Instant Influence

How to Get Anyone to Do Anything--Fast


By Michael Pantalon, PhD

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If you want to motivate your employees to be more productive, convince your customers to use more of your products and services, encourage a loved one to engage in healthier habits, or inspire any change in yourself, renowned psychologist Dr. Michael Pantalon can show you how to achieve Instant Influence in six simple steps. Drawing on three decades of research, Dr. Pantalon’s easy-to-learn method can create changes both great and small in 7 minutes or less. This scientifically tested method succeeds in every area of work and life by helping people tap into their deeply personal reasons for wanting to change and finding a spark of “yes” within an answer that sounds like “no.”


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Table of Contents

Copyright Page

Instant Influence in Action

The General Electric executives stared back at me, skeptical, unsettled. I couldn't blame them: these human resources specialists were all comfortable with their own procedures for dealing with difficult employees, but now they were being required to learn my approach as well. This training session was mandatory, and I could read opposition in their tightly folded arms and in the grim expressions on their faces. I might have to be here, their body language said, but I sure don't have to like it.

If I didn't quickly grab their attention, they might not be convinced that my technique for dealing with unmotivated workers was worth their while. I had them for only a few hours, and teaching them how to use this new approach would take every bit of that time. But if I spent all morning talking and they didn't participate, what good would that do?

Well, my method is called Instant Influence, and one of its most exciting features is that it can work almost immediately, often in seven minutes or less. What if I spent seven minutes motivating these executives to listen to my presentation?


As a psychologist and researcher at Yale, I've spent many years investigating ways to move people from feeling resistant to being motivated. I began by working with a technique developed by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick known as motivational interviewing,1 but I found a way to take it further.2 Over the past fifteen years, I've devised a groundbreaking six-step version that's so fast and so effective that it actually results in instant influence.

Instant Influence is the only scientifically proven method for motivating people in seven minutes or less. It gets people to take action by encouraging them to find their own reasons for doing what you are asking of them. Just by asking someone six simple questions, you can inspire him to realize why he might want to take some kind of action: quit smoking, get to work on time, fill out his quarterly reports, or pay you back that twenty dollars he owes you. Instant Influence works on pretty much anything at all. You can also use this approach on yourself, to become more productive, stick to your diet, take up exercise, or accomplish anything else you may be struggling with. It works on people who know they want to change and are eager to get started, people who think they want to change but fear they can't, and people who think they don't want to change. It doesn't really matter who uses it—Instant Influence just works.

The two greatest advantages of Instant Influence are that you can learn the technique quickly and see results almost immediately.3 I developed it at the request of busy emergency room doctors seeking to motivate patients who came into the ER because of alcohol-related accidents and medical problems. They wanted to inspire these people to seek help for their drinking, but the only time the doctors had to reach them was while treating them in the ER. In other words, the doctors had about seven minutes to influence semi-inebriated patients who didn't necessarily view themselves as needing help.

Seven minutes, resistant patients, and a hectic emergency room. What could possibly move people to change their lives under those circumstances? The answer is simple: their own reasons. People usually act for their own reasons, not someone else's reasons. If they do change a behavior because of something someone else has said, most of the time that change won't stick. The secret of Instant Influence is that it helps people discover their own reasons for doing something, even something they thought they didn't want to do.

You help people not by telling them why they should change but, rather, by asking them why they might want to change. Here are the six steps that will allow you to achieve Instant Influence:

Step 1: Why might you change? (Or to influence yourself, why might I change?)

Step 2: How ready are you to change—on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means "not ready at all" and 10 means "totally ready"?

Step 3: Why didn't you pick a lower number? (Or if the influencee* picked 1, either ask the second question again, this time about a smaller step toward change, or ask, what would it take for that 1 to turn into a 2?)

Step 4: Imagine you've changed. What would the positive outcomes be?

Step 5: Why are those outcomes important to you?

Step 6: What's the next step, if any?

The ER docs were so successful using my approach that they were able to achieve a nearly 50 percent reduction in drinking among their "alcohol-involved" patients—just from seven-minute conversations. As a result, Instant Influence is now a standard part of care in emergency rooms and in major trauma units across the United States, and medical residents nationwide are required to learn it.

After I developed this technique, I went on to apply it in many other settings. I've introduced Instant Influence to professionals at all levels, from middle managers, sales representatives, and human resource specialists to CEOs. I've trained and coached key staff and executives at such companies as Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and General Electric, and at such training centers as the American Management Association and the Addiction Technology Transfer Center. I've worked with Ivy League universities, including Yale, Harvard, and Brown; such major federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Health and Human Services; such prominent medical centers as Yale-New Haven Hospital, Harvard's McLean Hospital, and NY Langone Medical Center; and numerous state judicial branches and departments of probation and parole. I've trained staff from prominent drug and alcohol rehab centers, including Hazelden, Betty Ford, and Crossroads at Antigua. I've taught Instant Influence to health-care providers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and case managers for the homeless, as well as teachers and parents.

