Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human”: Applications for public health – advocacy, technical assistance & behaviour change

Revisiting all my favourite books for my earlier blog post on “most inspiring public health books” brought me to Pink’s To Sell is Human published this year. Like his earlier work, Drive, To Sell is Human has clear applications for public health, especially for those working in technical assistance, behavior change and advocacy.TSISHbooklarge-231x300


With the exception of those in social marketing – we may not think of public health practitioners as being salespeople. Yet much of our work involves convincing others – whether its to change individual behavior, adopt a policy or program, or to take a particular programmatic approach. In fact, Pink argues that most jobs include a strong “sales” component, whether it is teaching, lawyering, or managing teams. And Pink proposes a different way to sell in a new age of easy access to information – where a student may know more about history than the history teacher, and a customer may know more about a car than the salesperson. His suggested approach focuses on collaboration, building a relationship and serving. His techniques suggest moving away from declarative sentences, and more toward questions – setting up a higher level of engagement.


Pink proposes three new principles of sales, Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity. I found the most interesting content to be in the Attunement section. This describes how those who listen and empathize well are more likely to convince others. He cites evidence to suggest that those who are in, or assume, a more powerful position are worse at empathizing, and much worse convincing others. This is something I have observed over and over in many different contexts, and is an excellent argument for humility. Of course, those in power often don’t need to convince people to do something, they can just order it done.


This is a quick and snappy read – worth an airport purchase. However, as pointed out elsewhere, much of what the book says is common sense, brought together in an easily digested format. Still, convincing others is an enduring and everyday challenge, and reviewing what works is definitely worthwhile.

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