How to Move Others: The Power of Attunement

No matter who you are, and whether you like it or not, you're in the moving business.

Moving what, exactly? Moving people. Moving people to part with resources.

These resources may be tangible, such as money and material goods. But they may also be more abstract in nature, such as time, attention, or stance on a particular issue.

Teachers move students to focus on and appreciate the lesson at hand. Entrepreneurs move others to join their team, buy their product, or invest in their company. Someone on a date may seek to move the other party to partake in various forms of romance throughout the evening. Strength coaches and personal trainers move their trainees to buy into their methods of making them feel and move better. Even Gandalf had to move Frodo Baggins to embark on the journey of destroying the One Ring.

Since we're all in the moving business,  it's in our best interests to learn the art and science of moving others. Why? Not for the purpose of cajoling others into doing what we want from a selfish perspective, but ultimately so that we all can have better relationships, smoother business interactions, and more effective conflict resolutions.

This is something that author Daniel Pink explores in detail in his book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.

I just finished it last week, and, while there are many golden nuggets of wisdom to cull from this fantastic compendium of social psychology and practical strategy, today I'd like to provide just a cursory glance at a very small facet of the book: attunement.

Attunement is, as Pink describes it, one of the three critical qualities to possess when moving others. It's more or less the ability to see things from another person's perspective, and to bring your own emotions and actions into harmony with the person or people you're dealing with.

When confronted with an unusual or complex situation involving other people, how do we make sense of what’s going on? Do we examine it only from our own point of view? Or do we have “the capability to step outside our own experience and imagine the emotions, perceptions, and motivations of another?”

Now, you're probably thinking that this idea of attunement is far from a ground-breaking notion. I can hear you already saying, "Duh, Steve, 'put yourself in someone else's shoes,' nothing new there...."

However, that's the very cultural thought process I'd like to disabuse. Attunement isn't as easy and self-evident as we like to think it is.


Attunement In High-Pressure Situations

Everyone, (including me), THINKS they're good at perspective-taking and attunement, but, if I may be so bold, the reality is that we suck at it. Or, let me rephrase: we fail miserably with attunement when in the midst of conflict.

It's easy to practice a virtuous human behavior such as attunement when the walkway of your life is surrounded by butterflies and rainbows. But what about when things turn sour? What about when a business partner, contractor, or client mistreats you or completely screws you over? What about when you're exhausted? What about when you and another person both feel certain that it's the other who's in the wrong, and you're in the right?

This is why the "confronted with an unusual or complex situation" is such a crucial component of the definition of attunement. And it's amazing what can happen if even just one person can remain poised, calm, and view the situation through the lens of the other party during a period of interpersonal tension.

My encouragement to you is to be the one to initiate this when a conflict inevitably arises. Take a metaphorical walk outside to the terrace, pause, breathe, and get inside the head of the person you're in conflict with. What is it they're really concerned about, what's at the root of the issue? What do they feel you are being irrational about? How do they feel they're the one who's correct? What may be some external stressors they're facing that have nothing to do with you? What can you do to make it so that you're both on the same side of the proverbial table, looking at a common problem and coming to a solution together?

There's a reason that William Ury, in his influential book Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations, admonishes that the first and foremost barrier to a successful negotiation is your own emotions. You have to get those out of the way first, even if the other person is refusing to do it themselves. Yes, this is hard. Yes, it will hurt your pride. Yes, you'll want to jump into a live volcano before doing it. But do it regardless; you'll be all the better for it.


Attunement In Everyday Life

One of the things I respect the most about Pink's book, To Sell is Human, is that in many ways it's not so much a book on how to sell as it is a field manual on how to better serve others.

In fact, the very last chapter is titled "Serve," which I believe is an intentional effort to leave the reader with what Pink believes to be the most important component of the entire mindset behind moving others.

In both traditional sales and non-sales selling, we do better when we move beyond solving a puzzle to serving a person.

Bringing this back to attunement, reflect on how this can help you better impact those you love, along with those who you interact with in your work life.

When you arrive home after a long and frustrating workday and open the door, rather than dwell on your own needs and emotions, try focusing instead on what your husband or wife may be thinking, feeling, or needing. How can you serve them in that moment?

If you're a fitness professional and a new client walks in the door, get in their head so you can better serve them. How would you feel if you were new to physical training and you walked into a weight room, which would be alien and uncomfortable territory to you? What fears might you have? What insecurities may you be experiencing? How might you feel about all the people around you who seem to know exactly what they're doing, and yet you feel like a fish out of water?

If you're trying to get your child to appreciate the learning process, or to do their homework before going outside to play, how could you better attune yourself to their perspective in order to more effectively communicate to them?

If the barista behind the coffee bar or the server at the restaurant makes a mistake, do you really think it's going to help matters by getting angry at them? What about the insurance rep on the other end of the phone line? You get the idea. 

To Sell is Human is nothing short of a reliable compass for navigating the waters of business, and day-to-day relationships. Compliment it with Ury's Getting Past No and you'll have a rich collection of tools to utilize no matter if the waters are calm or tumultuous.

The trick is to remember to use them, and to do so even when you don't feel like it.