell ourselves, our services, our wants and desires, we won’t have much to call a life. If you don’t like the word “selling,” then you can substitute the word “persuading.” Selling is simple persuasion. And whether you are selling or persuading, a transaction is successful only if both parties are satisfied at the end. As long as you are giving more than what you are taking, you will always have happy transactions with people, even when you are asking for something.
Selling is not bad, or evil, unless it is used for such purposes. The best salesman are those that sell their goods or services in a way that satisfies the buyer’s need. If you feel awkward about selling something to someone else, it is because you are thinking about it the wrong way. You are probably thinking of the transaction as taking something from the person instead of giving something to them. That needs to change. Flip it around.
Successful selling is giving more than what you receive. Simple.
When you sell your art, you are providing enjoyment for years to come. When you sell yourself to a potential partner, you are giving them all the benefits of you. When you are expanding your network, you are also expanding someone else’s network. When you sell your kids on why they need to go to bed at a reasonable time, you are giving them a healthy habit that will serve them well for the rest of their life. And so on.
As you can see, selling is nothing more than value exchange. Don’t let dollars and cents, or your issues with vulnerability, confuse you to the fact that both parties benefit from selling.
Think of selling—or persuasion, self-promotion, dating, whatever—as doing a favor for the other party. When you think of selling this way, it becomes a much easier thing to do.
Remember, if you don’t sell yourself, you might not be remembered. If you can’t sell your ideas, you will never see them come to life. If you can’t sell your wants and desires, you will never fulfill them.
Always be selling. Always deliver more value than you receive.
Yours in Life,
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