the-one-thing-you-can-controlI was recently attending an aikido seminar led by world-renowned instructor, Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei. At one point, as most of the class was struggling with a particular technique, Ikeda Sensei uttered some extremely important words.

A quick note of explanation: Aikido is a Japanese martial art that focuses on redirecting an attacker’s energy and using it against them. Aikido takes advantage of momentum, gravity, leverage, and balance, rather than size or strength. For that reason, trying to out-muscle your training partner is typically counter-productive. And yet many of us were still doing it.

What Ikeda Sensei said to us was, “Don’t control your partner. Control yourself.”

And that was the key. Because most of us were trying to do something to our partner. The more we each focused on our own body, the more effective the technique was. Trying to force our partners into complying with our will was our mistake.

That principle applies to sales—and business in general—as well. Whether you’re a salesperson working with a prospect, a sales manager leading a team, or a business owner or CEO running an entire company, you can’t control anyone. And in fact, the harder you try to force your will on people, the faster they’ll run in the opposite direction.

What you can do is influence people. And the way you do that is through your own attitudes, words, and actions. The only person you can actually control is yourself. Which means if you want more compliance from the people you interact with, you need to work on you.

Depending on your role in the company, that might mean you need to:

• Become a better communicator
• Upgrade your leadership skills
• Learn more about your product or service
• Develop your coaching proficiency
• Be a better listener
• Discover how you’re sabotaging yourself
• Strengthen your presentation skills
• Ask more and better questions
• Be more supportive and encouraging
• Improve your responsiveness
• Get better at handling objections
• Be more generous with praise and appreciation
• Hone your negotiating skills
• Learn more about your competitors
• Invest more time in relationship-building
• Heighten your sensitivity and empathy
• Improve your follow-up
• Set better boundaries
• Work on overcoming your fears
• Sharpen your closing skills
• Provide more tools, budget, and training

What’s true in aikido is true in sales: If what you’re doing isn’t working, change what you’re doing. Instead of lamenting that your prospects are cheap, or your salespeople are lazy, or your customer service people are incompetent, focus on what actions you can take to improve things.

Don’t try to control other people. Control yourself.