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How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills & Avoid Mistakes in Selling

As a sales coach, I spend a fair amount of time in the field observing sellers. As a researcher, I interview buyers and get their perspective on what sellers do during sales calls. And, as a sales trainer, I conduct 1-to-1 role plays with sellers and sometimes set traps to see how they’ll handle common situations.

More often than not, when sellers make mistakes, it’s not a lack of selling skills. It’s a lack of critical thinking skills or lazy thinking habits that interfere with critical thinking. There are numerous logical thinking traps that can ensnare us in any conversation, and these show up in sales meetings with buyers, too.

Watch out for these 10 logical thinking traps that take sellers off course:

  1. Hasty generalizations
  2. False dichotomies
  3. Causal link fallacies
  4. Bandwagon appeal
  5. Appeal to ignorance
  6. Red herring fallacies
  7. Commitment constraint
  8. Misplaced authority
  9. Whataboutism
  10. Circular Thinking


How to Recognize and Avoid These Logical Fallacies that Lead to Selling Mistakes


Graphic Showing Saying Hurtful WordsAs we break each one of these down, consider ways they might be influencing your interactions with buyers. You may be guilty of using some of these fallacies and that could diminish your credibility and trustworthiness, if your buyer notices the fallacy trap and thinks you’re doing something sneaky. You may also be the victim of buyers or others using these tactics against you. Either way, be aware and avoid letting these slip into your meetings with buyers.

Hasty generalizations: This happens far too often in selling. It’s one of the main reasons that selling, as a profession, has some negative stereotypes associated with it. Speaking in generalities leads to misunderstandings and to making or implying promises you can’t keep. Listen to the words you use and avoid making generalizations that include hyperbole (always, never, all, none). Instead, speak with precision and measure your words carefully. Use accurate words (most instead of all, usually instead of always). This will also help you remain relevant to the individual buyer instead of sounding salesy and generic. 

False dichotomies: Also known as black-and-white thinking or either/or fallacy. This is used, at times, as a manipulation to force someone’s hand. It may also result from lazy thinking that defaults to an assumption that there are only two choices. In most things, there are many options and variations. Expanding your thinking allows for creative combinations and accommodations. Examine choices that are presented to determine if they are truly mutually exclusive (choosing one would, without a doubt, eliminate the other choice). More often, two choices can co-exist or be blended.

Causal link fallacies: When people assign blame without getting to the root cause of a problem, they may be victims of this thinking trap. With buyers, you have to get clarity on what really causes the issues or problems they’re experiencing. Your solution won’t work if there are lingering problems that aren’t fixed. When selling, be careful not to over-promise by magnifying the effect of your solution if it’s not truly a cause-and-effect formula in play. 

Bandwagon appeal: Also known as herd mentality. Just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t make it good or right. Remember your mom saying “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” This is an attempt to cause acceptance of something just because it’s trendy, popular or common. The claim that’s implied is that you should do it, too, and doing it will make you succeed in some way. 

Appeal to ignorance: Buyers sometimes feign ignorance to avoid engaging with a seller. Sometimes, buyers are genuinely ignorant because they haven’t been exposed yet to your product. Either way, ignorance should be a reason for remaining ignorant. Using ignorance to draw conclusions is also a thinking trap. Saying “we don’t know what that is, so we don’t need it” is an example of trying to prove something using ignorance. Nothing is proven by ignorance, and strong critical thinkers challenge ignorance when they encounter it (that includes challenging their own ignorance, too!).

Red herring fallacies: Red herrings are distractions. They get served up anytime someone wants to focus on something other than the real issue or problem. These side issues or distractions can take you down time-sucking rabbit holes. Keep your buyer focused on problems you can solve rather than succumbing to red herring topics (no matter how interesting they might be!).

Commitment constraint: Also known as sunk cost fallacy. We all like to see things through to the end, and we don’t like giving up when we’ve made a commitment. Even after we realize that something isn’t working, we may stick with it in a futile and stubborn attempt to make it work. What’s more, we reason, if this didn’t work, nothing else will either. If your buyers are clinging to ineffective solutions and resist making a change, this could be what they’re experiencing.

Misplaced authority: Anytime someone else’s authority is invoked, it could be a slippery tactic to avoid making a decision, owning a decision, or being confident in one’s own decision. This is lazy thinking. When you defer to your sales manager instead of taking the heat for a decision, you might be using this tactic. When your buyer says there are higher authorities who will make the buying decision, they might be using this tactic. This also shows up when buyers ask if big-name competitors are using your products. Oftentimes, no other authority is really needed. It’s just a smokescreen for delaying a decision or making someone else the fall guy.

To learn more about the last two, whataboutism and circular thinking, check out this video from the No More Lazy Thinking video series:


How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills to Avoid Being Tricked When Selling


To protect yourself from tricks that others play with logical fallacies, take these ten steps.

  1. Be skeptical. Don’t accept things at face value. When something doesn’t quite add up, pause and reflect instead of ignoring it.
  1. Check your sources. The sources you rely on for information may not be entirely reliable. All source have their own biases and limitations. Don’t limit yourself to sources that are familiar, easy to access, or confirming what you already believe. Look for divergent points of view and multiple sources before acting on information.
  1. Put yourself in others’ shoes. How do they see the situation? What do they need from you to believe in you? What logical thinking traps are they mired in? Understand where your buyer is coming from to adjust your messages accordingly and to be discerning in what you believe.
  1. Look for a hidden agenda or motive. Buyers are conditioned to play the game. When interacting with sellers, they might have a secondary motive. Maybe it’s too squeeze you for a better price. Maybe it’s to put their current provider on notice and squeeze them for a better price.
  1. Keep yourself well-informed. Know what’s happening in your industry, your market, and your profession. Continually learn and seek to know what’s new and what’s changing.
  1. Ask questions. Then ask some more questions. Ask high-quality, purposeful questions to probe what’s really going on with a buyer. Use questions to challenge thinking traps and break free of them and to help buyers escape them, too.
  1. Listen carefully. Listen for subtext, emotion, hesitation, and what’s between the lines. Do whatever it takes to build strong listening skills. Buyers respond to sellers who listen well. And sellers who listen well pick up significantly more information than those who don’t. 
  1. Check for understanding. Don’t make assumptions and don’t jump into action before checking to be sure you’re on the right track. You’ll expose logical thinking traps by probing at things that don’t make sense, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle, too.
  1. Break complex problems into piece parts. The bigger it is, the more it needs to be broken down into manageable chunks. Your buyers and colleagues will appreciate this, too. Smaller pieces are easier to work with and harder to hide trickery behind.
  2. Check yourself. If you’re modeling tricky tactics, you can expect others to use them on you, too. With renewed awareness, don’t inadvertently slip into lazy thinking habits that can be interpreted as trickery.

If these steps seem cumbersome or time-consuming, keep this in mind. You’re going to be working smarter, not harder when you hone your critical thinking skills. You will make fewer mistakes, and you’ll save time by building trust and demonstrating competence sooner. You’ll also be learning and growing in every interaction where you exercise your mental might. This has a multiplier effect that makes you better and better over time.  

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