March 2013 | 

Daniel Pink on Gaining the Influence Advantage


In his new book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, Daniel Pink argues that no matter what your position in your organization, you probably spend a significant portion of your time trying to get others to part with resources. In other words, you’re in sales. Those in leadership and management in particular spend an incredible amount of time selling to, or persuading, other people. But it’s not the deceptive, used-car-salesman kind of sales.

Pink, who shares his ideas with the executives attending Wharton’s Advanced Management Program, explains, “Our negative perception of sales is based on a world in which sellers had an incredible information advantage over buyers. A couple of decades ago, a car salesman held all the cards because the buyer had no idea what the real cost was. Today, information like that is available to everyone. With information parity, the seller’s advantage goes away, and sales become a fundamentally different enterprise. The seller has to convince you that you have common ground, that through a sale you’ll both be better off.”

But if information isn’t your advantage, what is? How do you get better at moving others? Pink looks to social science, which provides tips, clues, and strategies to become more effective. “Research shows that when there’s information parity, sellers need different kinds of knowledge,” says Pink. “You need to be able to see things from the buyer’s perspective. Be attuned to who they are, what they need, and what will motivate them to get it. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. You also need greater self-knowledge. What are your strengths and how can you use them to your advantage? What are your weaknesses and how can you improve?”

In To Sell Is Human, Pink discusses a surprising trait of good sellers, citing the work of Wharton professor Adam Grant, who also teaches in the Advanced Management Program. “One way to gain the kind of self knowledge that can help you move others is to consider where you are on the introversion/extraversion spectrum [take an assessment to see where you fall on the spectrum here]. Adam challenged the common belief that extraverts are the best salespeople. It turns out there is no evidence to support that claim. Those with a real advantage, in selling, leadership, and many other endeavors, aren’t on the far edge of the spectrum — they’re ambiverts, falling somewhere between extraversion and introversion.

“But that said, we all tend to lean one way or other. We can expand our skills by looking to the other side. If you tend toward introversion, look at what extraverts do well — they’re great at striking up conversations with strangers. As someone who leans toward introversion, I’m not comfortable doing that, but I’ve learned from extraverts that it’s not that hard to do. Watching them has helped me learn more about myself and gain a skill that can help me move others.

“On the other side of the spectrum, people who tend toward extraversion need to take cues from what introverts do. The next time you’re in a setting involving a lot of people, take a cue from the introverts. Hang back and read the landscape. See how people are interacting. Gather information before you dive right in. Consciously spend a little more time listening than talking.

“As ambiverts, we can be flexible, tapping into a wide set of skills we might not know we have. It’s much harder for those who are strongly extraverted or introverted to move to the middle. But for most of us, we can look to the other side for some suggestions. To move others, it’s not enough to say in every situation you’re going to operate in the same way. It is this kind of self-knowledge and ability to adapt to a situation that can help you get better at moving others.”

Pink’s work, with its emphasis on understanding ourselves and others, is part of a broader, growing affinity between humanistic values and effectiveness in business — one that is stressed throughout Advanced Management Program. He notes, “It used to be that if you were understanding, generous, or noble, you were seen as undermining your effectiveness. Today, studies continue to show us that they’re really pathways to effectiveness. What works in the workplace has changed. And this shift has profound implications, including economic repercussions, for organizations and their leaders.”

Find out more in this month's Nano Tool for Leaders, where Daniel Pink offers specifics on how to Sell Your Ideas through Attunement.