“It’s not about the typo”


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So, this happened …

My sense of annoyance was instant and extreme. “I can’t believe he wrote that!” I thought to myself, turning to throw his CV in the bin.

This was very early in my career, but I was already involved in interviewing people to join the actuarial team where I was working. I wasn’t the head of the department, but still had a strong say in whether applicants would be hired.

Having not received any formal interview training, I simply did what instinctively felt right, whatever made sense to my younger less-experienced mind.

(I might even have asked one applicant: “If your house were burning down, what one item would you grab on the way out?” I’ve still not forgiven myself for asking this, in spite of the fact that I was young, so it shouldn’t count.)

Looking back, I think I made some good hiring decisions in those early days, but I certainly didn’t have a perfect track record.

I do remember one particular interview, probably because I had an uncomfortable feeling about the candidate right from the beginning of our sit-down. In fact, some 20 minutes into the interview, I was ready for it to end. He did not feel right for the team. But being young and naive, I was more worried about upsetting him by ending the interview early, than I was worried about not wasting my own time. So I begrudgingly persisted for the full hour.

On paper, he was a very good candidate. He had the right qualifications, scored well at university, and had some experience in the specific field where I was working. But he felt wrong to me. I’m not sure I was totally sure about why I thought he was the wrong candidate for the job. Maybe he felt too practiced and too insincere? I began to suspect that every example he was giving me had been manufactured in advance, and that he’d not really solved the problems he claimed to have done.

The next day he sent me a note, thanking me for my time, and that he hoped for a positive outcome to our discussion. He had addressed the note “Dear Greig”, and that was an immediate red flag for me, since he’d made a typo! My name was (and still is) spelled “Greg”.

That typo bothered me more than it should have, I guess because it came on top of a disappointing interview (where I was silently fuming for the 40 remaining minutes that I didn’t want to sit through).

When the recruiter called later that day to discuss how the interview went, even before getting into the real reasons why I had decided not to hire this particular candidate, I found myself saying to her, “And then there was the typo.” I paused to let the recruiter process this, and then continued. “Yes, in his message to me he spelled my name incorrectly. This shows me he lacks critical attention to detail.”

The recruiter pushed back on that a bit. “Yes, I understand that must be annoying, but hopefully that’s a small and easy thing to fix moving forwards.”

“Doesn’t he understand how important a person’s name is!” I said, more as a statement than a question. “Out of all the things to misspell, surely a person’s name is the worst.” I was trying hard to justify my indignation.

Again, the recruiter pushed back, “But getting a person with relevant experience, that’s got to be more important than a typo?” And as sensible as that push-back was, I found myself digging my heels it, making it sound like the typo really was a defining feature of the candidate.

And so we descended into a five-minute debate about typos, names, flaws, and ill-suited candidates.

And then the call ended.

But the reality was, even if he’d never misspelled my name, I was still going to turn him down. He didn’t feel right to me. I can’t even argue that the typo was the last straw since my mind had already been made up, just 20 minutes into the interview. The typo actually had no impact on the outcome or the certainty of my decision.

And worse still, the recruiter let me drag her down into this irrelevant discussion on the implications of the typo. She chose to debate that point with me, like if she could convince me that the typo wasn’t that important, I would change my mind and hire the candidate. So instead of trying to get past the typo and uncover my real objections, we both got lost in a pointless discussion.

Unfortunately, the recruiter missed the chance to change my mind, because she was discussing something that didn’t drive my decision. And I missed the chance to perhaps hire the right candidate because I’d thrown a false reason into the discussion.

Everyone’s time had been wasted. And we were both complicit in what had happened.

And that was really annoying because, after all, it was not about the typo.

Simple Definition

It’s not about the typo:  This is an example of where people focus on a false (although often believable) issue. The person raising it is hiding behind an irrelevance (whether knowingly or not), which the other person should ignore while working to find the real objection.

Summarizing what it means

Julia Hartz is co-founder and CEO of Eventbrite, who is one of Fortune magazine’s “most powerful women entrepreneurs”. In an interview with Reid Hoffman (founder of Linkedin), she describes the concept (that I teach in this chapter) as “one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in my life. I learned it at 14.”

