An Educator’s Perspective on ‘To Sell Is Human’

An Educator’s Perspective on ‘To Sell Is Human’

I took the Myers-Briggs personality test in college (or at least a free online version so who knows how reliable the results really were) and I got ENFJ.  I read that this personality type is pretty good at getting others to do what they want (for better or for worse). Naturally, moving people has always been something I’ve been very interested in; how to get people to understand an adopt your perspective.  As an educator, I’m always trying to sell the students on the idea of working hard, being respectful, helping each other, and taking charge of their own learning.  I am a salesmen…I am in the business of moving others.

This is the focus of Dan Pink‘s book ‘To Sell is Human.’  He redefines who’s in sales by saying if you’re a mover of people, you’re in sales.  He also breaks down the traditional idea of what sales is and how it’s changing thanks to the information age.  The book contains a ton of research-based ideas and methods on how to be and what to do when moving others.


In developing the right mindset to move others, Pink proposes the new ABC’s of selling – attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.  Here’s a few things that stuck with me.


Attunement is getting yourself in tune with those you’re trying to move.  You have to be a social cartographer in a sense.  He discusses how conversation is a primary way we attune ourselves with others.  Pink recommends the question ‘where are you from’ as a great conversation starter; people can answer that question in a myriad of ways.

I remember in college, I got sick of just asking people (and being asked) the exact same question- ‘what’s your major?’  I came up with a list of more interesting questions to ask (what’s your favorite part of the face, what’s your favorite word, what’s the closest you’ve ever been to a physical fight, etc.).  It usually lightened things up and made for a more interesting conversation.  It took attunement skills to know which types of questions would go over well with different people.

Attunement In the Classroom
    • It’s pretty important to be in tune with how are students are feeling and what’s going on in their lives.  Social-emotional learning, specifically dialogue circles move us in that direction; not only are we in tune with the students more, but it helps to create a safer environment for them.
    • We should teach students how to be in tune with each other; we need to teach them how to have a conversation with one another.


Buoyancy is about focusing on being optimistic; not letting failure or rejection ‘drown you.’  Pink really tried to convey that he wasn’t talking about blind optimism, which just hopes everything will turn out OK.  He quoted Martin Seligman (guy who started ‘positive psychology’) by saying we should have flexible optimism, which is “optimism with it’s eyes open.”  It’s the balance of being a realist and optimist; they are not at odds.

Buoyancy In the Classroom

    • For educators, rejection looks like a lot of things: failure to reach students, inability to obtain the resources needed, difficulty working with administration and parents, etc. When this goes on long enough, it’s hard not to get burnout.  Buoyancy is the ability to avoid teacher burnout.


Clarity is pretty self explanatory- to have those you’re trying to move clearly see what your message is.  This video demonstrates it well:

Clarity In the Classroom

    • The purpose of developing learning goals is all about providing clarity to students on what they’re learning and why.  All the research (and our own personal experiences) shows that we’re far more successful when we know why we’re doing what we’re doing.
    • Asking questions is a great way to provide clarity.  He gave this example:  A father is trying to get his daughter to study for a test.  Instead of asking ‘why don’t you study?’ or just telling her she had to study, he asks these two questions:
      1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=not read for the test at all, 10=totally ready) how ready are you?
      2. Why didn’t you pick a lower number

That second question is genius.  It forces the person to really clarify for themselves where they are really at.  It makes them actually defend why they’re a 6 all the while recognizing they’re not a 10, setting their own goals in the process.  Hear Pink explain it in his own words.


Pink starts getting into the practical applications of these ideas in the third section; what to do when you’ve attuned yourself, remained buoyant, and have a clear message.


He gave six different types of pitches but what stuck with me was a unique presentation style called pecha-kucha. It’s 20 slides and each slide lasts only 20 seconds. Talk about clarity and getting to the point!

Pitch In the Classroom

    • In the classroom, try a pecha-kucha as an alternative to Powerpoints (either your own Powerpoints or student presentations)


Pink shared things he learned from an improv class, which I still have a hard time taking seriously after watching The Office.  The point was that moving people is less about a script and more about reading a situation and improvising the best course of action to move others.

Improvising In the Classroom

    • A really practical example of this was moving from ‘Yeah, but…’ in meetings to ‘Yeah, and…’  For example, lets say you’re in a team meeting about a class field trip.

‘Let’s do our yearly field trip to the Fort Worth Zoo.’
‘Yeah but that’s going to interfere with our science state testing preparation.’


‘Let’s do our yearly field trip to the Fort Worth Zoo.’
‘Yeah and since it’s a science-based field trip, it will help the students prepare for their science state test.’

It forces you to move into a problem solving mode to keep the conversation going instead of just killing the idea, as well as killing the vibe of the room. This can be challenging when someone else is dolling out the ‘yeah, but…’


This final part was on how we should view our work as a way to serve the people we’re trying to move.  It really tied in with his previous book where he stated that having a sense of purpose in what you’re doing will drive intrinsic motivation.  I think he even gave some of the same examples.

Serving In the Classroom

    • In my classroom, whenever I’m giving any new rules or procedures, I’ll frame it in a way that shows how it will serve others.  For instance, if a few students finish a test early and start whispering to each other, instead of just saying ’stop talking,’ I may say ‘respect your classmates please by giving them the silence they gave you.’
    • In trying to move students to become more considerate of others, discussing Kohlberg’s Levels of Moral Development has proven to be effective in my class.  It will help move children from a place where they’re just doing what they’re doing because they don’t want to get in trouble.  Instead, it will help move them to where they’re doing what they’re doing because they’re considerate of others and want to do what’s right.

It’s a good read.  Check it out for yourself.

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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