To Sell Is Human by Daniel H. Pink – Discover How Improvisational Skills Can Help You Move Others

Brenda T. Weitzman

Daniel H. Pink’s new book is “To Sell Is Human-The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.” Pink is the bestselling author of “Drive,” and “A Whole New Mind.”

Pink says that today, we’re all in sales regardless of our career or role. Parents cajole children and lawyers sell juries on a verdict, as examples.

The old ABCs of selling (“Always be closing”) are reinvented as Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. They show you how to be, but you also need to know what to do. Honing your pitch, learning how to improvise and serve, complement the new ABCs of selling; and help you move others.

Following are three methods to hone your improvisation abilities; which ultimately teaches listening skills and the art of hearing offers, which are critical for anyone who wants to move others…

1. Hear Offers. Belief is growing that salespeople good at improvising can generate ideas, inject changes quickly and easily and communicate effectively and convincingly during sales presentations.

Pink says that estimates put one-fourth of our waking hours dedicated to listening, yet we profoundly neglect this skill. For many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening, but waiting. As others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next; which results in doing a mediocre job at both.

The changing face of selling discourages sales scripts and the mindset of solely overcoming objections. Today, the idea of turning people around may be less valuable and perhaps less possible than ever before.

Improvisation theater isn’t based on overcoming objections, but rather hearing offers, which hinges on attunement-leaving our own perspective to embrace the perspective of another.

The exercise “Amazing Silence,” demonstrates the concept well. Here, one person reveals to another, something important to him. The person receiving the message must maintain eye contact the entire time and can respond only after waiting fifteen seconds before uttering a single word.

Those fifteen seconds can seem long and disturbingly intimate; which is the exercise’s purpose. Pink says, “Listening without some degree of intimacy isn’t really listening. “It’s passive and transactional vs. active and engaged.”

Once we listen in this new, more intimate way, we begin hearing things we might otherwise miss. Listening this way during our efforts to move others helps us realize that what seems outwardly like objections are often offers in disguise.

To master this aspect of improvisation, we need to rethink our understanding of what it means to listen and what constitutes an offer.

2. Say “Yes and.” Improvisation theater urges actors to say “Yes and,” vs. “Yes but,” which is ultimately a “No.” This second principle of improvisation depends on buoyancy, particularly the quality of positivity; a positivity that’s more than avoiding no, and surpasses simply saying yes. “Yes and” is a powerful force. It’s a more inclusive approach vs. “Yes but” which acts as a barrier. “Yes and” anticipates possibility, providing a set of options, not futility. “Yes and” isn’t a technique, but becomes a way of life.

3. Make Your Partner Look Good. Today’s information equality means buyers and sellers are evenly matched (thanks to the Internet). Pushing for win-lose seldom produces a win for anyone and results in mutual defeat.

Pink honors Roger Fisher (famed coauthor of 1981’s “Getting To Yes,” based on principled negotiation), and Stephen Covey (author of 1989’s, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”- Habit 4-“Think Win-Win”); both men died in 2012.

Improvisation provides fresh thinking and a way to share Fisher and Covey’s worldview. It updates it for time when many of us are desensitized to “win-win,” because we’ve heard it excessively, and experienced it rarely.

Improvisational theater is based on making your partner look good. Helping your partner shine helps you both create a better scene. Improv shatters the either-or, zero-sum mindset; and replaces it with a culture of generosity, creativity, and possibility.

Making your partner look good requires clarity, which enables the capacity to develop solutions that nobody previously imagined.

Pink participated in an exercise called “I’m Curious.” Here, partners choose a controversial topic, which encourages opposing pro-con positions (i.e. Should Marijuana be legalized?). Each person takes a side and tries to convince the other of his or her point of view. The other person can only respond with open-ended questions (not veiled opinions).

The idea isn’t to win but to learn. When both people see their encounters as learning opportunities instead of a desire to defeat the other side, results are better. The conversation becomes more of a dance vs. a wrestling match. Improv never tries to get someone to do something. It’s creativity not coercion.

Train your ears to hear offers, respond to others with “Yes and,” and always focus on making your partner look good. Pink says that opportunities will emerge.

Author Daniel H. Pink endorses the classic book. “Improvisation for the Theater,” by Viola Spolin, which features more than two hundred improv exercises. To help master your improvisation skills; and learn more about Viola Spolin, visit:

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