Instant InfluenceUnless you’re a hermit in a cave somewhere (and if so, how are you reading this blog?), you’re probably in a position to influence someone in your circle – children, a significant other, your co-workers, your boss – several times a day.

Lately I’ve been digging into this broad question of how of we move people and I consulted a fascinating book I’d read several months ago titled Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything – Fast! (Buy it at Amazon,, or IndieBound). The author, Michael Pantalon, is a psychologist research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine. And he’s generously agreed to share one of the tips from the book with us. If you get a chance to try this technique, let us know in the Comments section how it worked out for you.

Now here’s Dr. Pantalon:

What do you say when someone at work says, “No” to your suggestion?  You probably respond with a perfectly rational question like, “Why not?” Unfortunately, I’ve learned that rational questions are ineffective for motivating resistant people. Instead I’ve found that irrational questions actually motivate people better.

 For example, imagine you’re a manager at a major PR firm and one of your reports balks at revising an important part of the next big campaign.  Instead of asking rational but ineffective questions, try the following 2 seemingly irrational questions:

1. How ready are you to make the revisions, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means not ready at all and 10 means totally ready? 

Make sure she gives you a number. On the rare chance that she says, “1,” surprise her by saying, “What would turn it into a 2?” In telling you what it would take for her to become a 2, she reveals what she needs to do before she is able to make the revisions to the campaign. That is what you motivate her to do first.

2. If she picks a number higher than 2, ask, “Why didn’t you pick a lower (yes, lower) number?”

Question 1 seems irrational, because you’re asking, “How ready are you…?” of a person who just said, “No,” which we can assume means not at all ready.  However, most resistant people have some motivation that they keep from us.  If you ask, “Are you going to take my suggestion, yes or no?” they continue to keep their motivation hidden.  But if you ask them the “1-10” question, they’re much more likely to reveal their motivation by saying a 2 or a 3, which is far better – you’ve now moved from a “No” to at least a “Maybe.”

Question 2 seems really irrational, perhaps even absurd. It’s the opposite of the rational and expected question, “Why aren’t you more motivated?” which only breeds more resistance.  However, by asking Question 2, you’re asking her to defend why your directive to revise the campaign is even the slightest bit important to her (e.g., deep down, she knows getting over her defensiveness around critique is an important career goal) rather than to defend her excuses why she won’t do it (e.g., too busy).  The answers she gives lead her to rehearse the positive and intrinsic reasons for doing what you asked, which, in turn, dramatically increase the chances that she gets the project done.

31 Responses to “How to move people with two irrational questions”

  1. Geoff says:

    If she says 1 why not just fire her? Too rational?

    • Karen says:

      I’m glad Geoff isn’t my boss! The approach sounds interesting. It reminds me of what the Heath brothers talk about in their book Switch.

    • Ingo says:

      Because YOU wouldn’t be doing your job, Geoff. Turn it around and ask yourself: “How ready are you to enable this employee to make the revisions, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means not ready at all and 10 means totally ready?”

      Sounds like your answer would be “1”. Would you fire yourself? Or do something to turn the 1 into a 2 or a 3 or a… 10?

      • Mike says:

        Yes, the approach can be used on yourself, as well. Also, only a very small minority say a “1” on the scale, whether I’m doing this at a small biz, in the C-suite, with kids, probationers or people struggling with addictions.

    • Mike says:

      Haha! You made me laugh. Thanks. Well, firing her is always within your power, but if she is at all worth keeping, then it would be worth the time to ask her what might make her a “2”. You might even get some important feedback about your work environment. You could also ask her why she even considered the question or even agreed to the conversation with you. If she really is a “1,” she wouldn’t have done those things. My bet is that there IS some motivation there – beneath her superficial resistance.

  2. drew kugler says:

    With her rehearsal of the positive done through #2, what’s the third question? That would seem to be a pretty important leg for the stool.

    • Mike says:

      While the remaining questions of the “Instant Influence” approach ARE very important, the very next thing to do is to help the employee rehearse her positive reasons why she might move forward with the revisions. You would do this by reflecting or reiterating (i.e., “mirroring”) her reasons back to her (e.g., “So, it sounds like making the revisions would be important to you because it would mean that you were starting to integrate constructive feedback – a goal you’ve had for yourself.”). You would also ask her to tell you more about that reason – to expand on it, to deepen it.

