923: How to Upgrade Your Influence and Persuasion with Michael McQueen

By December 18, 2023Podcasts

Michael McQueen reveals the keys to persuading even the most stubborn minds.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why data and evidence don’t change minds
  2. How to sell change to anyone
  3. A surprising way to make people more agreeable

About Michael

Michael McQueen has spent the past two decades helping organizations and leaders win the battle for relevance. From Fortune 500 brands to government agencies and not-for-profits, Michael specializes in helping clients navigate uncertainty and stay one step ahead of change.

He is a bestselling author of ten books and is a familiar face on the international conference circuit, having shared the stage with the likes of Bill Gates, Dr. John C. Maxwell, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Michael has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people across five continents since 2004 and is known for his high-impact, research-rich, and entertaining conference presentations. Having formerly been named Australia’s Keynote Speaker of the Year, Michael has been inducted into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame.

Resources Mentioned

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Michael McQueen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Michael McQueen
Thank you so much. Happy to be able to spend some time chatting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Mindstuck: Mastering the Art of Changing Minds because that’s one of my favorite things to dork out about. But first, we got to hear the story of you meeting Bill Clinton when you were 17. What’s the tale?

Michael McQueen
I was 17, there was a group of us Aussies who were being sent to New Zealand for the APEC Summit, which is the gathering of political and business leaders, and we were part of this random youth delegation and had these name badges, like our little code, our security code no really knew what it meant. So, we could just basically sneak into any event, which was awesome.

And so, I snuck into one of the press conferences and I was probably about 15 meters or about 25 feet from Bill Clinton as he gave his address to wrap up the summit, and I’m surrounded by Secret Service agents, and I’m like, “This is cool and I shouldn’t be here.”

And so, it was one of those cool experiences where I feel like if you walk into a situation with certainty, it’s amazing how people don’t ask questions. And I think being 17 probably helped, but, yeah, it was a very, very cool experience.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you actually interacted with him?

Michael McQueen
Oh, no. There must’ve been about 60 Secret Service between me and him. And, in fact, I remember standing there as his motorcade arrived, and just being stunned. I think we counted like 14 armored cars, and I’m like, “How do you get all of that kit to the other side of the world?” I was in awe of the logistics involved in this. But, yeah, I was closer than anyone else pretty much. All the other fancy delegates were all sitting a lot further away. So, I certainly was in the wrong place but it was very cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like there is a mind-changing or influence, persuasion lesson right there when you marched in there with confidence, like, “Of course, I belong here. I’m supposed to be here.” It kind of works sometimes.

Michael McQueen
It certainly does. I feel like it’s this blend of humility and certainty. I feel like if you can nail that in life and in any role, it’s amazing how the doors that will open. Like, walking with that sense of, “I’m not embarrassed to be here. I own my space but I’m going to be courteous and polite and open to what other people are doing and saying.” It’s amazing. I feel like that’s sort of been my life.

Like, I started professional speaking full time at age 22, so I was pretty young. And so, trying to hold your own space and have credibility required that mixture of certainty and humility. And I feel like that’s worth a treat over the years.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Michael, could you kick us off with an extra-fascinating story that tees up this wisdom you’ve got for us in your book Mindstuck?

Michael McQueen
So, I was speaking at an industry association conference, all about disruption and future trends.

And I’ll never forget, at the end of the session, during the lunchbreak, this woman walked up to me at the back of the room, it was a big Hilton ballroom, and she was, and I can picture her now, she was the picture of exasperation. Like, I remember speaking with her, and she said, “I get it. I’m so on board with what you shared. I know that if we don’t change in my company, we’ve got like fight out of the game. Like, I’ve tried so many different ways to try to wake them up to the reality but they’re so fixed and so stubborn.”

And she’d been doing all the things that we’re told to do in all the books but it wasn’t working. And so, essentially, that was the moment where I’m like, “I want to delve into that and look at why is it so tricky to change people when they’ve got a very fixed mindset or stubborn mindset.”

For many of the listeners, some of them have been in leadership, and I met a lot of them. So, if you’re going to manage up, as well you’ve got to try to influence up, as well as influence in a parallel way and in your teams, and so that tricky thing of, “How do you persuade others when they just don’t want to budge?”

So, essentially, this book came from that one story, that one experience where I’m like, “Why don’t smart people change even when they want to and know they should? What causes us to get stubborn?” And that sort of led to the entire process of this book coming together.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, she had a deep frustration that she knew it, “We’re in trouble, and I’m telling them we’re in trouble but no one’s having it.”

Michael McQueen

Pete Mockaitis
And that is a common experience that many people have from high stakes to low stakes, it’s like this answer is so clear but you’re not having it.

Michael McQueen
I just didn’t know what to tell her because I felt all the things that she’d done is what I would, I guess, advise, generally, but I didn’t really know. And that’s essentially what kicked off this process, I’m like, “I want to have better answers. I want to have stuff that’s useful for clients.”

Because I feel like if I go in and help an organization, or help a group of leaders figure out what’s changing, what their strategy needs to be, the job is only half done if I don’t give them the tools and the techniques to bring people around them on the journey of change with them. And that’s, essentially, where this book has landed.

