6 Lessons from Daniel Pink’s #ASCD14 Session (w/ full archive)

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Leadership and the New Principles of Influence


Daniel Pink makes a good case that we (meaning school, teacher, parent leaders) must become better persuaders.

We spend an awful lot of time each day (over 40%) trying to MOVE PEOPLE or persuade them. At some level we are actually “selling” things like ideas, concepts and initiatives to better our schools. In order for us to be effective in our respective roles, we must find ways to move people from point A to point B at some level.

Historically, the majority of those persuading had access to more information than those being persuaded. Now in the digital age, that is no longer the case. All of us have access to real-time research, local and global practitioner perspectives and can find out quickly if someone’s “pitch” isn’t backed up by facts.


With the explosion of research within the behavioral sciences, we now have facts based ways to learn how to “persuade others” effectively and ethically. See Eric Sheninger’s post which speaks to the three social science core qualities of attunement, buoyency and clarity shared by Pink.


1) Interrogative talk

Instead of saying, you can do it, you’re better off saying, asking, can you do this? Now, this freaks people out a little bit because you’re allowing some doubt into your self talk.

But it turns out this is effective because questions and statements operate differently. When we pitch people, when we talk to people, when we try to motivate people, questions operate differently from statements– and even when we try to talk to ourselves. So questions elicit an active response, whereas statements often have a passive response.

So if I ask myself a question, I kind of sort of have to respond, not out loud, but I respond to it in some way. For example since I’m currently engaged in a “Leap of Faith.”  Let’s say, I go into a job interview. OK, I’ve got this big edtech leadership position at a big time University. You can do this, Joe. You’ve got this. OK, pump myself up going in there– you’ve got this. Instead, what Pink recommends, I’m better off saying, Joe, can you do this? Can you do this?

Why? Because if I say, can you do this, I implicitly begin answering that question. Can you do this? Well, yeah, I’ve done interviews before. Can you do this? Yeah, I actually know this material inside and out. It is really interesting to me. Can you do this? Well, yeah, what I should do is that, since I have experience working with the University for quite some time, I should make sure that, before I come in there, I should make myself familiar with other initiatives happening within the program outside of what I’ve been directly involved in.

What am I doing? I’m preparing. I’m getting ready.

2) Motivational interviewing

One of the interesting therapeutic technique of persuading is motivational interviewing. Pink used an example of having teenage daughters, with neither one of them ever cleaning their messy rooms.

Pink wants to convince his daughter to clean her room. Over time he and his wife have tried three approaches: 1) parental command-and-control approach: You have to clean your room; 2) the carrot-and-stick approach: He’’ll pay her allowance to clean her room. It might get some nominal cleaning in the short term, but it’s not sustained behavior; 3) a stick approach: I’m going to issue some punishment. But those kinds of things don’t have any enduring effect.

People have their own reasons for doing the things they do. They believe in these reasons more deeply than others which presents an opportunity to engage in those beliefs. Enter motivational interviewing.

What this technique suggests is that says to his daughter, “On a scale of one to 10 — one meaning not ready at all, 10 meaning totally ready to do this — how ready are you to clean up this mess of a room?” She’s obviously not that ready to do it because it’s still messy, so let’s say that she says a three on a scale of 10. All right, this is where it gets interesting. I say, “Three, okay great. Why isn’t it lower?” This is the really key point here in this therapeutic technique: Why isn’t it lower? First, the question is a surprise because the standard parenting response is, “Three!? What do you mean? It should be a nine!

She begins summoning her own reasons for doing something: Well, it’s sometimes hard to find stuff; sometimes you and Mom aren’t around so if I lose something I can’t find it; it actually feels a little bit better when my room is a little bit clean. It’s active… so she has to respond actively but she also summons her own autonomous, intrinsically motivated reasons for doing something. That’s generally a better path to sustained behavior.

4) Recalibrate feelings of power. 

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Too much “power” leads individuals to anchor too heavily on their own vantage point. It can blind and narrow our views of what others find important, limiting our impact. The quieter form of power is actually much more effective. By taking the perspective of those we are working with, we can be better leaders. We need to consider a balance between feelings of power and perspective taking.

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5) Understand the context you are in

Pink discussed attunement, or “the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and the context you’re in,” in his initial ABCs while setting the backdrop of his presentation. This requires you to think about the perspective of your audience. This is a good rule for engaging our students, teachers and the families of our schools. Before we plan an activity, we should always ask ourselves about the audience: Who are they? What do they think about this topic? What do we want them to think? Why should they care? Have we truly involved them in the process? After all, we’re not selling to ourselves, and thinking like the audience can help you understand what matters to them.

6) Focus on Why and less on HOW

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When we attempt to lead, coach, instruct, explain or change behavior we often talk about HOW. We need to focus more on WHY when we are persuading. Pink recommends educators go into work on Monday and commit to asking two fewer questions about HOW and asking two more questions on WHY. Why is simply more powerful when getting people to shift their thinking.


The cheapest (and most ethical) performance enhancer we have today have is explaining our intentions.


What I’ve shared is only my own unique perspective after listening and reflecting upon Daniel Pink’s presentation. For the thoughts and takeaways of over 1000 others, please see the full archived backchannel below via Storify. Don’t forget to follow some new friends sharing their learning at #ASCD14.

Non-tweeting tip: Know someone who doesn’t yet understand Twitter or “the backchannel?” Have them visit twubs.com/ascd14 during the conference to experience the shared feed coming out of 100s of sessions without signing up. Then make it a point to get them connected later.

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