I recognize there are headwinds with sales because of the negative connotations. I’d like to bike into those headwinds and take back the idea of selling, not in a namby-pamby, defensive way, but in a slightly more sharp-elbowed, muscular way. I say in my book that I want people to see the act of selling in a new light. It’s more urgent, more important, and also more beautiful than we realize. It requires some fundamentally human skills, and it has become increasingly conceptual. As the VP of sales of the Italian candy company Perfetti Van Melle told me, “We’ve gone from selling Mentos to selling insights about the confections business.” You can’t get any more conceptual than that.
S+B: You propose changing the ABC sales mantra “Always be closing” to “Attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.”
PINK: These qualities encompass what you should do and how you should be if you want to move other people. For example, attunement is the ability to understand where someone else is coming from; it can also be called perspective taking.
There’s a difference between perspective taking and empathy that I might have conflated in my book A Whole New Mind [originally subtitled Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (Riverhead, 2005)]. I’ve since come to realize that empathy is related to understanding someone’s emotional state or feelings, whereas perspective taking is much more cognitive and analytical—it’s understanding someone’s interests. I think interests is the key word here.
The facts say that both perspective taking and empathy can enhance your understanding of someone else, but if you have to go with one, go with the analytical. I think the evidence says very clearly that people are able, especially in negotiation and sales situations, to reach a better deal for both sides when they’re focused on interests.
S+B: There’s a great quote in the book from the last Fuller Brush Man about sales being “an ocean of rejection.” How is buoyancy different from the power of positive thinking?
PINK: A lot of the power of positive thinking was not built on any evidence. It was built on beliefs, some of which turned out to be right. But it wasn’t guidance from an empirical perspective. [University of North Carolina professor] Barbara Fredrickson has shown that positivity enhances well-being when it’s in the right balance. She has a three-to-one ratio: Your positive emotions should outnumber your negative emotions by three to one. But if the ratio is above 11 to one, you’re in la-la land.
Studies have also shown that purely positive self-talk—“You can do it,” the Bela Karolyi school—is better than nothing. But it’s less effective than interrogative self-talk. Asking, for example, “Can you do this?” The early proponents of positive thinking would find that abhorrent: You’re questioning your ability? But interrogative self-talk leads to preparation and planning.
Also important is changing the way you explain things. You can ascribe outcomes to internal or external causes. If you lose a sale, it’s probably not entirely your fault. But if you explain it that way, it’s going to be debilitating. If, after a rejection, you say, “Well, this always happens,” that’s just not true. [University of Pennsylvania professor] Martin Seligman’s research has shown that if you adopt an optimistic explanatory style and widen your ability to explain things with accuracy, you’ll be better off.
S+B: You define clarity as “the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems that they didn’t realize they had.” What role does framing play in that?
PINK: Framing is curation, in a more conceptual sense. You’re looking all over the place and I’m saying, “What’s significant is what’s here.” I’m helping you separate the signal from the noise. If you frame choices in a digestible way, people are more likely to pick something.