And I think the challenge is many of us have an idea about what it takes to persuade others that’s about 300 or 400 years old, and this notion has been around since the early 1600s, and it’s this idea that was typified by a guy named Francis Bacon. And Francis Bacon was one of the founding fathers of the enlightenment, and his big idea was that humans are, essentially, reasonable, and if you just give him enough evidence and enough logic, eventually, they’ll see the light, they’ll come to their senses, and they’ll change their mind.

And that whole idea shaped the next 300 or 400 years of academia, of education, of the way we do public policy, and it would be nice if that’s true but it’s just not. And what we’ve found in the last few years is actually the opposite is true. The more evidence and the more data you give to someone who is locked in a certain way of thinking, the more they dig their heels in as opposed to opening their minds up.

And so, we give them all the rational evidence, we’re like, “How can they not see this?” And the harder you push, the more they dig their heels in and the more stubborn they become. And so, that’s a dynamic that’s so tricky to navigate, and that’s really what I want to, hopefully, help readers with this book do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michael, that’s a fascinating assertion. Can you share with us the most compelling evidence that confirms that’s, in fact, true? It’s like, “More good evidence does not help. In fact, it often hurts.” Lay it on us.

Michael McQueen
We’ve seen that play out. So, when you expose people to ideas that are unfamiliar or inconvenient, the stuff we just don’t want to hear, we’ll do a couple of things. One of the things we’ll instantly jump to is denial, like, “This idea, I just don’t want to hear it. I would like to think that seeing is believing.” And it’s not true.

If you’re exposed to stuff that you don’t want to see or hear or understand, it’s amazing, your cognitive abilities to just ignore it, or deny it entirely, or you get defensive, you go on the attack sometimes. The big thing we see people do, and this particularly happens in political discourse, and you see this on social media all the time, is they defer. So, they’ll look at, “What are other people like me think about ideas like this?”

And so, there’s almost that sense of tribalism that comes into play, like, “Is the idea from someone that’s on my side or my team, someone I would naturally agree with? Or is it from the opposition?” And it’s almost like we would dismiss the idea if it comes from the opposition as opposed to someone that we like. And so, rather than actually engaging faithfully or honestly with an idea, an idea worthy of consideration, it’s like we want to know who shared it first. That’s the first port of call.

And so, that’s tricky in an organization because sometimes the best and most innovative ideas will come from places where you wouldn’t expect it, and that’s often where innovation emerges. And yet we so often see that stubbornness comes because, like, “Well, how would you know? You’ve only been in the organization for three months,” or, “You’re in the wrong sort of department. You’re not in a department in the company that’s responsible for that sort of critical thinking. You’re in accounts. So, how could you have an idea that it’d be worthwhile considering?”

They’re the moments we miss the best ideas and the best thinking because we’re stubborn and we have an assumption about where the best ideas will come from.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michael, there’s a lot there. That rings true experientially. I’m curious if we have any cool scientific evidence as well, whether it’s, I don’t know, fMRI scans or fascinating social psychology experiments.

Michael McQueen
One of the most formative ones, and it’s a bit dated now, was what we saw happen with people who wanted to believe that weapons of mass destruction had, in fact, been found in Iraq. And so, back when that was all playing out, they actually exposed people to fake newspapers or fake evidence of that.

And so, when people were already predisposed to wanting to believe that was true, the part of their brain that essentially was a confirmation dopamine release, it’s like, “Yup, absolutely. I already thought this was true. Now, I’ve got evidence to back up what I think to be true.” When they then said, “Actually, sorry, this was actually a fabricated news story. It’s part of an experiment. This is actually not true. We haven’t found the evidence of weapons of mass destruction,” what’s interesting is what people then did is their brain, essentially, went into hunker down in defensive mode.

And so, it’s like they weren’t even able to be willing to consider other things that might challenge what they assume to be true. It’s right across the ideological spectrum.

These same things have been played out. We’ve seen studies where if it’s genetically modified crops, or nuclear power, you’ve got people who might be on the left end of spectrum who would just be as unwilling to listen to really good evidence and really good data. If you look at what happens in their brain scans, the same dynamic evolves. And so, we’ve seen this played out.

In fact, there was a great UCLA study a few years ago that actually measured the response times of people when they’re exposed to information that they just didn’t want to read or hear. In other words, it’s typically political. So, what they found is people responded far more quickly when it was information they didn’t want to hear. In other words, there was no genuine consideration involved.

And so, they’re far more willing to think about and mull over stuff that, initially, they agreed with. It’s almost like they thought they were being objective but, actually, they were reacting in a far more impulsive way, particularly if it was stuff they didn’t want to hear, which indicated that actually there was not a lot of real thought going into it.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of the reaction times, with what we hear, that’s we agree with versus disagree with, are we a smidge slower or faster? Or is it just massive, like triple, quadruple? Like, what’s sort of the magnitude of the difference we’re looking at here?