  3. Jesús Facio says:

    I’ll try this with my little girl, does’nt want to go to school. Hehe, and I’ll let you know

    • Mike says:

      Thanks all for your extremely positive response to and interest in my work. And please, keep the questions and comments coming. There’s nothing better than this part of my work – getting into the nitty-gritty of exactly how to us the approach with the people you most want to influence. So, Jesus, if you do ask your daughter, make sure she gives you a # on the scale AND a reason why she didn’t say a lower #. If she’s confused by the question (depends on her age), you could rephrase it by asking, “Why do you have ANY desire at all to go to school?” Let me know how it goes. Thanks again.

  4. Regardless of Q3 (although now I am curious about that….) this is perfect! Just what I need to deal with a road block that is jamming things up for me. Thanks!

    • Mike says:

      If you’re curious, check out my website (, where you can read the entire intro to my book (ALL 6 questions of the “Instant Influence” approach are there) and watch videos of me explaining the entire approach. ALL FREE without subscription. Thanks again for your enthusiasm and interest.

  5. Steve Hughes says:

    Er havent we heard this before, its called NLP – been around for years.

    • Mike says:

      I’m not an NLP expert, but I guess there could be overlap, especially given that the theory of NLP is quite broad and given that both “Instant Influence” and NLP use language in creative and seemingly irrational ways. However, I believe there are 3 key differences (though I’m open for discussion). The first has to do with AUTONOMY. “Instant Influence” begins with a very clear, robust and repetitive statement that the “influencee,” if you will, is free to do whatever s/he wants, including NOT adhere to the “influencer’s” request. This is referred to as Acknowledging Autonomy (which I write quite a bit about in my book). Thus, there is no “programming,” in “Instant Influence.” The second difference is that, while NLP focuses on results and outcomes (e.g., success at work or home), “Instant Influence” focuses much more on the process of eliciting powerful and intrinsic motives from the influencee – their reasons for change. Paradoxically, however, the more you focus on the process of individual intrinsic motivation (and autonomy, for that matter), the better the outcomes take care of themselves. The third and final difference, is quite simply, that, while I have no doubt NLP has helped many people, “Instant Influence” is an empirically-supported technique, both in it’s original and longer version (i.e., motivational interviewing; Miller & Rollnick, 2002, Guilford Press, NY, NY), as well as in it’s 7-minute version (see for a very recent peer-reviewed example OR the MSN story on this research I hope this helps. Thanks for your interest in my work. Best, Mike Pantalon

  6. Karen says:

    Does this work when used on supervisors too?

    • Mike says:

      YES! However, the other aspects of the approach come in handy when attempting to influence a superior, especially acknowledging their power to choose whatever they decide. Also, reiterating that you are only asking them to ENTERTAIN these questions is very helpful. That said, I’ve seen “Instant Influence” work in some very tricky workplace and sales negotiations. Good luck and let me know how it goes. Thanks for your interest in my work. Best, Mike Pantalon

  7. Melvin Hall says:

    For years when I notice someone is not doing great (aka in a bad mood) after asking how they are I ask; “what would make it worse?” I will wait for their response and flip back; “I will see about making that happen.”
    Did this for years in USMC and now in high school classroom. Had not gone beyond their responses of changing their moods.
    Any fit with the irrational questions and any insight for me to ponder?

    • Mike says:

      Any unexpected question that gets a resistant person to think differently is generally a good thing. That said, the more your irrational questions focus on WHY the person would want to MAKE things BETTER or WHY they would want to KEEP things from getting worse, the more you will help that person motivate themselves. So, after they tell you what would make it worse, ask them WHY they might want to work at avoiding the worse situation. Hope that helps! Thanks, Mike Pantalon

  8. Michael Galluzzo says:

    I have used scale questions like this while working with my clients on federal supervision and find it to be a great way to assess someone’s motivation for change. Had some really good training (18 months or so) in Motivational Interviewing (MI) a few years ago. The MI instructor demonstrated the scale questions to exlore the person’s level of importance and confidence in making the targeted change. Here are a couple of MI related books:

    Motivational Interviewing, Second Edition: Preparing People for Change

    Motivational Interviewing in Health Care By Rollnick, Miller and Butler

    The healthcare book is a much shorter and simpler read and I think the skills ans spirit of MI can be applied to so many fields. From a skills standpoint, I think the listening you do following the scale questions is critical and can have a huge impact on the relationship as one that is more guiding than directive.

