The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Selling and Influencing – All in a Day’s Work (Yes, Even in HR!)

Danielpink2An HR pro is lots of things … but a salesperson? An influencer? A mover and shaker? Best-selling author and business analyst Daniel Pink says, “Absolutely!” Pink has written extensively on business, work and behavior, and the interconnectedness of it all. His latest book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, examines the notion that we’re all salespeople in some form or fashion, and that we all possess the innate ability to motivate and move others.

Ahead of his keynote address at this year’s CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo, we had the chance to speak with Pink about this idea and how it might apply to our work in higher ed HR.

Q: In your new book To Sell Is Human, you argue that to some degree, we’re all in sales and that our work involves the need to influence others. Can you share some examples specific to our line of work?

A: Certainly. Think about how you actually spent your time at work last week. Chances are, much of it was devoted to “selling” — at least in the broad sense of the word. Maybe you were trying to convince someone to take a job at your institution. Maybe you were urging an employee to make better use of a benefit. Maybe you were trying to get two people in different parts of the university to put aside their differences and work together. Perhaps you were advising the president on an HR matter, or communicating or championing change, or even pitching an idea at a meeting. These types of things are happening on a daily basis within our organizations, and they all involve selling and influencing. In fact, in many ways, influencing without formal authority is at the center of HR work.

Q: What are the most critical competencies or qualities one must possess in order to influence?

A: Social science research shows that three platform qualities seem to be most effective in a world of selling and influencing. They’re the new ABCs — attunement, buoyancy and clarity. Attunement is perspective-taking. Can you get out of your own head, see another’s point of view, and truly understand that person’s interests? Buoyancy is the ability to deal with adversity — to stay afloat in what often seems to be an ocean of rejection. And clarity involves moving from merely accessing information, which used to confer a competitive edge, to curating information and using one’s expertise to make sense of information.

Q: How can we hone our influence skills in order to have the most impact? 

A: The most important tenet of influence — at least for long-term success — is to always take the high road. Influence and selling often have a bad reputation as practices that are tricky and deceitful. But that’s an outdated view. In the old days, the seller — of a product, a service, an idea, a way of doing things — always had more information than the buyer. In those conditions, the seller can take advantage. But today, buyers and sellers — again, of anything — are evenly matched. They generally have access to about the same information. With “buyer beware” now having become “seller beware,” the low road is not an option. The best approach is to be honest and transparent, to try to understand others’ points of view, and to serve others in a legitimate way.

Q: What advice would you give to the person that says, “I’m not good at influencing”?

A: I’d try to help them see that many of their assumptions just don’t hold true. For instance, many people assume that strong extroverts make the best influencers/sellers. That, however, is a myth. Research has shown that the very best influencers are ambiverts — people who are a little extroverted and a little introverted, but not too far on either extreme. Ambiverts are more effective influencers because they’re more attuned. Unlike strong introverts, they know when to talk; and unlike strong extroverts, they know when NOT to talk.

And here’s the good news — most of us are ambiverts. Most people have the personality that makes them reasonably good at influencing. Keeping this in mind and viewing influence as an opportunity to make things better can be quite helpful in overcoming the “I’m not a salesman, therefore I can add no value” mindset. Like I mentioned before, we’re all selling and influencing — several times a day, every single day. If we can learn how to do so in the most productive, professional, pragmatic way, we’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how successful we can be!

We’re excited to hear more from Daniel Pink at the
CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo, September 28-30 in Orlando, Florida!