Michael McQueen
I think the difference in times is somewhat significant but it’s more about the way our bodies respond to information that we don’t want to hear. So, not only do we react more quickly, in other words, we don’t really consider, but also that sense of we actually get a dopamine release, we get a hit. And so, I think the bottom line is it’s not about just how quickly we respond but it’s about the type of response we have.

So, when we’re exposed to things that we don’t want to hear, not only is it a quick response but it’s a shutting down response, it’s a defensive response, it’s a, “I don’t want to hear this. I want to deny reality.” And yet, when we’re exposed to something we do want to hear, or agrees with what we agree with, not only is it a slower response, but there’s also that sense of we get joy out of the fact that this is confirming something we believe to be true.

In the book, I look at the two main thinking systems or engines that we use, and this will be similar to some things that people have read in other books.

So, the two minds that I look at are the inquiring mind and the instinctive mind. So, the inquiring mind is the part of our brain, or the part of our mind, that lives in the front of our brain, the frontal lobe. It loves logical, linear, reason, thought. It loves evidence. It loves data. This is the part of our brain that Francis Bacon was speaking about.

So, if you look at some of the research from Zoe Chance, who’s a researcher at Yale, she would suggest that we only use our inquiring mind, part of our brain, for like five to ten percent of our thinking. So, where does the rest of our thinking happen? It happens in a part of our brain I refer to as the instinctive mind. And that’s the bit of our mind that’s typically associated with the limbic system. So, in our brain, it’s located near the top of the brain stem.

It’s where our tribal instincts live. It’s where we process emotion. It’s also where the fight and flight reactions tend to reside. So, the tricky thing is if we’re doing 95% of our thinking in our instinctive mind, when you’re trying to change someone’s mind, the question is, “Which mind are you trying to change?” because most of us try to change the instinctive mind, which is where stubbornness lives, but they’re actually using techniques or tactics that appeal to the inquiring mind. They’re using evidence and logic and data, and those things don’t work. We wonder why we feel like we’re hitting our head up against a brick wall.

And I think that’s one of the key things, is that the instinctive mind would rather feel right than be right, and that’s a really difficult dynamic because you’re trying to, essentially, challenge people to do something that is uncomfortable. It’s an inconvenient truth you might be exposing them to. And so, therefore, a lot of the book looks at, “How do you communicate that in a way that doesn’t trigger that defensive response?”

And that’s a skill in and of itself, because if you approached persuasion the wrong way, the right message delivered by the wrong person at the wrong time, will be the wrong message. And so, a lot of persuasion is about trying to find the right time, the right tone, the right posture, with which you can present ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
This is so powerful. And, for me, even personally right now, I had a number of discoveries recently that just blew me away in terms of, so, for example, my sleep has been a little weird. So, I’ve got a full-blown sleep study done, and then they told me that I had sleep apnea. And so, here I am, I was connected to all of these wires and medical technology, all these things, there’s like a full-blown neurologist from Vanderbilt is telling me this.

So, you’d think they would know, you’d think we could probably bank on them. And you know what my first response was, I actually said in the little health chat platform, “Could you show me the footage?” And it took me another day before I realized how silly I was being. They’re measuring all of these things associated with my brainwaves and my breathing and my blood oxygen with a full-blown award-winning sleep laboratory, they give me the assessment, and I said, “I don’t believe it. I got to see the video footage.” And so, I was like, “Never mind. Just tell me what I have to do.” And so, that was surprising to me.

Michael McQueen
In that point, if they had given you the answer you wanted to hear, you would’ve been like, “Bring it on. Awesome. No need to ask any more questions.” It’s like you wouldn’t want to see the footage at all if it was information you wanted to hear. And Daniel Gilbert, who’s a psychologist at Harvard has this great story. He says of like what you’ve described there is the same dynamic that many of us approach the bathroom scales in the morning with.

Like, if you go to the bathroom scales and they give you the number you’re hoping to see, or hoping to get, you’re like, “Brilliant. I’ll get off quick as I can, straight into the shower, get on with the day. It’s a good day.” But if you get on those bathroom scales and it’s not a number you want to see, it’s amazing how you start to bargain with reality, it’s like, “Oh, maybe I put too much weight on one foot or the other. Or maybe I need to hop off and get back on again. Or maybe the scales aren’t sitting flat on the tiles or they need to be recalibrated.”

It’s like we set the burden of proof so much higher for information when it doesn’t match what we want to hear or learn. Whereas, when it matches what we want, it’s like, “Brilliant. Ask no more questions.” And so, that’s so much of how we respond to life, and that’s certainly your experience there, but that’s for so many of us, so many of the things that we have to make decisions about. And so, persuading people in a work context particularly, like you’ve got to take that into account.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s funny how, for me, I just had all these associations, like, “Oh, sleep apnea is for super unhealthy people. I’m not overweight and I go to the gym. Surely, someone would’ve made me aware of this over the course of my life if I just stopped breathing in my sleep,” but, yeah, I was incredulous.