On the basis of her comment, do you think you might learn something powerful in the chapter below? (Say yes.)

So, what really happened with that candidate?

This is what I know to be true:

  • I did not connect well with the candidate, and had made a decision early in the interview not to hire him
  • The typo in his follow-up note did not affect my decision, nor did it affect how certain I was that it was the right decision in the first place
  • I don’t even remember why I brought the typo up. I probably realized while talking to the recruiter that “he doesn’t feel right” seemed a little hollow, so perhaps I was trying to substantiate my concerns
  • The recruiter should have moved past the typo, and pressed harder to find out “what else” was worrying me
  • The more I defended the typo as my trigger, the more determined I became that it was indeed the key determining factor behind my decision
  • It was not about the typo.

Why is there even a #hashtag-story about typos?

The application of “It’s not about the typo” is an extremely common problem for anyone who has to deal with people, including sales, negotiations & relationships.

  • Whenever you’re selling something, your prospect is going to raise objections
  • Often, those objections are not the real underlying reasons for their resistance to buying
  • If you argue about the so-called ‘typo’, you will miss the chance to uncover their real concerns, and you will lose the sale
  • This applies to dating, starting a business, trying a new diet, aiming for work-life balance, writing a book, and plans to hang out together this coming Friday night
  • It’s not about the typo.

What should you do from now on?

This is the core of what you have to learn from this chapter:

  • When you start raising false objections yourself, immediately flag that moment in your mind as #[It’s not about the typo]
  • Be clear on whether you’re lying to them (because you think it easier than telling the truth), or lying to yourself (and you need to think harder about what’s really going on in your mind)
  • With the above labels clear in your head, decide to be deliberate in what you say, and how you work together to find and discuss your real objections
  • And the same applies to when you hear others making excuses – flag that moment as #[It’s not about the typo]
  • Work carefully and deliberately with them to uncover what their real objection is
  • You will both benefit from debating the real issue, not the invented ‘typo’
  • It’s not about the typo.

This chapter is slightly longer than average – but you don’t need to read the whole chapter. If you have actually absorbed what is written above in the Summary, then that’s already a great start.

But it will be worth your taking the time to carefully read the whole chapter, because …

Discussing what it means

The Superpower of Handling Objections

When you learn how to identify and to use the so-called “typos” technique, it will empower you in a way that few other simple techniques can. So even if you intellectually get the message of what this #hashtag-story is telling you, it’s worth taking your time to properly internalize the technique.

  • Skill 1:  How to deal with objections, when you believe you’re being presented with a “typo” rather than the truth
  • Skill 2:  Be aware of when you are raising a “typo” yourself (or tempted to do so), and make sure you do what is most effective for you at that moment.

Understanding how sales & negotiations really work

In a fantasy sales situation, you ask your prospect what their problem is, and they tell you. Then you explain why your solution will be effective for them, and they agree. You invoice them, they pay you. Everyone is happy.

In the real world, however, you have to work hard to identify the real problem they’re trying to solve – either because they’re simply not opening up, or because even they aren’t sure what the real issue is.

Then things get more complicated when you progress to presenting your solution: what is it, when can they have it, how much will it cost, what color box it comes in? At this point, perhaps in order for them to feel in control (no one likes to be sold to), your prospect will start to raise objections.

The most common objection is around price, but it could be on any other aspect of the sale.

Your job, then, is to successfully deal with each objection, either by ignoring it, reframing it, or explaining it. If you do that well, the sale will proceed. If you get this part wrong, the process ends without a sale.

Not just about selling. Not just about price.

In the discussion below, I am using a selling example. This is merely to help you understand the concept, and selling is an easy way to do this. In reality, it could be with respect to a parent not letting their child go out on a Friday night, or about an argument between a couple, or a discussion about why you are (or are not) vegan.

Further, for the sake of simplicity, I will use examples of a sale specifically where price is the objection they have raised. It can be anything: the quality of the work, the time the delivery will take, they don’t want a red one. That said, we will focus on price to make our point.

The three main types of objections

Genuine objection

  • Your prospect tells you that it’s too expensive, because it really is too expensive for them. So, you offer them a 10% discount.
  • They are now happy – so they buy.
  • This was a genuine objection, which you dealt with head-on, and thus managed to close the sale.

