Power to Persuade

It takes salesmanship to preserve nature

Preserving wildness takes certain skills. Many conservationists are lawyers, persuasive writers and speakers. But we can’t leave earth-saving to the professionals. “All hands on deck!” is the urgent cry. The internet gives us power to reach out, but to be effective in moving others, we need to take some tips from the radically altered world of . . . sales.

Daniel Pink, author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, claims that all of us are now in sales—a pursuit so changed from what it once was that it is hardly recognizable.

If we loathe the very idea of sales (as the author did before he researched his book), it’s time to toss out obsolete stereotypes. Pink posits that the era of the sleazy used-car salesman is over—as irrelevant as the social structures that once gave him power to exploit naïve buyers. The internet gives (almost) everyone the power of information, so whether it’s retail purchases or medical treatments, we are virtually immune to victimization by sleazes—who, by the way, no longer thrive in today’s marketplace.

Most of us buy and sell online, but those of us who are not selling products or services for a living are nevertheless doing what Pink calls “nonselling sales”: moving others. We do it with every email we send, every pitch we make to friends or employers to entice them to see things or do things differently.

Moving others demands skills entirely unlike the ones used in scripted, predatory sales. Nonsales selling requires cooperation rather than competition, and compassion rather than coercion. Even more surprising, the new practice of moving others is rooted not in money-grubbing but in service to others and to making the world a better place. Pink is not pushing an imaginary idealism here, but rather demonstrating the results of scientific research. Studies show that we do better work (including traditional product sales) when we are serving more than our own self-interest, and we perform at higher levels when we know we are serving a higher cause.

To perform well in our work—as teachers, restaurant servers, doctors, shopkeepers, lawyers, health professionals, contractors and, yes, nature advocates—we must develop skills of attuned and empathic listening, seeing things from others’ perspectives, responding positively to the suggestions of others and measuring the success of our endeavors not upon whether we have sold an item or an idea but whether we have made things easier for another human being, and thus made the world a little better.

“In wildness,” Thoreau wrote, “is the preservation of the world.” In moving others is the preservation of wildness.