And then a similar situation, I was talking to a physical therapist about some foot pain, and he’s like, “Okay, well, how about we do some one-legged calf raises?” And so, I did and I was getting fatigued in about 12 of them. He’s like, “Okay, so that’s what’s going on. You’ve got some weakness in the calves. We look for about 30 or 40 of these.” And I was like, “You’re telling me the average American male is capable of doing 30 to 40 single-leg calf raises?” Like, “Well, yeah, that’s the standard.” I didn’t believe him. I, straight up, pulled up the scientific journal article, and it’s like, “Wow!” So, it’s just mind-blowing.

And, in a way, this has been a huge upgrade in humility for me because it’s just like, “If I don’t know what’s going on in my own body, like how could I purport to be the authority on, say, a news item in a foreign land that I’ve never been to, and say, ‘Well, this is what’s really going on with the conflict of…’?” Like, what do I know? I don’t even know my own body.

Michael McQueen
Yeah. And I think what this speaks to is one of the most important dynamics we’ve got to take into account when trying to persuade someone to think differently, and this is where doctors who do this well, any medical person you engage with, those two things will last a while. If they approach it well, what they do is they allow you to preserve dignity or save face in the process of having to upgrade your beliefs or upgrade the way you see yourself.

This is where that reflex to get defensive tends to kick off when we feel like we’ve been cornered, or we’ve been embarrassed, or we’ve got no ability to maybe change our mind without thinking we have to acknowledge we were an idiot or we were wrong beforehand. And I think that’s what we so often do. We don’t allow or give people grace or space to, yeah, change their mind while still preserving their dignity and their ego because that’s so many of the reasons.

You have that conversation with someone at work, and you’ve made the case about why things need to change, what they need to do, and even if they agree with you, deep down often they’ll still do is dig their heels in because it’d be like they don’t want to feel like they were told, or they don’t want to feel like it wasn’t their idea. And this is, like, it can feel a bit childish at times but these are actually techniques.

The question is, “Do you want to make a difference or win the argument in that moment?” And if you want to make a difference and see progress, sometimes you’ve got to actually approach this far more strategically and allow for people’s ego because deep down we’ve all got one.

Pete Mockaitis
So, lay it on us, how do we play the game just right in terms of we are trying to change some minds? What are the most impactful practices and tactics and tips you got for us?

Michael McQueen
Well, the first thing that we need to bear in mind is, “What is it that causes people to be stubborn?” And it’s fear. But fear plays out in a way that most of us don’t expect. Because we’ve been told for years that humans are naturally afraid of change. That’s actually not true. Humans are not inherently afraid of change. What we’re afraid of, and this is the key distinction, is loss.

So, the moment that change is associated with a sense of loss, and that can be a loss of dignity as we’ve talked about, maybe a loss of certainty, or loss of power. The moment those things feel like it’s going to be a loss, that’s when we dig our heels in even if what’s been suggested to us feels like a good idea. And so, therefore, rather than trying to sell the benefits of change, we’d be better to minimize or lessen the loss.

And so, a lot about that is allowing people to feel at the end like their dignity is intact or preserved, that they have psychological safety to change their mind without feeling like they’re an idiot, but also giving people that sense of agency or choice, that they feel like they are in the driver’s seat. Sheena Iyengar, who’s a professor at Columbia, says the way the human mind works is that we equate choice with control. So, the moment people feel like they don’t have options, they’ll push back even if the idea suggested to them is a good one.

And so, there’s so much about realizing, “What is it that causes this sense of stubbornness?” And often it is that fear. In fact, one of the dynamics I look at that really plays into this is something I call psychological sunk cost, and most of us are familiar with economic sunk cost, that idea of, “I’ve spent so much money and so much time on this one idea, or this one course of action, even if I know it’s not going to work, and a better option has emerged, I’ll stick with the original one because I’ve spent so much money and time.”

We do the same stuff with our mindset and our thinking. We’ll stick with ideas or beliefs that are no longer serving us and actually might be working against us. When we’ve invested so much of our time and money and our ego, our reputation in them is advocates for those ideas, there’s that sense that we’ll actually allow our past decisions or thinking to sabotage our future. And so, bearing in mind that sense of psychological sunk cost, we need to be careful and allow people to change their mind, again, without feeling embarrassed but also feel like they are the ones in the driver’s seat of that change.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you give us some examples of that in practice? So, let’s say you’re the neurologist, you’re going to break it to me, it’s like, “All right, Pete, we found out you have sleep apnea,” in a way that invokes all of these principles well.

Michael McQueen
Yeah. A good place to start would be to ask questions. So, your sleep doctor could say, “Now, have you heard much about sleep apnea? What do you know about it?” And you would then share what you know about sleep apnea, which is it’s old people, it’s overweight people, it’s all the things that, in your mind, that’s your imagined reality.

And your doctor will go, “You know what, that’s actually pretty common. Most people think that’s not uncommon at all.” So, you’re preserving dignity. In other words, you’re not wrong, you’re not weird, but what you might be surprised to learn is that, actually, there’s a lot of people who have that. And even if that doctor could share a story about an ultra-fit person who’s even younger than you…

Pete Mockaitis
“Yeah, show me an Olympic Gold medalist, please.”

Michael McQueen
Correct. Suddenly, you’re like, “Oh, okay. Now I can change my thinking without being embarrassed.” So, that’s one way you can do this. Another really simple way you can affirm people’s autonomy or agency and their dignity is by asking for their advice, asking for their input.

In fact, there’s some great research I came across in the book that looked at if you want to get a new project pushed through at work, and you ask your boss to give advice, even if you know already, like how it’s going to look, what the pricing point or the pricing model will be, or the design for the brand, or whatever it is, by asking your boss for advice and giving their input, typically, they’ll often land in a very similar spot to where you’re going, even if you incorporate just a few elements of what they’ve suggested, they’re going to be, I think, like 50% or 60% more likely to say, “This is a great idea.”

Whereas, if you go to them with, like, the lock and loaded proposal, what’s their first thing, they’re going to start picking holes, they’re like, “What about this? And I don’t know if you’ve really considered this perspective,” because it’s not their own idea. And so, even just by giving people that chance to give advice or input, it can make a huge difference and them feeling able to embrace an idea that they actually know to be good, being you gave them the ability to acknowledge that in a way that they feel safe, psychologically safe in doing.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny because, in some ways, it’s hard to know what someone’s issue, beef, defensiveness, hangup is in advance, but you gave us some categories there in terms of loss, loss of power. Give us some more categories and maybe how we might deduce what the potential hangup that gets people not wanting to listen to what we got to say.

Michael McQueen
Well, I think one of the key things we got to be aware of is if people think an idea is so unfamiliar in that that they’ve got no common reference point with where they’ve been, how they’ve thought, who they are, and what you’re wanting them to move towards, there’s a lot of uncertainty involved in that. And so, trying to find a common frame of reference in presenting your ideas is really effective. In classic rhetoric, they call it the common place, and that’s where you got to start when you’re trying to persuade or influence anyone.

And an example of this would be I was speaking in Hamburg, Germany a few years ago at a global Rotary summit. So, Rotary International, they just do the most amazing things.

So, I was speaking at this conference all about the future of the organization, how to make sure that they continue to stay strong and flourishing. The tricky thing is you look at some of their most mature markets, so certainly North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, these are markets where the average age of a Rotarian is, like, 75, 76, in some cases, it’s older even. And so, they’re aging out and they realized they’ve got to change fast.

And so, I was, essentially, trying to present a change message to these groups of Rotarians who love Rotary, who love the brand, who are committed to it, they’re all volunteers. And the thing is the moment you suggest change, there’s often that pushback, like, “That’s not the way we do things. There’s a lot of tradition at Rotary,” like a lot of organizations in that same sort of category.

And so, what I wanted to do is find a common place. And so, if you look at Rotary’s core ethos, the phrase that’s been their core message from day one is, “Service above self.” And so, I was able to frame change as that. So, I was saying, “I get it. There are many of our clubs, you’ve got things working the way that you like. You’ve got a certain rhythm and pattern, and almost a liturgy that you have in your clubs, a tradition of the way you go through meetings.”

“But if that means you’re not relevant to younger people, it might be serving your needs and the club you want, but it’s actually robbing the organization of future relevance. Service above self means maybe changing our clubs to be less what we want but more about being relevant to those we’re looking to engage.”

And by starting with something that was common place, “That we all agree that’s the issue, that’s the goal, but actually what we’re doing in practice is we’re creating things that’s more about serving ourselves and our needs as opposed to growing membership,” and that was really effective. Instead of what could’ve been a very prickly situation trying to present change and argue a case for change, then became something different, like, “We’re in this together.”

I saw a similar example recently. One of the things we’re finding in Australia right now is this push to using AI to do marking of assessments in essays, particularly for senior students. But a lot of teachers have this natural resistance, this pushback to using artificial intelligence, it’s like, “No way. We’re people-based. It’s all about humans, human engagement, particularly for marking assessments.”

But I had a really compelling example that really shifted the thinking for one school in particular. They were trying to have this debate of, “Do we use AI or not?” And they used the equity argument, they said, “What we need to be realizing is that in an English essay,” and they actually asked for a show of hands. The English teachers, “When you get an essay, you can tell pretty quickly if it’s a guy or a girl that’s written the essay, can’t you?” And they all, like, raised their hands, like, “Of course. Typically, guys’ handwriting is just woeful. Whereas, the girls have slightly better handwriting.”

And they said, “We’ve actually got often an unconscious bias when we are marking assessments that we’re not even aware of. And if we can make sure AI doesn’t have that unconscious bias, we’ll actually be making assessments more fair, which benefits the students.” And rather than making the case for efficiency or saving costs, when they put it in the frame of equity and student first, it was something that the teachers were already on board with, they were willing to consider it.

And I think that’s that challenge, is “How do we find that common place?” the thing that we’re sharing common as a value, start there with a discussion, and then go from there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. The common place, what we share, reframing it with a value. That’s awesome. And I remember a time, I was doing a Myers-Briggs workshop for some senior executives at a sausage-casing company. I was very excited because they had executives from all over the world flying in. They’re having their big meeting, and I was a part of it, I was like, “Oh, this is really cool.”

