How To Sell Yourself And Keep Your Dignity

If you’re looking to get somebody’s attention, effort, or time, you’re in sales. But you don’t have to be a used car dealer.

How To Sell Yourself And Keep Your Dignity
[Image: Flickr user Darren Kirby]

Sales has a vocabulary draped in ickiness: slimy, smarmy, low-brow, low-rent, hoodwinking sleaze-baggery. To hear To Sell Is Human author Dan Pink tell it, this is a good thing: “You know something is awesome when there are so many different synonyms to describe how duplicitous it is,” he told Wharton.


What’s awesome–and perhaps a little strange–is that we’re all in sales now.

So sales isn’t necessarily gross. But it is a necessity.

If you’re a manager, team leader, teacher, or art director, you’re engaged in what Pink calls “non-sales” selling. That’s where, as a part of your job, you’re trying get someone to exchange something they have–time, attention, effort–for something you have. Brands, journalists, teachers, social media ninjas, content marketers, thought leaders: we are all salespeople.

Which can be really, really beneficial.

“You often think about sales as ‘My goal is to push something onto the customer or extract money from them,'” Asana cofounder Justin Rosenstein told us, “But the way we think about sales is, ‘How can I make the customer successful?'”

From what Rosenstein says, the goodness of selling is that it can be an empathic act: it’s about understanding the needs (and beliefs) of the student you’re trying to teach, the boss you’re trying to pitch, or the reader you’re trying to reach, and illustrating how your product, insight, or personality assists in that trajectory.

How to get good at sales: get attuned

If you accept that you are in sales whether you like it or not, you should try to improve how you (subtly) sell. As Kleiner Perkins General Partner Bing Gordon told us, one of the first victories you might have in a conversation is if you begin to mirror one another.


Psychologists call this “synchronous body language“: when you’re experiencing rapport with someone, you’ll begin to match one another’s body language and expression. When you feel “vibes” or a “click” with someone, it’s probably an unconscious reference to mirroring. And if you feel said vibes, you’ll both be more likely to invest in one another’s well-being (and make sales). When you have a feeling of connecting with someone, the boundary between you and not-you begins to blur–down to the neurobiological level.

Can this be jumpstarted? Of course. Pink calls it the watch-wait-wane tactic, in which you:

  1. Watch the other person’s actions, body language, and speech patterns.
  2. Wait to mirror back certain aspects in your pose, movement, or certain expressions.
  3. Wane, letting go of your conscious efforts to mimic so your natural instincts kick in.

Or just take Arianna Huffington’s advice: pay total attention.


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.