Another client admitted he still gets sweaty when in front of a prospective buyer. Every time. When money is on the line, his antiperspirant fails him—or rather biology does. See, it’s our biology, and more specifically our Amygdala (the reptile brain at the base of our skull), that insists we must have a fight, flight, faint, or freeze response to that which threatens us.

Historically, that which threatened us was saber-toothed cats, man-eating birds of prey, even over-zealous winds and freezing temperatures. These were real threats. Our outcomes, when faced with these natural predators and conditions, if not addressed, were likely serious pain or worse, extinction.  While these threats have largely subsided, our instinct to avoid danger has not.

That’s why sales professionals avoid picking up the phone. It’s also why many get sweaty palms at a networking event. Or even why we fail to walk into a business which might make a perfect client and introduce ourselves. Sure we justify it with “I’m busy”, “nobody wants to be interrupted”, and “they probably aren’t even in right now”. But the reality is our reptile brain is sensing danger and adjusting our physiology accordingly. Even though we aren’t in any real danger anymore.

That’s the bad news. Your biology has the cards stacked against you becoming a successful sales professional (or entrepreneur who has to sell his ideas, or a speaker who has to book and deliver her own gigs, or a donor development officer who has to find new donors). But the good news is this: We can learn to overwrite our response in the moment of these not-actually-threatening situations.

  1. We need to recognize and address when the Amygdala is kicking in and causing a fight (verbally aggressive or stiff posture), flight (dodging incoming calls and people), faint (sweaty palms, not hearing what’s happening), freeze (creative avoidance & procrastination) response.
  2. We need to consciously acknowledge and dismiss it. We can do that by saying to ourselves out loud “I am having a reptile-brain reaction; I know that I am not in any real danger.” Taking deep breaths is helpful in this step as it signals to the rest of the body that we are, in fact, not in any real danger.
  3. Most importantly, we must do the thing anyway. We
    must do the thing anyway. If we give in to the reptile brain, it feeds
    the justification of protecting us in the same situation in the future.
  4. We must practice the ideal response in that or a similar situation. For example, if while on a call, a prospect asked me what made me think I could help his company? Imagine if in that moment I panicked, got sweaty, and shakily answered “well, I am not really sure, so thanks for your time.” Then I hung up because I couldn’t think of a better response. It would benefit my future-self to replay that question in my mind, devise a more appropriate response (maybe even write it out), and then repeat that response out loud a few times so I develop new neural-pathways around those more-effective words.

If we skip any of those steps, we are robbing ourselves of the gift
of growth.
Our reptile brain doesn’t really like growth because it means risk; and to him, risk means danger; and danger leads to death. But professionally speaking, death is rarely an outcome of growth. In fact, illness and thus death are increasingly attributed to anxiety which we can experience as a result of unfulfilled dreams. While  prospecting isn’t so easy a caveman could do it, it is something we can all learn to do more effectively with a little bit of awareness and practice.