After more than fifteen years of training, research, and hands-on coaching experience, I know that Instant Influence can work on virtually anyone, from the most motivated CEO to the most resistant teenager.4 The technique works well with colleagues, loved ones, even strangers. You can also use Instant Influence to help yourself achieve any type of goal, from improving job performance, negotiating contracts, and boosting sales to following through on weight loss and exercise plans, giving up cigarettes, and resolving problems in personal relationships.


Since people respond much better when they act for their own reasons rather than yours, we need to help them discover their reasons as soon as possible. However, if you're working with people who are resistant, as I was with the GE group, acknowledging that resistance—instead of fighting it—is a surprisingly effective way of getting them to be less defensive and more open.

Of course, that's easier said than done, especially when fifty underwhelmed pairs of eyes are glaring at you. But I had faith in this approach, so I forged ahead with my group of reluctant GE executives.

"Hey," I said as calmly as I could. "I know none of you really chose to be here. And you may not want to hear about yet another 'fantastic' method from yet another Ivory Tower egghead." I wanted to sincerely acknowledge their resistance and to do something known in motivation research as "denigrating the messenger." Both are important techniques for reinforcing an influencee's autonomy.

As I'd hoped, my self-deprecation got some laughs, and I could see the managers looking at one another in surprise. My frank acknowledgment of their point of view, rather than an attempt to sell them on mine, was the last thing they expected.

"So," I continued, "why are you here?"

The slight positive response I had won was instantly gone. "We're here because we have to be," one woman said, enunciating each word with exaggerated patience.

"Really? So every HR executive is here? Every single one?"

This got a few laughs. "Well, not Frank," one man said. "He always finds an out. What is it this time—a dental appointment?"

"All right, then," I said. "You could have found some way to blow off this meeting, like Frank did, but you didn't. So tell me. Why are you here?"

I had just used Step 1: Why might you change? (Or, in this case, why have you changed?) Grudgingly, the executives began to give their answers. "Because we care about this company, and we want it to do well." "My boss asked me to attend, and I respect her, I guess." "I don't want to seem uncooperative."

Good responses, maybe, but they were still too vague to move anybody to action. If these people were going to change, they would need to find more personal reasons.

"Okay," I said. Time for Step 2: How ready are you to change—on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means "not ready at all" and 10 means "totally ready"? As always, I tailored my language to the people involved and the setting, making it more colloquial: "On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is 'not ready at all' and 10 is 'completely ready,' how ready are you to listen to my presentation today?"

The executives looked at one another, rolling their eyes. "Maybe a 3," a woman said finally. I could hear murmurs of agreement around the room.

"Great," I said, moving on to Step 3: Why didn't you pick a lower number? "You picked 3. Why didn't you choose a lower number?" Why, in other words, hadn't the woman described herself as being even less motivated? Why hadn't she chosen 2 or even 1 rather than 3?

This is the question that catches everybody off guard. They expect me to ask, why didn't you make it a higher number? In other words, why aren't you more motivated? Why don't you want more of what I think you should want?

But I hadn't asked that. Instead, I'd asked why her motivation was as high as it was. Why were they willing to listen to my presentation? Why were they here?

I had to wait a little while, but finally I got an answer. "Because even though I really believe in the way we do things now," one man said, "and even though I helped to refine our current procedures myself—and I know they work—even with all that, there are some employees we just don't know what to do with. Maybe this other approach might work with, say, one guy. That's why I'm here."

There were some nods and hints of agreement, but I still didn't think the room was totally with me. You can stop the Instant Influence process at any point when you think the other person is ready to change, but it's important not to stop before he's ready.

So on to Step 4: Imagine you've changed. What would the positive outcomes be? I hunted for a way to reword the question to fit this situation. "Look," I finally said. "I think it will go better for all of us if we spend just one more moment thinking about why you—not me, not your bosses, but you—might ever want to use this approach. I have my reasons for believing in it, but my reasons don't matter, because I'm not going to be dealing with your employees. You are. Suppose you've already adopted my methods. Just imagine for a moment that it's already done. What good could possibly come from that?"

There was a long, thoughtful silence. Then, from the back of the room, a middle-aged man spoke up, someone the organizers had warned me would be difficult to win over.

"You know," he said slowly, "when I was a kid, I wasn't exactly an A student. In fact, what I had then, they probably would call some form of ADHD today. I could never get myself to pay attention in class. I just didn't care enough.

"There was this one teacher, though, who really believed in me. She really went that extra mile to find out what I did care about, and somehow that got to me. Not what I was supposed to do. What I cared about."

He paused. "If it hadn't been for her, I might not have made it through high school."

