Are Optimistic Salespeople More Resilient?

One of the posts I’m most proud of is one about the difference between optimism and pessimism.

In it, I presented the case for optimism.

Well, it turns out Barbara Frederickson, a psychological researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill has looked even more closely at the benefits of optimism. She’s paying particular attention to how positivity impacts resilience. I ran across a sliver of her research in a tweet that linked to an article in The Atlantic.

She’s discovered that resilient people are better at turning negatives into positives. Resilient people, for example, are more likely to see possibility in situations. A resilient salesperson sees a “No!” as getting him closer to a “Yes!” A non-resilient salesperson tends to look at a “No!” as inevitable. Resilient people seek challenges and rise to them. Non-resilient people shrink away from difficulty, more often choosing an easy path.

Image Courtesy of Dennis Gatz via Flickr

Professor Frederickson presented study participants with a stressful task: They had to prepare and deliver a speech about their qualities as a good friend with very little notice. When the participants learned their speeches would be recorded on video, they began getting more nervous (their blood pressure and heart rates were being measured). They were then informed that if they got to see a video, they wouldn’t have to give the speech after all.

Turns out they were all shown short videos with themes that were either negative (something sad), positive (something happy), or neutral. The theory was that when the videos started playing, they would become less anxious.

There was an interesting difference.

All of the participants who saw positive videos calmed down much more quickly than the ones who saw negative or neutral videos. What does this mean? A positive experience can erase the impact of a stressful or negative one quickly. And, because resilient people are generally more positive, they become happier faster. In other words, optimism wins again!

Optimistic Salespeople

This has sincere  and important lessons for leadership. Salespeople who are more optimistic are more resilient. And vice versa. Resilient salespeople sell more. When you’re hiring salespeople, it’s important to measure optimism and resilience (among about 40 other capacities). We’d recommend using sales assessments to do that. However, if that’s not possible, ask candidates for examples of specific times they’ve had to “bounce back” from adversity. For example, “Tell me about a time when you faced tough odds. How did you recover? Who did you turn to?” While you’re at it, ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What’s the greatest professional challenge you’ve overcome?” You get the picture.

Resilient salespeople can answer those kinds of questions quickly and easily. Non-resilient sellers will struggle a bit more.

How else have you seen resilience and positivity work together on a sales team?


Jeb Brooks

About Jeb Brooks

Jeb Brooks is President & CEO of the The Brooks Group, one of the world’s Top Ten Sales Training Firms as ranked by Selling Power Magazine. He is a sought-after commentator on topics related to sales, sales management, and adult learning, having appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Money, Fortune, and CNN. Jeb is the author of four books and numerous articles.


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  1. Steve Elving says:

    Just a note of thanks for posting this, we know this is very true and in these tough times where the competition is tough, we are fighting a good battle up some real large companies and for the most part winning because they do not have the time or just don’t care to go that extra 1% you need to win over the big boys it takes this and relentless fortitude.
    many thanks
    Steve Elving
    Dir. of Sales & Marketing
    Zoi Films, LLC

  2. Jeb Brooks
    Jeb Brooks says: (Author)


    Thank you for reading. And also for being willing to go the extra 1%. Often, the “big guys” are willing to rest on their laurels and wait for business to come. Stronger brands tend to carry weaker sales teams. And that sense of entitlement only lasts so long in the face of eager, well-intentioned, hard-working, and intelligent competition.

    – Jeb

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