How do you influence others more effectively? Read to “To Sell is Human”

 by Daniel Pink tells you how.  Wow!  What a great book.  Daniel Pink does an excellent job showing how everyone sells whether they are in sales or not and he provides research-based advice on how to do it better.  He starts off by sharing his observation that he was spending much (if not most) of his time his time pitching, persuading, or influencing others which led him to the conclusion that he spends most of his time “selling”.  While this concept is not new– Brian Tracy said everyone really is in sales 12 years ago–Dan takes the concept to a new level and describes a novel way of viewing sales.  This book contains great information and I only touch on the most fascinating.

At first, Dan describes how everyone is engaged in “non-sales selling”-where people are persuading, convincing, and trying to influence others to part with resources.  He argues that with the rise of the Internet, information is readily available to everyone.  As a consequence, the disparity in the knowledge of salespeople and customers that was characteristic of sales in the past, no longer exists and that buyers and sellers now have access to similar information.  For example, instead of a car salesperson having more information about a car, with the internet, a potential buyer has the opportunity to know as much, if not more, than the salesperson.  As a result, the nature of sales has evolved.

In the second part of his book, he proposes a new ABC’s of selling—instead of “Always Be Closing”, he proposes Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. The third part of the book outlines what abilities matter to most including making a pitch, improvising, and serving.


Attunement refers to being in tune with the person you are trying to influence.  To do this, Dan provides the following advice:

  1. Increase your power by reducing it. The ability to influence people depends on understanding another person’s perspective.  Research shows that having power decreases one’s ability to attune to someone else’s point of view.  Yet the ability to persuade people increases by being able to take their perspective.  Conclusion?  Start with the assumption that you have less power to help you see the other person’s perspective.  This will increase effectiveness.
  2. Use your head as much as your heart. The ability to take someone else’s perspective (cognitive) is more powerful than the ability to be empathic (emotional).  Negotiators who tried to imagine what the other side was thinking fared better than negotiators who tried to imaging what the other side was feeling.
  3. Chamaeleo chamaeleon Español: CamaleónMimic strategically — be a chameleon.  Mimicking someone else’s speech patterns, facial expressions, behaviors, and responses has been shown to improve the outcomes. For example one study found that waitresses repeated diners’ orders word-for-word earned 70% more tips than those who paraphrased orders.  Related to mimicry is touching.  When restaurant servers touch patrons lightly on the arm or shoulder, diners leave bigger tips.  However for both mimicry and touching, when people know they’re being manipulated, it can have the opposite effect, turning people against you.


Buoyancy is the ability to keep your outlook afloat amid an ocean of rejection.  Buoyancy can best be achieved by the following:

  1. Interrogative self-talk.
    Be like Bob the builder and ask the question, can we fix it?  Positive self-talk is generally more effective than negative self-talk, but interrogative self-talk is even more effective.  Interrogative self-talk elicits answers.  By asking yourself if you can do something, you engage more deeply.  In addition interrogative self-talk may tap into your intrinsic motivation which is more powerful than extrinsic motivation (see Daniel Pink’s book Drive ).
  2. Positivity ratios.  Amusement, appreciation and other positive emotions broaden thinking, expand awareness of options and heighten intuition and creativity.  (see Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage)  Positive emotions are contagious, making negotiations less adversarial.  In addition, research that shows when positive emotions outnumber negative emotions by 3 to 1, people flourish.  But once the ratio hit about 11 to 1, positive emotions began doing more harm than good.
  3. Explanatory style.  Explanatory style affects resilience.  Resilience is greater when rejections are explained as temporary, specific, and external (rather than personal).  Resilience is less when negative outcomes are explained as permanent, pervasive, and personal.  (see Building Resilience)


Clarity refers to defining the right problem to solve.  Dan makes a distinction between problem solving and problem finding. For example, if you’re looking for a new vacuum cleaner, there are many resources to help you solve this problem. However, the real problem may be a carpet that collects dirt to easily or not having a welcome mat for people to wipe their feet or maybe you shouldn’t buy a vacuum cleaner at all but need a cleaning service. Dan argues that today the best salespeople must be good at asking questions to clarify the problem instead of simply answering questions.  For more clarity, Dan suggests the following:

