Humility: The Most Important Sales Trait

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seemed to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”  –C.S. Lewis

Pride is the last of the timeless seven deadly sins that we have been discussing these past few weeks. I might also add that in many ways, it is also highly misunderstood. When we speak of pride in this context, we are not referring to the pride one might have for their country, or for the pride a parent feels for their child (which in this case is defined as a warm-hearted admiration).

Nor are we referring to basic human dignity and respect, that every person is born with and is entitled to.

What we are referring to in pride the “sin” is our inward tendency toward self-conceit…to the extent that we not only think so highly of ourselves (this is beyond a healthy self esteem), but that we think we are above everyone else.

And we all have pride:

  • When we consider ourselves better than others, deep within our hearts, that’s pride.
  • When we are in a meeting and we start to feel squirly when the attention or subject is more about someone else and not us, that’s pride.
  • When we are in a conversation with another person, but instead of focusing on what that person is saying, merely contemplating our reply, that’s pride.
  • When we become annoyed or dislike it when another person receives accolades for something they have accomplished, and we would prefer it were us, that’s pride.
  • When we consider any job or task as beneath our so-called dignity, that’s pride.

I could go on. As C.S. Lewis puts it so well in his book Mere Christianity: “It is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” I would likely add business or organization to Lewis’ remark, and I think he would agree. Indeed, the single greatest threat to anyone’s capacity to market leadership–and servant leadership–is pride. And as far as how it relates to the rest of the seven deadly sins–it lies at the root. ALL sins, all human vice, in one way or another, lead back to pride.

So what is the answer? Of course, we all know that the opposite of pride is humility. But this too, is something that is widely misunderstood.

For example, let’s say someone pays you a compliment for something you may have done well. You dismiss it, perhaps even counter it, and say, “Oh, thank you. But it was nothing…” What is that? Is it really humility? Or is it false humility…which is–you guessed it–pride!

Humility is a tricky thing. The harder you strive to be humble, the farther away you are from achieving your goal. Indeed, it is safe to say that if you are granted the “humility award,” you lose it the moment you accept it.

Take a look at the extended quote above from C.S. Lewis. Read it a couple times, if need be. What is he telling us about humility?

First of all, the traits and characteristics he describes above go hand-in-hand with being a great networker and sales person! What do we tell people about networking and sales? We say to always possess and show a sincere interest and caring for the other person. Listen more than you speak. Be empathetic. Care about others, and don’t worry about what they might be thinking about you.

Second, despite popular belief, what Lewis is telling us about humility is this: Humility is not thinking less of yourself; rather humility is thinking of yourself less.

You will notice that I described humility in the headline as a “trait,” not a skill (like listening). Indeed, sales skills are important, but one needs humility first to ensure that their heart is in the right place. Further, if you want others to know, like and trust you, you must first demonstrate that you are truly worthy of knowing, of liking, and of trusting.

So where does all this leave you? If you wish to become more humble, but don’t want to fall into the trap, I would go with what Lewis taught me: first, recognize that you are prideful. Be aware of it. You can’t deny it. It’s always with you. But recognize it. We are all prideful and conceited. And as Lewis says, “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

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