Whatever the case, prospects often hold back from telling us the things we as salespeople need to know in order to better our chances of closing a deal.  Some call this lying by omission, I call it resistance.

In sales we’re always looking for a way to tell whether or not our prospect is telling us everything.  Sometimes a prospect is holding back a vital piece of information and is reluctant to tell the salesperson for fear that it may be used against him.

For example, if the prospect has already made a buying decision, and it isn’t from you, then he will want to hold that information from you so you won’t try to convince him otherwise.  It’s only later on when you get back to your office and receive a voicemail or email telling you that the prospect has decided to go with someone else.  If you only knew then and there you may have had a chance to change the prospect’s mind.    Sometimes the prospect is holding back reasons why he won’t make a buying decision because he doesn’t see the point in bringing it up.  He may want a lower price but feels that it’ll be pointless to negotiate with the salesperson.  He may want to buy the product on terms, but thinks your company doesn’t offer financing options.

Whatever the case, prospects often hold back from telling us the things we as salespeople need to know in order to better our chances of closing a deal.  Some call this lying by omission, I call it resistance.  So the question is, how do we lower a buyer’s resistance so that we can extract as much meaningful information from the prospect?  Before we can talk about lowering resistance, we have to talk about ‘detecting’ the resistance in the first place.

Studies have shown that one way to tell when someone is holding back is to look at the position of their ankles.  The locking of ankles in an interview or conversation can be the equivalent of someone covering their mouth in order to avoid saying anything.  When a person is into the flow of the conversation, they vote with their feet.  When there is free flowing conversation the ankles are unlocked.  When the ankles are locked, that may be an indication of uncertainty and anxiety.

A study conducted by Allen Pease found that 88 percent of patients who sat in the dentist chair immediately locked their ankles.  If the patient was only there for a checkup, only 66% locked their ankles.  When the dentist was to administer an injection, 98% of all patients locked their ankles. (note: I noticed I locked mine as well; in case I had to scream 😉

I’m a fan of those reality cop shows (e.g., 48 hours) and I enjoy the parts where they take someone into a room for interrogation.  You’ll notice that in most interviews, the interviewee will lock their ankles due to anxiety they’re feeling.  If the person has something to hide or is holding back something, you will often see the locked ankles retreat under the chair as if they were hiding something.


So how do you unlock the ankles (i.e., lower the resistance)?  One way is to make the prospect feel comfortable by asking non-judgmental or non-personal questions to get the conversation flowing.  Open-ended questions are usually the best in this case.  As you ask questions, empathize with the prospect and ask him (or her) to elaborate.  This shows the prospect you care and value their his opinion.  When people sense that you care, they will associate you with that good feeling that comes with validation and will more than likely want to share more (i.e., they feel more relaxed around you).

Another way is to remove the barrier between you and the prospect.  If you the salesperson are sitting on the other side of the desk, the best strategy here would be to move your chair alongside or on the same side of the prospect.  Removing the desk as a barrier reduces the personal space between you and the prospect and forces him to relax.   Occasionally glanced downward at their ankles to see if you’ve achieved your objective.

Finally, just having the ankles lock isn’t an automatic guarantee that the prospect is holding back or is anxious, but it is a good indicator.  Look for other signs such as wringing of the hands, clasping the hand tightly, putting their hands under the table or rubbing their hands alongside their legs.  Along with the tightly locked ankles, these are further indicators that the client is holding something back.

About the author

Victor Antonio

Victor Antonio

Victor Antonio's poor upbringing in one of the roughest areas of Chicago didn't stop…

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