He paused again. "If this method is anything like that, and it sounds like it is, maybe we should give it a try."

This man was an award-winning executive who clearly had the respect of his superiors and peers. But beyond his credentials, I could see that what had affected the rest of the people in the room most was how personally he had spoken. Somehow, we had left the realm of "I'm supposed to" or "My boss wants me to" and had entered a more meaningful place, one in which people were exploring their own reasons for listening to the presentation. As a result, in less than seven minutes, this man had gone from being extremely skeptical of my approach to giving a more effective speech about why he and his colleagues should listen closely than I could have ever scripted.

As often happens with Instant Influence, he had actually jumped ahead and completed one of the steps before I'd even had a chance to introduce it, in this case, Step 5: Why are those outcomes important to you? The man who had spoken up was imagining how he might be able to reach troubled employees, something that mattered to him because of how much he valued his teacher's efforts to get through to him when he was in school. I could see that the other executives were thinking hard, perhaps about people in their lives who had helped them or perhaps about all the seemingly unreachable people whom they might now be able to help. At this point, they had truly made it personal. They were thinking about their own reasons for change.

The time had come for Step 6: What's the next step, if any? But before I got the words out, the same executive beat me to it once again. "Okay, Dr. Pantalon," he said. "Why don't you go ahead and give us the presentation. We all have a job to do today, so let's get started."

I looked around the room. Instead of being stone-faced and slumped back in their chairs, the managers were leaning forward, eager, alert. They might not have been totally sold on the idea of my program, but at least now they were willing to listen. In less than seven minutes, they had moved from strong resistance to a willingness to take the first step toward change, but it wasn't because I had convinced them. They had found a way to convince themselves.


In less than seven minutes, Instant Influence can get a person to agree to change. Actually implementing that change may take longer. But by the time the Instant Influence conversation has ended, the process will already be under way. The influencee will have begun to consider why she wants to change and, often without even realizing it, will be preparing to make changes. By getting in touch with her own powerful reasons to change, she plants seeds in fertile soil. You can't see the first stages of growth because they take place underground. Sooner or later, though, a tiny shoot will poke through to the daylight—and all because you had that first, seminal conversation.

Of course, sometimes Instant Influence doesn't work. If a person is deeply committed to refusing change, no motivational technique will make a difference. When someone genuinely doesn't want to change, change won't happen.

But far more often, even the most disaffected employee, the most reluctant client, the most negative teenager, the most adamant spouse, has a tiny spark of hope somewhere deep inside, a desire to reach common ground. If that spark is there, however small, Instant Influence can help you fan it into a glowing flame, either producing immediate action or opening up new possibilities for the long term. If you master the process and stick with it, Instant Influence will help you get as far as is humanly possible.

My father was the first person to show me how many profound changes we can make in our lives when we're truly motivated. Although he was just twenty-three years old and spoke no English, he decided that he would leave his native Croatia to build a new life for himself in what must have seemed a completely strange new world, the United States. He began his long, difficult journey in 1962 as a stowaway on a train, trekked across four European countries on foot, and lived for several weeks in Paris under a bridge near the Seine. Eventually, in 1965, he reached the United States, a country where he knew no one.

What kept my father going? His dogged belief in his reasons for taking action. He knew why he wanted to escape a country with limited opportunities and why he wanted to make a new life, and so, against staggering odds, he somehow found a way to do it.

Significantly, whenever I ask my father how he was able to achieve his goal, he answers, "I don't know." Even though he succeeded long ago, the how question leaves us both with a feeling that what he had sought to do had been impossible. But when I ask my father why he wanted to leave Croatia, he always answers, "To be free." His reasons were so personal and so powerful that they enabled him to overcome every obstacle.

I once asked my father whether he thought he had been a little foolhardy. "Well, Michael," he answered, "if I had stopped to think about how absolutely crazy the whole idea was, I wouldn't have done it." Lucky for my family, my father never did focus on the how. Instead, he stayed focused on the why. Because his reasons were so clear to him, his motivation was strong. As a result, he was able to make his dream come true.

I've never faced hardships like my father's. But I've worked with people who have: at-risk teenagers, desperate psychiatric patients, people dependent on drugs and alcohol struggling to free themselves from their addictions. I've also trained many who deal with people in difficult situations: counselors working in teen group homes, parole officers supervising released prisoners, ER doctors dealing with drunk drivers. What I've learned from my work is that why may be the most powerful question on earth. Whether you're highly motivated or despairing of ever reaching your goal, finding that tiny spark of why you want to change can ultimately enable you to transform your life.

Most of us don't have my father's motivation. Luckily, most of us don't need it. Instant Influence can help any one of us take that critical first step toward change. What happens after that can be truly remarkable.


Get Anyone to Do Anything—Fast


What Makes People Want to Change?

