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Are you in the black?

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After the third round of this year’s Masters Tournament, golfer Phil Mickelson told a reporter that he’d be wearing black the next time. When asked why, he said, “It helps me get more aggressive. Studies have shown that when NFL teams wear black they have more penalties.”

Turns out, he’s right. There’s actual evidence, published by Cornell University researchers in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, to back it up. But what, you may ask, does this have to do with sales? And why in the world would you want to be more aggressive? No one likes a pushy salesperson, right?

The truth is that “aggressive” doesn’t always mean “hostile.” Mickelson certainly wasn’t thinking about punching his competitor in the nose or throwing his club into the crowd after a bad shot. What he wanted was to play boldly, with lots of initiative in the energetic pursuit of his goal. Timidity was not an option for him.

Black makes you bolder

Cornell’s research shows that one reason players in black uniforms get more penalties is because they seek out more opportunities to be aggressive. Much of that has to do with self-perception. Players feel that they need to step up and behave in a more formidable way when they wear black.

Timidity doesn’t work in sales either. Yet I have to admit that I have felt timid on occasion, and it’s totally related to self-perception. I’ve hesitated to initiate contact with senior executives because they intimidated me. I’ve waited an eternity to call people back because I was scared they’d say no. I’ve been afraid to raise my prices because prospects might not have liked it. I’ve agonized over narrowing my target market, fearful that I’d lose out on an opportunity.

I don’t like feeling that way, but I think it’s normal.

Boldness leads to a sales edge

My only saving grace is that I finally decided to kick my own butt. I took action, even though I wasn’t feeling strong, aggressive or bold. And I discovered that I didn’t die. On the contrary, I became stronger each time I stepped into my fears (and more aggressive, in a nice sort of way). I think it’s all about forward progress.

I can assure you that if I ever get into a “masters of sales” tournament, I’ll be wearing a black power suit. If my choice of clothing can give me a competitive sales edge, I’m all for it!

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