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Best-selling author Dan Pink says persuasion needs a reboot in the Age of Information; here are his six recommendations for how school leaders can influence others to act

Effective persuasion isn’t about changing people’s minds, Pink said; it’s about making it easy for them to act.

Best-selling author Dan Pink kicked off ASCD’s annual conference in Los Angeles March 15 by noting how important persuasion is to school leaders’ jobs—and yet the dynamics of persuasion have changed radically in the Information Age.

Pink said he was involved in a recent study that surveyed 7,000 full-time adult workers in the United States. When they were asked, “What percentage of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value for something you offer,” the responses averaged 41 percent.

That means people spend an average of 24 minutes of every hour trying to persuade or move others as part of their job, Pink said—and that’s certainly true of school leaders as well.

But with information so easily available to anyone with internet access, the keys to successful persuasion have changed. It used to be that the person doing the “selling” had all the power in a relationship, Pink said; now, that’s no longer true.

“Information parity has shifted the balance of power” to create a more level playing field, he said—and this change has important implications for school leaders.

(Next page: Six ways to move people in the digital age)

The ABCs of persuasion are no longer “always be closing,” Pink said. Instead, the new ABCs are “attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.”

Attunement means seeing things from others’ perspective, Pink explained. Buoyancy refers to the ability to “stay afloat in a sea of rejection,” and clarity means moving from presenting information to curating it, or helping the people you’re trying to persuade make sense of the information.

Here are six research-based strategies for persuasion in the digital age, based on these news “ABCs”:

1. Briefly reduce your feelings of power.

Studies show that feeling powerful reduces our ability to adopt the perspective of others, Pink said. He recommended: “Instead of saying, ‘Do this,’ … think, ‘I need this employee more than she needs me.’” Then, you might have a better sense for why she could be resisting—or you might see what’s in it for her to do things differently.

2. Be an ambivert.

We tend to think extroverts make the best salespeople, but research doesn’t bear this out, Pink said. Extroverts are somewhat better at persuasion than introverts—but the most effective persuaders are ambiverts, or people whose personality falls somewhere in between. This is because ambiverts tend to be more attuned, he said; in other words, they “know when to speak up—and when to shut up.”

3. Use interrogative self-talk.

Affirmative self-talk—pumping yourself up by saying things like “you can do it” before an encounter—can help with persuasion, Pink said. But what’s even more effective is “interrogative self-talk,” in which you ask yourself questions instead, such as: “Can I do it?”

“Questions, by their very nature, elicit an active response,” Pink said. This can lead to self-reflection, he explained, which better prepares you for success.

4. Try motivational interviewing.

This technique, which comes from a Yale University researcher, involves asking two questions. The first one is, “On a scale of one to 10, how ready are you to …?”

Most people who are resistant to change will answer between two and four. In this case, the follow-up question should be: “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?”

While this question seems counterintuitive, it forces the respondent to rationalize their answer. In the course of doing this, they begin to consider their own reasons for making the change—and “that’s more effective” at persuading them the long run, Pink said.

(In the rare case when someone answers “one,” Pink said your response should be, “What would it take to get you to a three?”)

5. Give people an ‘off ramp’ to act.

Effective persuasion isn’t about changing people’s minds, Pink said; it’s about making it easy for them to act.

He cited another study in which college students were asked to take part in a campus recycling program. Before requesting their participation, researchers divided the students into two groups: those who were judged “most likely” to take part (according to their peers), and those considered “least likely.”

The researchers then divided these groups into subgroups: those who would receive a very general letter, and those who were given a specific letter that included explicit instructions making it easy for them to participate.

Not surprisingly, none of the students considered least likely to act did so after getting the general letter, and 44 percent of those judged most likely did so after getting the specific letter. But only 8 percent of the “most likely” students participated when receiving the general letter—while 25 percent of the “least likely” students took part after getting the specific letter.

The lesson? “Context drives behavior more than we tend to believe,” Pink said. So, changing people’s minds is less important than giving them an “off ramp” to act.

6. Explain why.

Too often, we tend to focus on how people should act when trying to change their behavior, Pink said—and we don’t pay enough attention to the reasons behind the change.

“Explaining why is the cheapest performance enhancer you have,” he noted.

Follow Editorial Director Dennis Pierce on Twitter: @eSN_Dennis.

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