Perspective objection

  • In this case, your client complains that your solution – at $1 million – is too expensive.
  • You remind them that they need a solution, and even though $1 million is a lot, if they buy an equivalent solution from your competitors, it would cost them $1.2 million.
  • They realize their perspective of price was wrong, since the alternative (of not buying anything) is unacceptable given their current situation.
  • You have dealt with the objection, not by changing anything (you didn’t give a discount) but by reframing their perspective.
  • Your prospect is now happy, so they agree to buy, and become a satisfied client.

False objection (intentional or unintentional)

  • Your client, after hearing about your solution, tells you that it’s too expensive.
    • Perhaps they’re not really sure it’s as effective as you say it will be. If you had more case studies to prove that it has done for others what you claim it will do for them, they would pay that price immediately. So, although they’re telling you price is their worry, their real concern is effectiveness.
    • Perhaps your prospect loves your solution, but they know their boss prefers the solution sold by her cousin’s company. Thus, they tell you it’s too expensive, but in reality they’d spend more if you represented the other company.
    • Perhaps they’re in a desperate situation, and they need a full installation within a month, before their boss finds out there is something that needs fixing. But they won’t admit they’ve screwed things up, so they tell you it’s a price problem, when actually they want to buy from another (more expensive) vendor who can implement a lot faster than you.
  • In all these cases, they’re telling you that price is the problem, but it’s not. And even if you gave them a better price, even if you tried reframing your solution, they still won’t buy from you.
  • We thus say that they have raised a false objection.
  • And no matter how long you argue about the price with them, it won’t change the outcome, because that’s not their real concern.

The so-called “typo” is actually a false objection

When I declined to hire the candidate in my story above, the fact that he made a typo in my name was true, but it was a false objection. That typo did not affect my decision, and even if it had never happened, I still would not have hired him.

Therefore, no matter how long the recruiter debated this point with me, I was never going to relent. It was a false objection, and thus pointless to challenge.

How do you tell if it’s a false objection?

It might be impossible to tell that it’s a false objection!

  • One challenge is their objection may indeed be valid, but it’s not their primary concern. So by addressing it, you’re still not removing the primary obstacle to the sale.
  • Or it might be that they really believe this is their main objection, without realizing that there is something else bothering them, that they hadn’t fully brought to consciousness. So again, addressing that point without attempting to identify other relevant factors, will not ease their mind enough to buy.

The best way of determining if something is a real objection is handle it as if it is false. If you follow the “how-to” below, and if the objection doesn’t just disappear, it might be a genuine problem, which you then have to solve. 

How should you handle false objections?

When people raise a false objection (when #[It’s not about the typo]), then it’s often quite easy to slide that one out of the way.

Here are a few examples of how you might respond to someone telling you that your product or service is too expensive:

  • “Other than price, what do you think about this solution?”
  • “If I can show you that this price actually delivers a lot more value than you appreciate, you’ll buy. Right?”
  • “Sure, we can come back to price later. Is anything else bothering you about the solution?”
  • “OK, we’ll get back to price later. But first explain to me again how the features of this solution are going to benefit your bottom line.”

As you can see, in all the above cases, I’m basically just side-stepping the issue. And I’ve found over the years that when it’s a false objection, then it’s very easy to move past that sticking point.

However, there are many cases, of course, where they refuse to discuss the solution’s effectiveness until they’re comfortable that the price can be improved. They might insist on talking about price even before addressing the benefits to them of the solution.

If you can’t get past the objection, or if they keep coming back to the same objection, then you may well have proven that price is indeed a genuine objection. And you then have to deal with it properly in order to get the sale through.

The best way of dealing with a false objection, a “typo”, is to side-step it. If that doesn’t work, you may indeed be facing their real objection. Deal with it, if you can.

It’s OK to just say no

If you’re tempted to raise a false objection, consider stopping right there. You don’t always have to explain yourself. If your stance is clear to you, then that should suffice.