You've just left the gym to join your friend Kelly for coffee. When you meet up with her, she glances at your gym bag. "Oh," she says, "I wish I could be disciplined like you are. I never seem to get to the gym—I haven't exercised in months."

Being a good friend, you'd like to help, so you start trying to motivate Kelly to exercise. "It's so important," you say. "You'll look better. You'll feel better. You'll live longer…"

"I know," Kelly says. "Wouldn't that be nice! I just can't seem to get started."

"Starting can be tough," you say sympathetically. "But you'll feel so good afterward. You'll have lots of extra energy to get everything done."

"Maybe. I'm just always so tired."

"But exercise perks you up," you say. "I know. I'm always tired, too, but then I start my workout, and pretty soon I'm wide awake."

"You're so lucky. You're really disciplined. I'm just not."

Suddenly, you think you've come up with a perfect way to fix the whole problem. "Why don't you book some sessions with a personal trainer? That's how I got started. I thought it would be really expensive, but actually it's not. Then you'd have to go!"

"Maybe I'll try that sometime," Kelly says, and the conversation turns to other things. You feel bad for Kelly, because you know she really wants to exercise. And you feel frustrated with yourself, because you just couldn't find the right way to help her take action.

What went wrong?

In fact, at almost every turn, your efforts were doomed to fail. That's because you were using what I like to call the tell-and-sell approach: you tell someone your reasons for doing something, then try to sell her on them. Unfortunately, no matter how good your reasons or how heartfelt your sales pitch, the tell-and-sell approach almost never works.

What happens when you try to sell someone on your reasons for change? Usually, as in this example, your efforts go nowhere. The other person might agree with you, as Kelly did, but that won't spark a desire to take action. That desire—the motivation to act—lives in each one of us. But the only way to unlock it is with our own reasons.

In the example, you told Kelly to exercise because she would be healthier, live longer, feel better, and have more energy. All good arguments, but they didn't work for Kelly because they weren't her reasons. Although she agreed with you, she didn't personalize the reasons or explore how much they meant to her.

You also told Kelly how to take action: hire a trainer. But if she hasn't figured out why she wants to take action, she certainly won't care about how to do so.

Three decades of scientific evidence clearly demonstrate that tell-and-sell methods not only fail to motivate; they also lower the motivation level. That's right. Using the wrong type of encouragement can actually make a person want to do something less.

So what works? Here's the secret to Instant Influence: people take action when they hear themselves say why they want to. People can tell you all day long that they wish they could do something. But when they tell you why they want to do it, that's when things start to happen. That's Instant Influence in a nutshell. Get someone to tell you why he wants to act, and action is almost sure to follow.

There's a catch, though. Other people can't simply agree with your reasons for change or parrot back to you the reasons they are "supposed" to have. For example: "It's good for my health." "My boss will be happier with me." "It's the right thing to do." They need to dig a little deeper and find their own personal reasons for change, often unexpected reasons that may surprise both of you.


Instant Influence can quickly open someone up to the possibility of change. The actual process of taking action or implementing new behavior may require a bit more time, but this first step is critical.

When you have an Instant Influence conversation with someone, there are four possible outcomes:

1. You have complete success. Your influencee commits to making a change or to taking a step toward positive action. You'll follow up by making an action plan (we'll discuss that in chapter 9) and by continuing to monitor his progress. If necessary, you may want to have a second Instant Influence conversation later on, to revive flagging motivation or to help him further along the path to his next step.

2. You have partial success. Your influencee opens up to change in a way she hasn't before, but she still won't commit to taking action. Give her time to process the conversation in her own way. She may go on to take independent action, or you might need to have another Instant Influence conversation to help her keep moving forward.

3. You have limited success. Your conversation ends on a civil note, but it appears to you that very little was accomplished. You've planted a seed that may need time to take root, so remain open to the possibility that more progress was made than you realize. If you don't see any signs of improvement in a week or so, you may want to follow up with another Instant Influence conversation, using some of the suggestions in part II to make the conversation more productive.

4. You seem to have reached a dead end. The person refuses to have the conversation or remains highly resistant throughout. As in the previous scenario, be open to the possibility that more progress was made than you realize. If you don't see signs of action in a week, you might want to attempt another Instant Influence conversation, just to keep the door open. Chapter 10 offers tips about how to accept the situation and move on when you feel that you have reached an impasse. Don't give up too quickly, however. People change in their own ways and in their own time. If you're not attentive, you might miss it.


On Sale
May 9, 2011
Page Count
256 pages
Little Brown Spark

Michael Pantalon, PhD

About the Author

Michael V. Pantalon, Ph.D. is a motivational coach, consultant, therapist, and award-winning faculty member at Yale University School of Medicine. He has published numerous articles in publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, among others, and has presented his work at national and international conferences. Dr. Pantalon lives in Hamden, Connecticut, with his wife, Marianne, and their sons.

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