There are hundreds of self-help persuasion books out there; you’ve probably read lots of them too.  Many are quite good, some pabulum, others make decent doorstops.  But this one stands in a class of its own.  It is scientifically backed, robustly tested, and eminently practical.  It is based on Yale Medical School’s “Instant Influence” program designed, as the author says, “to get anyone to do anything – fast.” Doctors use the method in ER settings where they have little time to convince patients to agree to change dangerous behaviors (over eating, drinking, drug use, violence).  It is now used in many emergency rooms and major trauma centers around the country.  It has also been tested for the last fifteen years in HR settings for companies of all sizes, with CEOs and political leaders, and even among the most resistant group – teenagers.  It works, the researchers say, because it lets people convince themselves.  We don’t convince them of anything.  People do things most of the time for their reasons, not ours.

The method stems from three principles:

  1. No one has to do anything; the choice is always yours (important corollary: the more we tell someone to do something, the less like she is to do it.)
  2. Everyone already has enough motivation.
  3. Focusing on any tiny bit of motivation works much better than asking about resistance (which helps dissolve the cognitive dissonance in the person being influenced, i.e. we all try to act consistently with our statements about ourselves).

Really, these three might be reduced to one – respecting autonomy.

So, what is the method? These 6 incremental questions:

  1. Why might you change?
  2. How ready are you to change on a scale from 1-10 (1 means not ready, 10 is totally ready)?
  3. Why didn’t you pick a lower number? (will surprise the person and get them to focus on reasons for change)
  4. Imagine you’ve changed.  What would the positive outcomes be?
  5. Why are those outcomes important to you?
  6. What’s the next step, if any?

I know these questions probably seem a little too reductive and simplistic without the explanatory apparatus the book provides, but the questions might pique your interest. The test should be your experience, so you might try the questions the next time you want to influence someone. By coupling these 6 questions with well intentioned, sincere body language and non-verbal cues, the method should give us another tool in our “rhetorical toolbox” as lawyers, negotiators, co-workers, friends, . . . .

By the way, “instance influence” dovetails with Daniel Pink’s fascinating research on motivation in the workplace.  His book is titled “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”  Basically, Pink says that four decades of scientific research supports the notion that we’re motivated by three things – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Watch this: