Seth Godin Talks Face

On Wednesday’s episode of his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin dedicated his monologue to the precarious difference between truth and belief. He argues that because this difference is often overlooked, we have a tendency to talk past each other and miss the opportunity for real conversation. 

In explaining the difference between truth and belief, he gives the example of sports fans, such as those rooting for the Yankees or Red Sox, who continue to support and believe in their team no matter winning or losing. (Go Yankees!)

However, what truly caught my attention was an interestingly dark example Seth provides to demonstrate the power of saving face.

He tells a story about a doctor who discovered that washing our hands before delivering a baby can dramatically lower birth related deaths. (Turns out, doctors at that time frequently handled dead bodies previous to handling deliveries…Lovely, right?)

The point of conflict in the story is that at first many doctors were completely resistant to changing their ways, even after being provided with clear evidence and data. Fortunately, as you may have guessed since we’re here reading this, doctors finally abandoned this terrible habit.

In the end it was not the truth or facts that prevailed, but the ability for doctors to save face and avoid having to admit they were wrong. (If you’re wondering, he keeps the breakthrough mystery…)

Through this lesson, Seth provides us an all too vivid example of two important realities:

  1. Facts often do not change our minds, beliefs, or behavior
  2. Our minds, beliefs, and behavior can change if face – ie. someone’s pride or previous commitments – can be saved.

His specific prescription for salespeople is asking questions that will help to separate the truth out into the open, like sifting through sand for a hard tangible object.

What kind of questions specifically?

Seth hearkens back one of his heroes, Zig Ziglar, and a questioning technique that long-time students of sales and negotiation might quickly recognize:

If I could…would you?

For example, “If I could demonstrate XYZ, would you buy today?”, or “If I could convince you of XYZ, would you consider exploring this further?”


Seth’s sage advice to utilize what he describes as “simple questions asked with respect” can help us converse – and thus sell – more effectively.

Unfortunately, questions such as these are often discounted as the sales methods of old. So let’s dust them off…

Because while these questions like these might not save lives, they most certainly will help save face.

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