Danger lurks below the surface

Getting under the iceberg

“Seek first to understand then to be understood” –  Dr Stephen Covey

When groups I work with explain the most common reason for them or their colleagues losing a sale, the answer is almost always ‘price’. When they describe how they won their best customers, they never give one-word answers.

When people explain how they won their best clients, their faces and voices tend to brighten up and they become animated as they enthusiastically share their stories about winning a great client.

‘We invested time getting to know them.’

 ‘We really understood their requirements.’

 ‘We got deep insight into their business and critical success factors.’

 ‘There was a good fit – the right chemistry between us.’

 ‘Our proposal was right on the button.’

 ‘Our presentation was like poetry in motion.’

 ’There was a negotiation about price as you’d expect – we were both happy with what was agreed.’

 ‘It was hard work but fun.’

The iceberg principle

The iceberg principle is a term use to describe the writing style of Ernest Hemingway the American writer. He learnedto write in a surface level way where he omitted or hinted at the real point of a story. Hemingway believed that the true meaning of a piece of writing should not be evident at the surface level because the crux of a story lies below the surface. Sometimes known as the theory of omission it provided him with a very distinctive but often frustrating style of writing.

When people begin a new relationship they tend to share information that is in the same style as Hemingway – they give their surface level story, only sharing the full picture with those close to them or people they trust.


You don’t have to be a ship’s captain to know that an iceberg is only around 10% above the water with 90% lying under the surface. For a ship it is the 90% that the Captain doesn’t see that is the dangerous part. The iceberg principle also applies to business relationships. Most prospects have their stories of ‘omission’ – the information about themselves and their business that they share with people they only have surface level relationships with. It isn’t an attempt to deceive or catch you out; it is just what normal people do.

The risk is that a relationship is often sunk before it can flourish, not because of lack of understanding about the surface story, the prospects story of omission, but a lack of understanding about the full picture.

To win a dream client you have to be the one who they allow to get beyond their story of omission and who gains the insight that comes from getting below their iceberg.



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David Tovey

By David Tovey

David Tovey helps sales teams, business owners and professionals to build amazing business relationships, win more business and accelerate profitable growth.

One Response to “Danger lurks below the surface”

  1. Without understanding other’s view point, our decisions and judgement shall be mostly wrong.

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