  • If you don’t like the person or what they’re selling, it’s OK to just say no. You don’t have to make justifications, you don’t have to enter into an argument, you most certainly don’t have to create false objections to be polite.
  • If you’re disagreeing with someone during a debate, again you can just skip the objections – real or otherwise – and tell them, “Let’s agree to disagree.” You don’t have to be pulled into a difficult discussion where “typos” are likely to be thrown around, whether intentionally or not.

Building trust may prevent objections

When I took on a client-facing role, early on in my career, my job seemed simple: ask what their problem is, then sell them a solution which solves that problem.

So imagine my shock when I realized that prospects lied, that they were throwing out false objections during the sales process.

It didn’t make sense … wouldn’t they benefit from telling me the truth, if they were honest about their worries and their priorities, so that I had a real chance at making things better for them?


And yet, the false objections continued. I discussed this with my boss on a long flight one day, and the insight that he shared with me was that it comes down to trust.

  • You might not have built up a strong enough relationship with them, for them to fully open up
  • Or, maybe they feel exposed that they even have this problem, that they haven’t been able to solve the problem before, and – human nature! – they would rather risk not finding a suitable solution now, than make themselves vulnerable to you
  • It’s possible that they don’t really understand your solution, and may even be worried that they will look like an idiot in front of their boss when trying to explain it, so they throw out false objections like price, just to avoid facing these worries
  • Perhaps they don’t trust you enough that you can deliver, so they feel there is no point in telling you the truth – either about the problem or the way in which your solution is missing the mark.

So another way of avoiding the problem of false objections, of preventing yourself from having to apply the techniques taught earlier in this chapter, is to focus on getting more trust between you and the prospect, or your partner, or your child.

That, by itself, is a good goal to have.

What if you are the one throwing around false objections?

If you’re in a suit shop and the place doesn’t feel right, the fashions feel old, and the salesperson feels pushy – what are you going to say when you make excuses to leave? Will you tell the truth and risk offending them? Or will you throw out a false objection to be polite?

The intentional use of false objections can be a good idea.

On the other hand, sometimes when you’re being sold to, or you’re having an argument with your partner, you might not even realize that you’re raising a false objection! Deep down inside, you might have a trust issue along the lines of what I described earlier, or you might not appreciate that implementation times are actually more important to you than price.

Although you think that price is the sticking point, although you raise that for debate in the meeting, you might be missing your own point.

As is taught in #[The field that became a black hole], it’s important to have a strong awareness of your own thinking, your motivations, your priorities. Because the better you know what’s really bothering you, the more likely you are to deal with your own concerns, and to execute on the solution that really best solves your needs.

It’s frustrating when you’re in a discussion with someone who isn’t addressing the real issues, but it’s hard to control that. What’s even more frustrating is when you are the one not addressing the real issues, because you can control that.

Advanced Skills in using false objections to your benefit

Because there is an infinite number of situations where objections and disagreements can get raised, it’s hard to explain in a single paragraph how you can use “typos” to your maximum advantage.

Here are a few examples to give you a flavor of what is possible. You should read these in the context of your own life, and adapt them accordingly.

  • Being polite. Sometimes the truth hurts, and it would be more polite to throw out a false objection. “I love this painting, darling, but it’s just above my price range,” when in reality you don’t like what your friend has drawn.
  • Straw man. When you’re dealing with an argumentative person who always finds a flaw in your offering, then it can be powerful to intentionally introduce an apparent weak point for them to attack. You might give them an inflated price which they will push back against, so that once they’ve got your number down, then they relax into the sale. Or if you want someone to review your report but not be too critical, then introduce a few obvious typos (in this case, typos are literally typos), so that their focus gets drawn to the spelling and not the ideas. When you’re asking your boss permission to go on a long lunch, tell her you’ll be back around 4pm – knowing she is then likely to be focused on making the return time earlier, and not on the question of whether you should or should not go out to lunch.
  • The set-up. If you’re having a difficult negotiation and you need to give yourself the upper hand, you might raise something that isn’t true, and then when the other person ‘attacks’ your false objection, you point out that they have misinterpreted the point, and you rephrase your objection to something more sensible. This ‘correction’ can leave the person a little embarrassed and less reactive, having apparently just jumped to the wrong conclusion a moment earlier.
  • People filter. In a #[The Prince who can’t spell] kind of way, your false objections can act as a filter for who you “let through”. For example, if the point you raise is technical in nature (albeit false) and the person can talk their way around it, then you will have increased faith in their ability to deliver. If they completely miss your false point, or it confuses them, then perhaps they aren’t the right person to be buying this solution from, in the first place.

