Resistance is Futile – But So is Persuasion


Daniel Pink, author is a bit of a subversive genius. He’s written some of my favorite business books, including Free Agent Nation and To Sell is Human. He has a way of looking at and writing about human behavior that makes you think twice about your assumptions. And now, he’s given me the keys to the kingdom (and by extension, you, gentle reader) by giving me a surefire way to persuade anyone to do something I need done.

First a step back. Pink’s premise for To Sell is Human  is that “Yes, one in nine Americans works in sales. But so do the other eight. Whether we’re employees pitching colleagues on a new idea, entrepreneurs enticing funders to invest, or parents and teachers cajoling children to study, we spend our days trying to move others. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”

He reminds us in the book that no one actually persuades anyone to change behavior or take action based on the persuader’s reasons. We can’t be persuaded; we can only persuade ourselves. This makes intuitive sense. We don’t buy a product to solve the salesman’s problem; we buy to solve our own problem. That’s why effective sales people get inside their customer’s head to understand where the pain points are – that’s where they will be able to craft an argument that works.
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So Pink has developed a 2-question technique that he says will move the needle for anyone when you use it. It’s the start of real persuasion if it’s used well.

Let’s say you have a colleague who is consistently late with information needed for your monthly report. You’ve ask, cajoled, even threatened to ask your boss to intervene; nothing has worked. She says she intends to be more timely, but she’s been late every month for the last year, and it’s apparent that she’s just not motivated by timeliness or your intense need to deliver good work with less stress.

When you call a meeting to discuss the issue one final time, you might try to explain your position and your pain points, but this time will probably not result in real change. So here’s the first question Pink recommends you ask.

“Debbie (your fictional colleague): On a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you to change this pattern and get the information into the system on time so we can deliver the report on time without stress?”

Debbie will pick a number that represents her readiness for change. Let’s say she picks 4. “I’d like to do better,” she says, “but I have a crazy schedule, and I just can’t get to it when you think I should.”

Here’s your next question, and this is a crucial moment, so deliver it well. “Thanks for being honest with me, Debbie. You picked 4 on the scale of 1 – 10. You could have picked a 1.  Can you tell me why you didn’t pick a lower number?”

Cliffhanger: Read next week’s post to find out how and why this works.

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One thought on “Resistance is Futile – But So is Persuasion

  1. Pingback: Resistance is Futile Part Two | @work: a career blog

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