I read that Admiral James Stockdale, a Vietnam War veteran and former POW at the Hanoi Hilton, said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
His combination of faith and brutal reality was the difference between surviving long enough to be released from captivity, and being one of those unfortunate souls who died in captivity. In Jim Collins' best-selling business book, Good to Great, he refers to that quote as the Stockdale Paradox.
It's also consistent with what Jack Reacher, the lead character in the Lee Child series by the same name, would say. In 2015, I wrote this article about Jack Reacher and I have always taught that "you must be eternally optimistic about your outcomes but completely skeptical about everything you hear along the way."
Why is that important?
Happy Ears is a Big Problem for most salespeople. When it's a strength, Objective Management Group (OMG) calls it Healthy Skepticism. The challenge is that Healthy Skepticism is unlike the other selling strengths and weaknesses measured by OMG, where great salespeople have them as strengths and weak salespeople have them as weaknesses. With Healthy Skepticism there is little differentiation between strong and weak salespeople.
While the strongest 5% are 35% less likely to have Happy Ears than the weakest salespeople, Happy Ears affect all salespeople, even the best ones. For example, this article tells the story of a very talented salesperson (good Bob) who was thrown off his game because of Happy Ears. Read the story about bad Bob and his $225,000 selling mistake. Bad Bob has happy ears.
This famous clip from Dumb and Dumber demonstrates Happy Ears better than anything I can write.
Whether it's a good salesperson being thrown off his game, a weak salesperson always having happy ears, James Stockdale, Jack Reacher or the rest of us. It's important to be optimistic about your outcomes, but you must confront the brutal reality of your situation. Listen closely to what you're hearing. Challenge and push back by asking questions, even if you're uncomfortable doing so. Especially if you're uncomfortable doing so!
OMG has assessed 2,059,200 salespeople and you can see that data and compare by industry here.
Image from US Navy archive