Ever notice how often people default to stereotypes? Think of the salesperson stereotype. You've probably seen the movie Tin Man — obnoxious, pushy, insensitive, always has his foot in the door.

In your effort to avoid being categorized as someone like that, you may inadvertently avoid doing or saying those things that would categorize you as a helping, caring purveyor of services.

WHAT SELLING IS Selling is one of the least-understood practices of communication. The current Webster's dictionary lists more than 50 definitions. Some — “Exchange property, goods or service for money,” or “To establish faith, confidence or belief in” — are simple. But that list also includes phrases such as, “A trick or hoax,” and “To cheat or dupe.”

It isn't the definitions that cause confusion. The confusion arises from the way we go about communicating in an effort to convince others, change their minds, or promote goods and services.

In the interests of clarity, let me offer this interpretation: Whenever an interaction between two or more parties takes place for the purpose of establishing new ideas, exchanging goods or services, or developing a relationship, some form of selling will occur and the skills of the communicator will determine the outcome.

PROBLEM-SOLVING In home improvement sales, the concept can be described as a problem-solving discussion between salesperson and prospect that leads toward a meeting of minds that deepens the dependence of each on the other.

Despite your intuition, you may be doing things that fail this purpose. Presenting ideas before you do a needs assessment, quoting ballpark figures, giving prices over the phone, or even failing to ask for the prospect's business creates a malfunction in the communication process. You could be working so hard to avoid the stereotype that you fail to sell, i.e., to deliver to your prospect a solution to his or her problem.

—Dave Yoho is president of the oldest, largest, and most successful consulting group serving the home improvement industry; www.daveyoho.com; 703.591.2490.