But then there was a crisis in the world of sausage casings. They had a factory with exploding sausages, so I showed up raring to go, and they said, “Pete, we’re so sorry. We’re going to have to reschedule because they’ve got this factory with exploding sausages.” And I was upset, I was like, “First of all, what are you all going to do about it? You’re not on the factory floor. And is this even an executive-level issue? Shouldn’t you have the manufacturing guru?”

And so, I was really sort of, “Hey, man, I came all the way out here. I got things to do. I feel this is maybe kind of rude. I was fired up, I planned everything, so my energy would be just at its peak right when I’m delivering the goods for you,” and then they say, “Well, let’s change everything around.” But she delivered the news to me so masterfully, she’s like, “You know, what you’re going to share is very important, and I want to make sure that everybody can give you their full attention. And right now, we don’t have any of that because they’re all freaked out about these exploding sausages. But I think if we get a chance to address or handle this, and then regroup in four hours, it’ll be great.

So, I was totally cool with it because she reframed it in terms of my value, like I really am all about the impact. And so, that was cool when we hit it from my common place as opposed to, “Hey, look, you’re the contractor, we’re the executives, and we’re going to do it our way.” That wouldn’t land so well for me.

Michael McQueen
And what’s interesting about her is I imagine she would’ve done that intuitively. And the reality is people who are highly persuasive often don’t know what they do that works and why it works. And that’s what I wanted to do in this book is try and decode that because when you look at someone who is highly persuasive, it can be like they’ve got this magic sauce, this ability to just get through to people and diffuse tense situations, and get people on board. You’re like, “How do they do that?”

And so, for those who’ve got that naturally, they don’t even know how it works or why it works, so those of us who are trying to learn, it often can be like very opaque, dark magic almost. So, I wanted to demystify that and make it, like, hopefully, really simple. Like, even some very tactical things that I’ve put in the book, one of them I learned from a guy named Michael Pantalon who’s at Yale University, and he uses a technique they call motivational interviewing, but it’s a little bit sort of clinical in the examples he uses.

So, I’ve sort of reframed that and talked about it as the rate and reflect process. So, if you’re trying to get someone to shift their thinking about an issue or an idea, the rate and reflect process is simply about asking two questions in a very specific order. And I’ve seen this play out beautifully personally in relationships, interpersonal ones, but also with clients as well.

So, the first question you ask is, “Hey, so I’m just curious, from one to ten, how likely or willing are you to…?” and then fill in the blank. So, I get them to say, “Give a number between one and ten, how open are they to your idea or perspective or the thing you’re asking them to consider?” And often, if they’re stubborn or resistant, they’ll give you a two or a three. Very few people will give you a one or a zero. They want to, at least, appear to be a little bit open minded but they’ll give you maybe a two or a three, and that’s okay.

What you do next is the second question, it becomes, “Hey, so I’m just curious, how come you didn’t give a lower number?” And in that moment, the whole deal changes because now the focus isn’t on, like, “The eight or the ten reasons I don’t want to change, or I think what you’ve suggested is rubbish,” it’s like there’s a part of me, even if it’s just a small part of me that thinks there’s value in what you’re suggesting, and that’s where you start the conversation.

And, I saw this play out in a personal relationship. Recently, one of my best mates, like a group of us fled away for a weekend and one of the guys said, “Hey, so let’s have an honest conversation, just go around the group. I’m curious, like one to ten, how your marriage is going?” So, went around the group and everyone shared their numbers, like, a really vulnerable honest insight into life for them at the time.

And the last guy in the circle is one of my best mates, and he said, “Ah, yeah, probably like a three out of ten right now,” and he started to get quiet, upset, and just share some of the stuff that was going on. It was pretty heavy stuff. So, we spent, like, 40 minutes just chatting about that as a group and encouraging him and hearing him out. But it was this really negative spiral, it wasn’t going great.

And so, I’m like, “I’ve got to turn this around. Maybe I’ll try one of the techniques from the book but just in an organic way so it doesn’t feel like I’m turning it into a teaching exercise.” So, I was like, “Hey, I’m just curious, so you said you’re like three out of ten. How come you didn’t give a lower number?” And in that moment, like everything changed. It was like I was speaking to a different person who was in a different marriage because he’s like, “Well, not everything is bad. There’s some great stuff. Like, we make a great partnership as parents.”

Like, in that moment, it didn’t negate all the other stuff we talked about but it shifted the frame, and that was focusing on what were some of the good things, and then building on that. And it was just one of those moments where I thought, “This stuff really works. Like, it can change the entire direction, the flow, the momentum of a conversation if we use these techniques well.” This is as useful in a marriage, or a partnership, relationship at home where we’ve got kids, or work, but it’s really designed to be pretty practical. That’s my goal.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we previously interviewed David McRaney who talked about this kind of an approach utilized in street epistemology and other contexts.

