Sunday Sales Thoughts from Daniel Pink & Chris Voss

Below are 10 thoughts I’ve gathered watching a couple of Masterclasses recently. One was from Daniel Pink – best-selling author of Drive and To Sell is Human. The other was from Chris Voss – former FBI hostage negotiator. I’d highly recommend both to anyone interested in learning how to build better arguments. Sales is not limited to just products and services.

While Voss and Pink come from completely different backgrounds, they both had very similar thoughts on how to influence human behavior. Keep this in mind, coaches…



  1. Empathy is NOT sympathy.

This is a big one. To Voss, empathy is not being nice or agreeing with someone. It’s an identification of perspective. Empathy is understanding where someone is coming from. Sympathy might cause you to feel bad for someone, but it’s not effective in negotiations. People don’t want you to feel bad for them. They want to be heard. Making people feel like they’re being heard is where empathy comes into play.

Pink described this process as achieving “attunement.” If you’re not in tune with the person on the other side of the negotiation, you’re never going to get them to budge. You haven’t signaled to them that you’re seeing things through their eyes. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

  1. The Power of Mirroring

“Interesting people are interested.” – Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator, CEO Black Swan Group

Learning how to “mirror” someone else is something everyone should learn. We crave it, we’re hardwired for it, and we love when it’s happening – but we seldom realize it. Pink mentioned how research shows up to 95% of people don’t realize they’re being mirrored in the middle of a conversation. While we might not notice this subtle trick for influence, it doesn’t make it any less effective. Voss said it best: “Interesting people are interested.” People who want to be interesting know how to mirror their counterparts.

As for tips on how to mirror, Voss had a few:

  • Shut up. You can’t mirror and talk at the same time
  • Repeat things the other person says
    • Voss recommends concentrating on the last three words. When you get better at it, you can pick out any three words they say.
  • Show genuine curiosity
    • Tone is very important. You can’t fake curiosity.
  • Ask insightful questions

Great persuaders are great observers. Mirroring is a great way to learn how to do this.

  1. Labeling

This was one of the biggest ones I got from Voss. During a negotiation, you want to build trust. A great way to do this is to give people, actions, or emotions specific “labels.” It’s a lot easier to explain this one by providing specific examples of it:

  • “You seem like a trustworthy person.”
  • “It seems like this is making you really upset.”
  • “Doing something like that makes me think that you’re a really good friend.”

Assigning the right labels can help you break barriers that opens up much more meaningful conversation. Mirroring shows interest. Labeling facilitates trust. There’s no influence more powerful than trust-based influence.

  1. “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

This is what Ronald Reagan asked the American people when running for President back in 1980. The question might have seemed obvious considering the tumultuous state of the country. However, asking it was incredibly powerful for his campaign. With the facts on his side (poor economy, recession, Iran hostage crisis), Reagan put the ball in the court of the American people. He didn’t tell them what to decide. He gave them the opportunity to come to his conclusion on their own. This is critical when it comes to sales.

Voss calls this “the illusion of control.” Reagan’s words were deliberately crafted. He knew very well that people were not better off now than they were four years ago when Jimmy Carter was sworn in as President. However, he didn’t need to say that. People crave autonomy. If you’re trying to influence someone, make sure they know they’re in control of the conclusions they come to. Especially, when you already know what they’re going to decide…

Giving people the “illusion” of control is much more powerful than trying to gain control.

  1. “I can do it for $97.43.”

If you want to start closing more deals, stop trying to meet halfway using nice and neat numbers. Get granular. This is something both Voss and Pink talked about. People like odd numbers when it comes to sales ($29.99 vs. $30). There’s a big difference between getting something for $100 or $97.43. One of those prices is going to be much more persuasive than the other because it shows deliberate attention to detail. The other does not.

Even if you pulled that number out of thin air…

  1. Power distorts perspective

Pink talked about a study where two groups of people were asked to draw an imaginary “E” on the top of their forehead. One group was primed with questions that made elicited powerful feelings. The other was not. When both groups were asked to draw the “E,” two different shapes appeared. The group primed with powerful questions tended to draw the E so they could read it themselves. The other group drew the E so others could read it. This is the power of perspective – or, how power distorts perspective.

If you want to understand where someone else is coming from, start by stripping away any power you think you might have. Your ability to empathize is directly related to what you think of yourself. The less you think of yourself, the better you can empathize.

  1. “Compared to what?”

In Pink’s eyes, the most important question in sales is NOT “What’s in it for me?” Instead, it’s something much more powerful:

“Compared to what?”

Not what you were expecting? Just think about it. We process information based on how things compare to something else. How “tall” someone is depends on how “tall” their peers are. How “expensive” one product is depends on how expensive competing products are. People think in relativity. Contrast creates clarity.

If you want to create a clearer picture for the consumer, give them something for comparison. All the good things about your product become much more compelling when compared to the small blemishes. It’s also probably better you share those things before the consumer figures them out on their own…

  1. Effective pitch

“Have you ever thought about it this way?”

If you’ve learned nothing to this point, remember this one. One of Pink’s biggest misconceptions growing up was the idea that a good pitch had to end in someone pulling out their checkbook. Instead, he now thinks of an effective pitch completely different. It’s not about getting someone to say yes. It’s about getting someone to say : “Hey, have you ever thought about…”

In other words, the best pitches create conversation. They invite someone in to offer their thoughts on what you just presented to them. When you can do this, you 1) can find ways on how to potentially improve your product/service and 2) increase the likelihood they buy. What started as a sales pitch has now turned into an opportunity to build a relationship. People buy from people they like.

Cutting the price might be a good short-term solution, but it has a ceiling. Building rapport is a better long-term solution.

  1. Marketing to the Masses: Utility & Curiosity

When building out content for email marketing, you need to hit one of two things in your subject line:

  • Can I offer something useful for someone else?
  • Can I stimulate someone else’s thinking?

Creating something useful (utility) is a great strategy for the masses. Stimulating thought (curiosity) is a great strategy for smaller audiences. Both are effective strategies, but Pink warns not to get caught in the middle of the road. Focus on the one that would be most effective based on your audience.

  1. Get people to say no

This was one of the biggest things I got from Voss. Getting people to say “yes” during a negotiation might seem like an accomplishment, but Voss warns it might work against you. People want to keep their autonomy. Getting them to say “yes” slowly takes their autonomy away. You’re giving them micro-commitments they have to honor. The more they have to commit to, the less freedom they have. This is not a great strategy for getting someone to come to your conclusion.

Instead, Voss advises people design more questions tailored to the response “no.” Some examples of this are below:

  • Is it unreasonable for me to be upset that I paid $100 more for the same service I could have gotten somewhere else down the street?
  • Am I a bad person (also an example of labeling) for trying to get a slightly better deal as a loyal customer for the past five years?
  • Is it crazy to think that I should be able to find peace and quiet late at night when I’m trying to go to sleep?

Don’t just look for people to agree with you. Try to get people to disagree with you. It will make your argument that much more compelling.

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