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Published: December 2, 2013
 / Winter 2013 / Issue 73

 
Business Literature: Best Business Books 2013
 

Best Business Books 2013: Managerial Self-Help

Yet even as more of us need to integrate sales skills into our managerial repertoire, the nature of what constitutes skilled selling is changing. For instance, information parity is replacing information asymmetry. Such asymmetry historically gave salespeople and managers an edge. But now, Pink notes, both can benefit by taking the high road—being honest, direct, and empathetic, and seeking to build relationships for the long term. In a transparent world, where we all have the means to research our choices, Pink says, “Moving people depends on more sophisticated skills and requires as much intellect and creativity as designing a house [or] reading a CT scan.”

The core of To Sell Is Human is a lively section titled “How to Be” that spells out Pink’s new ABCs of selling. Instead of “Always be closing,” the traditional sales mantra, Pink posits a new watchword for moving others: “Attunement, buoyancy, and clarity”—an ABC that’s as useful to managers as to salespeople.

Describing attunement, Pink steps into Schein’s territory. He offers research indicating that people with lower status tend to be keener perspective takers, more cognitively attuned to the moods and needs of those with higher status and so better able to discern what will move them. He therefore advocates the strategic assumption of lower status when trying to win someone to your cause. Pink also presents studies upending the conventional wisdom that extroverts are the best at moving others. It turns out that ambiverts—those able to move back and forth between action and reflection—are more skilled at attunement because they’re likely to be better listeners than are extroverts.

Daniel Pink’s examination of buoyancy is fascinating. He notes that being good at moving others requires great persistence as well as an ability to deal with the discouragement that comes as a result of “wave after wave of rebuffs, refusals and repudiations.” How can we stay afloat amid this ocean of rejection? By drawing on three techniques that social science identifies as most vital for resilience.

First, an individual must practice the right kind of self-talk in advance. This is not the stereotypical Og Mandino/Tony Robbins technique of constantly telling yourself how great you are. The opposite tack—saying “I can’t do this”—is, of course, even less effective. What works best, per Pink, is using an interrogative voice before you undertake the task at hand. For example, asking yourself, “Can I make the head of this division understand what we’re up against?” and then listing the reasons you can do it is the most effective way to establish a buoyant spirit. (The corollary is to remedy any reason that you can’t.)

The second step to buoyancy is maintaining a high degree of positivity, a catchall term for a variety of positive emotions. As it turns out, the optimal ratio for tapping into the power of positive thinking is three positive emotions for every negative one. Pink illustrates this principle by following the last Fuller Brush Man, Norman Hall, as he makes his rounds. Pink observes that Hall is careful to start his day with a few calls he knows will be friendly in order to put himself in a positive mood. He also takes time to visit with longtime customers he knows will be glad to see him in order to balance the inevitable situations in which he will be rebuffed or treated rudely. This strategic approach to creating positive experiences can also help managers improve their resilience.

The final step is having the right explanatory style—that is, the kind of story you tell yourself to explain what happened when things go wrong. Pink cites an extensive study showing that people who give up easily tend to explain negative events to themselves as permanent, pervasive, and personal. By contrast, buoyant individuals tend to frame negative encounters as temporary, specific, and external. It’s a great technique for anyone who leads.

 
 
 
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