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Summary: To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink

If we look at our outgoing emails and text messages from the previous week, we’ll see that several of our messages were sales attempts. We may have sold a friend on the idea of sharing a Facebook post. We may have sold our kids on the benefits of cleaning their rooms. Or we may have sold a work colleague on the importance of attending our project meeting.

“We’re ALL in sales” – Daniel Pink

Anytime we persuade someone to act; we’re selling.

Most of our professional success will depend on receiving help from people. Therefore, knowing how to sell people and persuade them to act is critical to our long‐term success. But selling is hard. If we don’t take the time to develop the right sales skills, people will resist our sales pitches.

“Selling, I’ve grown to understand, is more urgent, more important, and, in its own sweet way, more beautiful than we realize. The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness.” – Daniel Pink

Book Summary: To Sell Is Human - The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Two Essential Sales Skills


We can think of attunement as the adjustment of a radio dial in the mind. Just as a radio needs to be adjusted to attune to the frequency of a radio station, we need to adjust our thinking to attune to the thoughts of the people we’re trying to persuade.

The first step to attunement is lowering our perceived power

If we approach a sale with the feeling that we have more resources and know more than the person we’re trying to persuade, we’ll fail to attune to their perspective. A 2006 Northwestern University study revealed that when people are primed to feel powerful through a series of power inducing exercises, they were three times less likely to consider another person’s point of view. Therefore, the first step of attunement requires lowering our perceived power.

“Think of this first principle of attunement as persuasion jujitsu: using an apparent weakness as an actual strength. Start your encounters with the assumption that you’re in a position of lower power. That will help you see the other side’s perspective more accurately, which, in turn, will help you move them.” – Daniel Pink


Consider a mess in your house you should clean up, but you don’t feel like cleaning it up right now.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning ‘not the least bit ready’ and 10 meaning ‘totally ready,’ how ready are you to start cleaning?

Now answer this question: Why didn’t you pick a lower number?

“This technique, which originated in therapy and counseling but has since spread to other realms, seeks to spark behavior change not by coercing people, promising them rewards, or threatening them with punishments, but by tapping their inner drives… Most people who resist doing or believing something don’t have a binary, off‐on, yes‐no position.” – Daniel Pink

By comparing our current state of readiness with a lower state of readiness, we clarified our motive for acting (cleaning the house). Our job as salespeople is to clarify personal, positive, and intrinsic motives for action by making comparisons. If we use the right comparisons, we will spark a desire for action within the person we are persuading, which will make them more receptive to what we’re selling.

“We often understand something better when we see it in comparison with something else than when we see it in isolation….That’s why the most essential question you can ask (when clarifying a problem) is this: Compared to what?” – Daniel Pink

Start your sales by comparing someone’s current experience with a potential experience, or what they have, with what they could lose.

ALWAYS answer these two questions when selling:

“1. If the person you’re selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve? “

2. When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you’re doing something wrong.” – Daniel Pink


Book Overview:

In “To Sell Is Human,” Daniel H. Pink challenges the conventional notion that selling is a manipulative, coercive, and inherently exploitative practice. Instead, he argues that selling is a vital human activity that is essential for our survival and flourishing. The book explores the art and science of selling, offering insights and strategies for moving others in a way that is ethical, empowering, and beneficial to all parties involved.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part, “Rebirth of a Salesman,” discusses the transformation of sales due to the information age. Pink argues that the balance of power has shifted from the seller to the buyer, making the old tactics of manipulation and pressure obsolete.

In the second part, “How to Be,” Pink introduces the new ABCs of selling: Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. Attunement refers to the ability to understand and align with others’ perspectives. Buoyancy is about staying afloat in the sea of rejection that is inherent in sales. Clarity involves helping others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and identifying problems they didn’t realize they had.

The third part, “What to Do,” provides practical tips and techniques for making a pitch, improvising, and serving. Pink emphasizes the importance of making your message clear and engaging, being able to adapt on the fly, and focusing on serving the needs of others.

Key Takeaways:

  • Selling is a fundamental human activity: Pink argues that selling is not limited to professional salespeople, but is an essential skill that we all use every day to persuade others, build relationships, and achieve our goals.
  • The Three A’s of Selling: Pink identifies three key elements of effective selling: Attention, Attunement, and Affinity. Attention refers to the ability to focus on others and understand their needs, Attunement involves empathizing with others and mirroring their emotions, and Affinity refers to the ability to build rapport and establish a connection with others.
  • The Surprising Truth About Moving Others: Pink contends that the traditional sales model, which is based on the idea of persuading others through logic and reasoning, is flawed. Instead, he argues that the most effective way to move others is by tapping into their emotions, using storytelling, and establishing a deep connection with them.
  • The Role of Empathy in Selling: Pink emphasizes the importance of empathy in selling, arguing that the ability to understand and relate to others is crucial for building trust, establishing rapport, and moving others.
  • The Science of Selling: Pink draws on scientific research in psychology, neuroscience, and sociology to provide insights into the human behavior and decision-making processes that underlie selling.
  • The Importance of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose: Pink argues that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are essential for motivation and fulfillment in both personal and professional life. He contends that sellers who understand these needs can use them to motivate their customers and create more effective sales experiences.
  • The Future of Selling: Pink concludes by exploring the impact of technology, AI, and automation on the future of selling. He argues that while these advancements will undoubtedly change the nature of selling, the fundamental human skills of attention, attunement, and affinity will remain essential for moving others and achieving success.


  • Provides a comprehensive overview of the art and science of selling, drawing on a wide range of scientific research and real-world examples.
  • Offers practical insights and strategies for effective selling, including the importance of empathy, storytelling, and building deep connections with others.
  • Challenges conventional notions of selling and provides a more nuanced and humanizing view of this essential human activity.


  • The book’s focus on the science of selling may be too dense and technical for some readers, particularly those who are not familiar with the field.
  • Some readers may find the book’s emphasis on the importance of empathy and connection to be overly touchy-feely or sentimental.

Overall, “To Sell Is Human” is an insightful and thought-provoking book that challenges conventional notions of selling and provides practical insights and strategies for moving others in a way that is ethical, empowering, and beneficial to all parties involved. While it may not be perfect for every reader, it is an essential read for anyone who wants to understand the art and science of selling, and how to use these skills to achieve success in both personal and professional life.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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