And I think it is super effective in that it goes directly to the person’s personal stuff in terms of it’s like we go right to, “Hey, I made an honest assessment, and it was the totality of the evidence on one side was considered.” And you’re asking, “Hey, go ahead and read that forth for me. All right.” So, it’s very efficient.

I think that something about the one-to-ten scale in conversation can feel, to me, a little bit like, I don’t know, clinical or, “We’ve put you into a survey box form,” and I just sort of don’t like it. If someone says that to me, not like I’m going to throw a fit or fall into a rage, but just like, “Ugh, I don’t like this question and how we’re talking here.” I don’t know, it almost feels like a little bit dramatic, a little bit dehumanizing, depersonalizing. Is there another way I can get the magic without the numbers?

Michael McQueen
It can feel very formal. I think you’re exactly right. You need to choose the right relationship to do that. So, if you’re speaking to, like, a superior, who might be three or four levels higher in the company, and you’re in their office, say, “So, I’m just curious, from one to ten…” that probably wouldn’t go down great. So, there are certainly environments where that will work but others where it won’t.

But I think one of the most effective things that will work across the board is to really start trying to build high trust, high affinity, and that’s regardless whether you’re managing up or managing down. So much of influence or persuasion has got to start with trust and that sense of affinity. And this goes back to what Aristotle talked about two and a half thousand years ago. We got logos, pathos, and the big one was ethos. Ethos was that argument by character, or argument by credibility and trust.

And so, the person who’s done the best research in this over the last few years, I think, can be worth listeners checking out is a guy named Paul Zak. And Paul Zak has looked up, particularly how we build trust with other human beings and why that trust becomes the key foundation for influence. And so, what’s interesting is we look at what builds trust with other people, it’s actually really simple stuff. It can be as simple as us just being really upfront and self-deprecating, being very vulnerable, very authentic.

But, also, one of the things that Paul Zak’s work has looked at is the importance of synchronicity, getting in sync with the people you’re trying to influence. I’ve heard over the years, and you probably heard this, too, like, “Match the body language with the person you’re speaking with. If they cross their legs, you cross your legs. And if they scratch their ears, you scratch yours.” To me, I’ve always felt that’s very contrived and very icky, really. It had never set well with me.

And I was chatting with Paul recently, I said, “How do you do synchronicity in a non-icky way?” And the thing that he said I thought was so interesting is if you’ve got a high-stakes conversation, one of the best things you can do is go for a walk with that individual. Because what happens when you’re walking side by side with someone, eventually, you’ll match their cadence and their pace. You get in sync with them. And in that moment, they will be far more open to communicating with you rather than if it’s opposite each other at a board table or a coffee table.

And I actually saw this play out recently with a client who had a high-stakes conversation the next day after the event I was running, and I’ve shared this research about going for a walk and how powerful that can be for disarming tense situations. And she tried it, and emailed me the next day, and she said, “The difference this made was massive. Like, the other person went into this discussion ready for a fight, ready for a debate. And the moment I started walking, it just changed the entire tone.”

And so, a lot about this is just, “How do we build that sense of we’re on the same page together, not trying to combat each other, or beat each other in an argument but we’re trying to make progress together by sharing different opinions?” And so, I think the importance of building affinity, that is not so clinical. It’s actually something anyone can do. And self-deprecation, self-disclosure, incredibly powerful. In fact, one of the studies I love that we’ve got in the book was one from Kip Williams, who’s a social psychologist.

He did an analysis of legal cases, and looked at, “When was the moment when a jury turns to favor one side’s argument over another?” And what he found was typically was when one side, one attorney, came to the table sharing all the weaknesses, the things that might give the evidence that worked against their case.

Pete Mockaitis
I can see the procedural television scene in my mind’s eye right now, Michael, “Look, my client is a dirtbag, but being a dirtbag’s not a crime.”

Michael McQueen
But that whole thing, like the moment they do that, and the key was you have to acknowledge if there was information that didn’t sort of make your case for you, actually worked against you, you have to acknowledge it before your opponents had a chance to bring that up because what it did in that moment is that it disarmed the jury. Instead of sitting there, listening for all holes in your argument, it was like, by being upfront, just like, “Hey, you know what, this is not cut-and-dry black-and-white. There’s nuance here, but even with that nuance, I want you to consider our case.”

It presented you as a fair-minded, open, objective, honest, trustworthy person. And we can all do that. Like, the reality is life is nuanced and complex. And one of the best things we can do is when we’re approaching other people, acknowledge that, call it out. And something about that posture disarms the other person. It means you’re far more likely to have a fruitful conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Michael, tell me, any other valuable gems you got to drop on us before we shift and hear about your favorite things?

Michael McQueen
Well, I think the gem that I love, I came across recently in an interview with Gretchen Rubin, and she was talking about the importance of listening. It only occurred to her recently, and she shared this in the interview, she said, “There’s something about the fact that the words listen and silent are made up of the same letters.” She said, “I can’t believe I never noticed it before but that’s actually profoundly insightful.” And it is.

