Wired to Fail
Even Oxytocin Can't Save Valentine's Day

How to Sell Yourself

My father was in sales all his life. He's always genuinely liked other people. Now an old codger, it can take forever to go grocery shopping because he talks to everyone. Everyone.

When I go to Trader Joe's, I am a crabby Type-A shopper. "Get out of my way, people, so I can get to those frozen blueberries and get out of here." Not my dad. He reaches out -- literally -- to everyone. And they respond.

I didn't know how it would be to take a slow, forgetful guy in a wheelchair who has a tendency to stop the chair in the middle of the aisle into this scene of avid consumption. Everyone was sweet and accommodating, kindly standing back so he could maneuver, beaming at him as he blundered into things. They stopped to chat with him, often putting a hand on his shoulder or giving him a little pat.

He was so high afterwards. He can't get out much unless I take him, and this trip was the highlight of his week.

In other words, he's a people person. And this high was that highly rewarding combination of dopamine and oxytocin that our brains release during positive social interaction. His oxytocin response is in great shape, even if his legs aren't.

He and I were talking about an interaction he had with the guy who drives the shuttle from the assisted living facility to the hospital, where my mom has been for the past two weeks. This driver was being extra helpful in making sure my dad could get to the hospital.

My father told me how he had chatted up the driver, asking about his family, his job ... getting to know him.

Then he said, "The feeling was real. But at the same time, I was getting him to do what I wanted."

This, in a nutshell, is the essence of sales. There's an oxytocin product you can buy on the internet that supposedly makes people trust you more. You spray it on yourself, they inhale it, the pitch goes, and they're more likely to do what you want. (It's very unlikely this would work: Oxytocin breaks down very quickly, and there wouldn't be enough to get into the other person's nasovomeral organ.)

Some people have expressed fear that oxytocin could be used to make others do things they don't want to, and I always point out that salespeople have been doing this for aeons. My father's story, and his very interesting awareness of how this works, illustrates how the best salespeople create a true connection with others before they start to sell.

Is this manipulative? No, it's human nature.