Attunement in Leadership

To move others, lead others, persuade others, you have to be able to see things from someone else’s point of view. Daniel Pink talks about how attunement can help you be a better leader and motivator.


When you’re trying to persuade others, move others, lead others, one of the most importance elements is what I call attunement. Attunement is perspective taking; can you get out of your own head and see things from someone else’s point of view. At some level this is the essence of leadership. Why? Because as entrepreneurs you don’t have much power to force people to do stuff. You can’t force your customers to do things. You can’t force your employees to do things. We don’t have a lot of coercive power today in any of our roles in life. So what we need to do is something that’s almost the opposite of coercion. We need a different capability. And that capability is attunement; can we get out of our own heads, see things from someone else’s point of view and try to find common ground with the other side so that we can move forward together.

And the social science of attunement or perspective taking is fascinating. It shows that when we feel powerful our perspective‑taking skills degrade. And so feeling powerful can actually impair your capacity to lead effectively. There’s some great research showing that perspective taking has a physical element to it. When we mirror other people’s gestures, when we stand the way they are standing, when we use their words rather than ours, we have a better sense of where they are coming from.

And I think one of the most interesting pieces of research in attunement has to do with introversion and extroversion. There’s this notion that extroverts are more persuasive, that extroverts make better salespeople. The problem is that there’s no evidence showing an extrovert advantage. It’s an entire myth. What’s really cool which research recently has shown, is that strong extroverts make terrible salespeople. But it doesn’t mean that strong introverts are any better. Strong introverts are also terrible salespeople. The people who are the best at persuasion sales are what are called ambiverts, ambiverts. They’re a little bit of both; not strongly introverted, not strongly extroverted. That allows them to be attuned. They know when to speak up and they know when to shut up. They know when to push, they know when to hold back.

And the best news of all in this is that most of us are ambiverts. Relatively few of us are strong extroverts. Relatively few of us are strong introverts. Most of us are somewhat ambiverted. And so what it suggests is that again, the way to be more persuasive, the way to be more influential isn’t to be a jerk, isn’t to boss people around, but to do fundamentally human things like understand where people are coming from, see the world through their perspective, don’t feel too drunk with power. And to be your own regular awesome ambiverted self. 

Suggested Readings

Founders School || Leadership and Motivation || Attunement in Leadership || Impact Guide (PDF).

Pink, Daniel. 2012. To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. NY: Riverhead Books. Chapter 4 “Attunement”.

Grant, Adam. 2013. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. New York: Penguin Books. Chapter 5.

Cain, Susan. 2012. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Talks Too Much. NY: Broadway Books. Chapters 2 and 10.

Grant, Adam M. 2013. “Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage” Psychological Science June 2013 vol. 24 no. 6 1024-1030.

Questions for You

How have I made attunement a part of my work?

How could I do this better?

What are the challenges for me with my team in particular? With customers?

Questions for Your Team

How attuned is our leadership? How could they improve?

How can we use attunement in sales, recruiting, fund raising?