  1. Find the right frame.  Dan relays the story of a beggar with a sign “I am blind” with few contributions.  By changing the sign to “It is springtime and I am blind”, donations increased dramatically.  Clarity depends on contrast and framing the issue.
  2. Fewer options increase action.  Research shows that having more options (for example, 401k plan choices, or flavors of jam) decreases participation or purchases.
  3. A little negative information helps.  People who receive a small dose of negative information were more likely to make a purchase than those who received exclusively positive information. “The core logic is that when individuals encounter weak negative information after already having received positive information, the weak negative information ironically highlights or increases to salience of the positive information.”
  4. Ask non-conventional questions.  If your daughter is not studying, ask her two questions:  “on a scale of 1 to 10, with one meaning not the least bit ready in 10 meaning totally ready how ready are you to study”  and then “why didn’t you pick a lower number?”  Instead of defending her answer, this question allows her to clarify her personal, positive, and intrinsic motives for studying, which increases the chance that she actually will.


Pitch is “the ability to distill one’s point to its persuasive essence.”  Dan explains and provides variety of examples of six pitches.

  • The one word pitch. What technology company do you think of when you hear the word “search”? What credit card company do you think of when you hear the word “priceless”?
  • The question pitch: In 1980 Ronald Reagan asked “are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
  • The rhyming pitch:  Johnnie Cochran’s “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”.  Research shows that rhyming pitches are more effective.
  • The subject line pitch.  Email recipients acted on email more depending on 2 factors:  utility and curiosity.  Curiosity was more effective under less stressful conditions while utility was more effective when recipients had less time.  Research indicates that the email subject line should either be obviously useful or mysteriously intriguing — four tips to improve your golf swing this afternoon.
  • The Twitter pitch.  140 characters so it can be re-Tweeted.
  • The Pixar pitch.  Once upon a time…Every day….One day….And because of that…And because of that….And because of that….Until finally….

Dan also discusses the reasons why these pitches are effective.


When your pitch doesn’t work, you need to try something different and that requires you to improvise.  Dan offers guidance in this area as well.

  1. Hear offers.  Listen to others without listening for anything in particular.  By listening with an open mind and looking for offers – “I can’t today” might be an offer to do something some other time – opportunities will present themselves and guide the discussion.
  2. Say “Yes and…”  At least as early as 1999, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heene proposed the “And Stance” in their book Difficult Conversations.  Instead of the infamous “but” (“I really like you but we need to go our separate ways”), they recommend using “and” (“I really like you and we need to go our separate ways”).  Dan Pink argues for this approach also.
  3. Make your partner (or counterpart) look good.  Ask questions instead of debating.  Use a conversation to learn about the other person (for more about the learning stance, see Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heene).


Effectively influencing other people can improve their lives and improve the world.  To do this, Dan recommends making it personal and making it purposeful.

  • Make it personal.  Dan reports is fascinating study of radiologists who were given CT scans to assess.  In some cases, they were also given a photograph of the person to whom the scam along.  Three months later there were given the same scans but without the photograph of the person.  When they were given a photograph of the person, they reported significantly more incidental findings (abnormalities on a scan that weren’t being looked for) then when they weren’t given the photograph.  By making the task personal – attaching a real person to the scans – they did a better job.
  • Make it purposeful.  Dan provides two great example of how making something purposeful improved results.  In a hand-washing experiment in a hospital, more staff washed and used hand-hygiene products when the sign next to the dispenser said “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases” than when the sign only warned of personal consequences or no consequences at all.  In a different study, call center staff that read stories from the beneficiaries of a scholarship fund-raising staff (as opposed to staff who read stories about other call center staff learning skills from their work) were significantly more effective in the number of pledges and the amount of donations.  These results are consistent with Lisa Earle McLeod’s findings that top sales people focus on the positive impact the product or service has on the customer and not simply on their commission.

I highly recommend To Sell is Human – it offers great advice for everyone who wants to be more effective persuading or influencing others.


  • Nathan S. Gibson

    Nathan S. Gibson is an independent worker compliance business partner who provides expertise and creative solutions to enhance workforce flexibility and maintain compliance. He helps mitigate the risks associated with the misclassification of self-employed consultants, freelancers and independent contractors.

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