And I feel like so much of what we do when we try to go in and change people’s minds is we go in with our arguments without actually having taken the time to listen and genuinely understand maybe what those points of resistance are, and where the other person is actually coming from. And I think that’d be the last encouragement I give, is that the truth is people who are listened to are far more likely to listen. And so, do we actually give people the dignity of our attention? Do we listen to them long enough to understand their perspective before we go in trying to change their mind? So, that’d be certainly one encouragement I’d give.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael McQueen
One of the quotes I came across writing this book that was most impactful for me was from Andy Stanley who’s a leadership expert.

He said, “In any relationship, when one person wins, the relationship loses.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Michael McQueen
Yes, one that I came across, actually, from a university back in Australia, named Monash University, what they did is they got a series of students, so university or college students, to put on some headphones and listen to a standup comedian. So, the first group listened to the standup comedian, and it was just the audio track of the comedian. And what they’re looking for in the experiment was the levels of laughter, so how they engaged with the content. And so, the researchers were monitoring that, the volume of laughter, the intensity of laughter.

The second group listened to the same standup comedian set but with canned laughter over the top. And, as you would expect, the laughter increased because that’s just the way canned laughter works, that’s not particularly earth-shattering. What’s interesting is the next group, the audience that were listening to who are laughing at canned laugh, they described a persona, an identity.

So, as those who are listening, in this third group, said the people who are laughing are actually just like you. They agree with you politically, for instance. The laughter increased significantly. Now, as you can probably guess where this goes next. The fourth group were told the people who are laughing at that standup comedian were people they wouldn’t agree with, they were from the other side, the other end of the political divide.

And what was interesting is the level of laughter of those people listening to that standup comedian was actually at about the same level or a thatch lower than the first group where there was no canned laughter at all. And so, it’s almost that the moment we thought other people are laughing at something and they weren’t like us, they weren’t from our tribe, it’s like, “I can’t laugh. Even if I think the joke is funny, I will not laugh because someone who’s not like me thinks this is funny.”

And I thought it just really showed how powerful those tribal instincts are, and it’s often how dangerous in terms of the way we think, the way we approach ideas that can be.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Michael McQueen
On Being Certain by Robert Burton. And it’s a book looking at this notion of what Robert Burton calls the feeling of knowing, “How do we get to the point of certainty where we just know something to be true but we don’t know how we got there?”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Michael McQueen
There’s one called SaneBox. And SaneBox uses AI to, essentially, curate your emails so that you can make your inbox far more manageable.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Michael McQueen
Daily habit for me is journaling, an old-school journaling like with a pen and paper.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Michael McQueen
Yeah, one would be something I encourage people to do, which is to unsell instead of upselling your ideas. And it’s sort of goes to that thing we talked about before of being self-deprecating, and what’s the posture with which you share ideas. And so, for instance, if you preface an idea you’re going to suggest to someone with, almost this notion of, like, “Hey, I’m maybe way off here. I’m not sure,” or, “This is just my sense on things.”

It’s amazing how by sort of underplaying it, you encourage the other person to lean forward and be more willing. Whereas, if I’m, “I’ve got this brilliant idea. Wait till you hear it.” What do people instantly do? They get defensive. And I find that even from a speaking perspective, I’ll get speaking inquiries, and if I’m not the right fit, sometimes I’ll say to a client, “Hey, you know what, thank you for thinking of me but I actually don’t think I’m the right fit for your brief but I can think of another speaker who’d be great.”

In that moment, like it’s phenomenal how it happens, they’ll start and say, “No, no, no, we think you’d be brilliant. Here’s why.” They’ll start selling themselves to you, I’m like, “Well, we were going with this conversation where I had to sell myself, and now it’s flipped.” There’s something about just personally not being too needy, just like being really open and honest, but also unselling rather than upselling, it changes the entire posture of the conversation. I find that unselling versus upselling frame really helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Michael McQueen
So my website is MichaelMcQueen.net. We also have a website for the book, which is Mindstuck.net. And one of the tools I’d encourage people have a look at on there is a thing we call a book bot. And so, it’s an AI bot using ChatGPT tech, and, basically, we put the book into a ring-fenced version of ChatGPT so you can ask the book some advice.

So, if you’ve got a situation at work, or in your personal life, you can put in as a question, it’ll search the content in the book and come back with advice or coaching as to how to persuade or shift the dial. So, if people have a look at Mindstuck.net and there’s information about the book bot on there. So, check that out. That might be useful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have any final challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Michael McQueen
I just think I’d be mindful for all of us, and I put myself in this category. Like, who do you find hard to listen to? How often do we get to that point where we find it difficult to take on an opinion that is uncomfortable or outside the box for the way we see the world? And deliberately try and expose yourself to people who just think really differently to you. There’s such value in that. And as uncomfortable as it can be, bear in mind that that posture of curiosity and humility, that’s how we think best, that’s how we learn.

And so, I’d just encourage people, look at your sphere of influence. If you’re surrounded by people who sort of think the same way you do and have the same perspective on life you do, that should be a bit of a red flag. Try and really keep your inputs as diverse as possible. That’s the best way to think well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Michael, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun changing minds.

Michael McQueen
Thank you so much. Lovely to chat.

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