    Mike, I plan to check out your book and website. Thanks to Dan for posting this…a topic I love learning about.

    • Mike says:

      That’s great, Michael! I’ve spent quite a bit of time myself training probation and parole officers in MI. And you are absolutely correct to think of MI in this context because “Instant Influence” started as an ultra-brief adaptation of MI. It was originally based on years of research my colleagues and I did on adaptations of MI with a wide variety of medical patients who expressed resistance to change. And yes, the books you listed are great resources. My aim, however, is to bring 3 decades of science on how to motivate people to general audiences, as well as, professional ones who typically wouldn’t ever have heard of MI, and to make it as practical as possible. So, thanks for your interest in my work and book and please feel free to stay in touch ( or via my website – I’d love to hear what you think. Mike Pantalon

  9. In the end people will only do what they really want to do. If they do not really want to do something and you cannot motivate them differently, nothing will get done. This irrational method is an excellent leadership tool to influence people to want to go in a direction they did not know they want to go.

    • Mike says:

      Very well put, Stephan! I totally agree. The heart of “Instant Influence” is to help resistant people simply consider whether or not they have any of their OWN motives to do what you are asking of them, and it use some off-the-beaten path questions to provoke such thinking. If, at the end of the day, they have NO such motivation, then it may be time to focus our collective energies elsewhere. Thanks for your interest in my work! Mike Pantalon

  10. Eileen Owoc says:

    The “off the beaten path” questioning designed to unearth the recipients motivation is exactly what woke my 25 year old up to discovering why he might want to keep his living area in the home clean. I wish Dr. Pantalon was present to: A. Witness the perplexed look on my son’s face as the unfamiliar questioning process commenced and B. The perplexed look of my 20 year old as she observed this “no nagging”, “I’ll leave it to you to figure out why you are motivated to keep the place clean approach”! Im sure both are still wondering why my son seemingly, “suddenly” decided to be a cooperative household guest.

  11. Pam Castillo says:

    Neuro-Linguistic Programming at its best. The art and science of persuasion and how the brain really works. Very important for everyone to read this so you and both be persuasive and more effective and ward off being unconsciously persuaded by manufacturers, politicians, service providers abd others.

  12. Wow! That’s quite a success. The surprise factor of “Instant Influence” is critical. It reduces defensiveness and therefore makes the recipient more open to their reasons for change. Nicely done, Eileen!

  13. gregorylent says:

    manipulation is always a long-term losing strategy

    • Mike says:

      I totally agree that manipulation is a losing strategy, BOTH short and long term. However, “Instant Influence” is NOT manipulation, mainly because it only works if the person who you are asking to make a change has his/her OWN reasons/motives for that change. Manipulation would be tricking him/her into thinking he/she had good reason to make a change when in fact he/she didn’t, but that is absolutely NOT what’s going on with Instant Influence. I think the issue here is that it is very hard for most people to imagine quickly motivating someone to do something they previously did not want to do WITHOUT manipulation, but it is possible. Another reason “Instant Influence” is NOT manipulation is because at the outset of the process the influencer acknowledges to the influencee that he/she does not have to do/change anything – that it is totally up to him/her what they decide to do, if anything.

  14. I think it is Robert Lahey and Lisa Kagan who talk about something similar in their book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation. If my memory serves me right they mention that when people are unwilling to change or commit, it often is because they have something else to which they are very committed, but they aren’t necessarily sharing this.

    When I am facilitating groups and there is resistance about making a commitment at the level a change or idea is being discussed, I’ll often ask: “What’s the most significant action you can commit to right now so that we can keep moving forward?” I’m always amazed how it shifts the conversation and how most of the time people say something along the lines of “Well I’d be willing to commit to doing X.” Instead of debate, we now get commitment.

    • Fantastic! I love that question, especially because it draws change from the people you need it from – as opposed to imposing it. Autonomy and the right questions can get us far with a resistant group. Thanks for sharing and thanks for your interest in my work. Best, Mike Pantalon

  15. What a great article!

    Super helpful and quite counter-intuitive. But once you think about it for a minute it makes total sense.


  16. Jim Little says:

    There is a very powerful concept here – it involves turning opposition into possibility.
    When faced with opposition, make it a possibility by asking, “how might we…?”
    You would be surprised how people respond when asked to actually help with the problem.

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