It’s not literally a “typo”!

We’ve now covered the theory around the different types of objections, how to identify and deal with false objections, and how to use false objections to your advantage.

Earlier on in this chapter, I pointed out that this is one of the most effective simple techniques you can learn. This is partly because false objections are constantly coming up – in sales, in negotiations, in discussions with your partner or your children.

Therefore, I am going to present a whole range of examples, to really highlight the fact that this is something you need to get good at.

How many of these examples have you, thinking about it now, actually experienced yourself?

The more examples you read, the more capable you will be of applying the technique to your benefit in future

  • On his Masters of Scale podcast, Reid Hoffman (the founder of Linkedin) interviewed Julia Hartz, the co-founder of EventBrite. She tells this story, “I was 14, at The Ugly Mug in Santa Cruz, where I grew up. I learned how to make a great latte, but the biggest lesson was this woman would show up at the door at 5:55 am and walk in and yell at me for like a good 15-20 about how bad the coffee was that I was making her. And I would get like a pit in my stomach for the first few weeks. Then, I just realized one day: she didn’t have anyone to talk to. It wasn’t about me. It’s not about the latte. It’s like that lesson was one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in my life. I learned it at 14.”
  • In my chapter #[It was never the chicken’s fault], I tell the story where I was suffering from really bad panic attacks. But I was effectively lying to myself – I was giving myself the false objection that I didn’t have to deal with my stress, I just had to eliminate the ‘triggers’ (in that case, I blamed the chicken I was eating for the panic). Of course, that got me nowhere, until I looked at what the real issue was.
  • In #[Being defensive about defensiveness], you’ll read a story where I was discussing with my boss about how to deal with a situation, when he accused me of being defensive. In addition to that having been a trap, can you see also that it was a false objection, a “typo” that should be ignored?
  • Have you ever had a discussion with someone where you’re challenging their thinking on a topic, and they get upset with you “because of your tone”? Then you start arguing with them about the fact that actually, your tone was perfectly calm, but that’s not the real issue. They just didn’t like being challenged on that particular point, and by addressing the tone, you’re falling for their misdirection, which won’t get you anywhere. Side-step the accusation, as discussed in the “how-to” above, and get back to the real discussion.
  • Speaking of misdirection, do you remember being amused (or annoyed) at the irony of Lance Armstrong’s book called “It’s not about the bike”, when it transpired he was taking performance-enhancing drugs? He was right that it wasn’t about the bike, it just also happened not to be just about his training and mental toughness either!
  • It’s not uncommon, when we want to do better in our hobbies, to decide we need better equipment. We will cycle more often if we have a better bike, we will commit to yoga class more often if we buy expensive activewear clothes, our 10-mile running times will improve if we buy better running shoes. Sorry, but it’s not about the typo!
  • And did you ever convince yourself you’d study harder if you invest a few hours setting up a clear and colorful study schedule? Or was that just a new form of procrastination, another false excuse for not actually studying?
  • Have you ever broken up with someone, telling them that “It’s not you, it’s me,” because you’re trying to let them down easy? The problem is, it’s a false objection to the relationship, and so their offers to “give you some time alone” or “allow you an opportunity to clear your head” isn’t actually going to change your mind, because it’s not really you, it is them. (And it doesn’t mean they’re bad, it’s just that they don’t feel right for you. And that’s OK.)
  • I’ve gone into massage places which looked nice on the outside, but when I go in, either the place or the people look unsavory.  Before turning around and leaving, I might tell them that their prices look a little high, or that I don’t have the time right now. But no matter how much of a discount they offer me, or their suggestion that they do an even shorter massage, I’m simply not going to stay. They are wasting time trying to deal with the “typo” that I’ve raised.
  • Imagine the scenario where your date has gone really well, so you’d like to get the person up to your apartment. You’re hopeful that the evening will progress, so you choose to invite them up to “check out my map collection” 😉. When the person says that they’re not really interested in maps, would you debate with them about how interesting maps can be, or how old the one map is? Or would you take a step back, and try focus on the fact that perhaps there is something else about going up, that is concerning them?
  • Some years ago, I saw a survey that a reinsurance company had done, asking people why they don’t buy insurance. The most common response was “price”. The survey then went on to ask them how much they would be willing to spend on insurance. What was interesting is that most people who used price as an objection, quoted an amount they were happy to spend, which was actually more than what the insurance would actually cost them. Clearly, the issue was not price!
  • If you’re having a heated discussion with your friend, and you do a quick search to show that science is more on your side than his, then he might respond with, “You’re so arrogant, you always want to be right.” This is just a “typo”, it’s not the real issue, and should be side-stepped and not addressed head-on. (It might also be a clue that your discussion is no longer productive, so use their “typo” as a trigger to end the conversation.)
  • Or if your partner complains that you don’t buy flowers anymore – you might be able to solve that problem (if it’s a real concern) by starting to buy flowers again. Or, if it’s a “typo”, then the bigger problem is perhaps less about the flowers and more about your making less effort in the relationship than you used to.
  • When your two children are arguing, one might say, “You’re just siding with him because you prefer him to me.” That, of course, is a “typo”, it’s a distraction. “You know that’s not true, I love you both, but let’s get back to …”

You must be at least four years old to implement this technique

And don’t pretend that this is difficult to do. You just need to get good at identifying those moments where #[It’s not about the typo], and then respond appropriately.

For example, even my four-year is an expert on this! When I get home in the evening, the conversation might go like this:

   “Daddy, let’s play Lego family together.”

   “Oh Angel, I really don’t feel like playing Lego.”

   “OK, no problem. Then you can choose any game you want for us to play now.”

If a four-year-old can side-step the non-issue, and not argue with me about how much fun Lego family actually is, then you most certainly can get this right in a high-pressure sales or relationship situation.

Making it personal

Think for a moment about what your level of awareness of so-called “typos” has been, up until now:

  • You didn’t really appreciate that people (including yourself) sometimes give false objections?
  • You knew people don’t always speak what’s on their mind, but you still tended to argue with whatever objection they raised?
  • You knew better than to engage with them on false objections, but weren’t sure about the best approach to use?
  • You’re good at getting to the core issue, and dealing with objections (false or real) is just part of a normal day for you?


Knowing where you’re at, is a great starting point for knowing where to focus next.

As you know from other chapters, the most important step is to be able to spot when the situation is happening. In this case: someone is (potentially) raising a false objection.

At that moment, you should flag #[It’s not about the typo] in your mind, which will give you an instant appreciation of the situation that you’re in, and how best to respond.

There is nothing magical about this, and you’re not “willing” knowledge into existence. It’s just a form of Anchoring that you’re dealing with. You’ve read the chapter and you now understand the topic. When you flag the “typo”, you’re just reminding yourself about all these scenarios where false objections have been raised, and you’re triggering yourself to take the right action.

Get in the habit

Over the next week or two, make a point during any meeting or discussion, of paying attention. Try to notice what is being said that is clearly factual, what is an opinion, what is expressing an actual concern, and which statements are the equivalent of “typos”.

And then start playing with the various approaches you’ve read about today, to see which ones work better for you.


Having taught this technique to many of the people that have worked for me over the years, I’m aware that some people immediately resist when hearing about how to deal with “typos”. They immediately start arguing about why their situation is different, why their clients are different, why these techniques won’t work for them.

And invariably, when we discuss it further, we find that their thoughts are themselves “typos”, they are false objections being raised to allow the person not to try something new, and not to take what they feel is a risk.

But it works

Once you are aware that #[It’s not about the typo], once you know how to respond, then the more you do it, the better you get at it. Like any other technique, there is not a 100% success rate: some people are simply not going to open up or back down.

But it’s really simple to do, and it’s very powerful.

Change your perspective, and become more effective.

Related Stories

#[The field that became a black hole]

#[The Prince who can’t spell]

#[It was never the chicken’s fault]

#[Being defensive about defensiveness]

#[Bike Shedding]


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