Quixote Consulting

A Good Influence
Increasing Resonance and Reducing Resistance

Why are some attempts to influence effective while other change efforts fail miserably? What does it take to change a mind, whether it’s someone else’s or your own?

Howard Gardner, the father of the multiple intelligences theory, in his book Changing Minds names seven levers that either help or hinder persuasion efforts. We’ll look at two of the most important here – resonance and resistance. Resonance can be thought of as the gas pedal for increasing the likelihood of changing a mind. Resistance can be thought of as the brake pedal. So, how do we get someone to step on the gas and keep their foot off the brake?

Increasing Resonance (the gas pedal)

Common ground is a good place to begin when looking to increase resonance with an individual or group. What are their concerns and values? What kind of life do they lead, where are they comfortable and where are they not so?  From the things your sleuthing turns up, which are you drawn to? Which can you get behind and say, “Yes, I care about that as well – that’s important to me” and mean it? That’s the place to start. Let’s look at two key components in finding common ground –  empathy and trust.

Empathy – Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

When you feel empathy, part of you identifies with the person or fictional character. In many ways it’s the opposite of sympathy, which has barriers built into it where you’re looking down from a supposedly higher level. Empathy encompasses a direct experience or vicarious experience (good stories, books, TV shows, movies, songs).

For example, if you watch a TV show for more than one season, you’re most likely feeling empathy for many of the characters. If you watch The Office and see moments of your office life in those characters, you’re feeling empathy.

Empathy is non-verbal. It’s a direct experience – mirror neurons in our brains literally link up. Empathy can be learned and practiced, as outlined by Daniel Pink in his wonderful book A Whole New Mind. One way to enhance your empathy is to do more volunteer work.


The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner presents the results of an ongoing survey that has been conducted globally for the last 20 years. It essentially asks, “What do people want in a leader?” And even though the lower rankings have changed a little over the years, the number one answer is always the same – honesty. If you want to influence and inspire, your quest will be helped with radical honesty. Transparency in decision-making, taking responsibility for mistakes and making room for the challenging conversations that can be breakthroughs are all tactics that will show your honesty and develop trust.

Telling stories effectively is another key component to trust. Incredibly, people find an anecdote alone more credible than an anecdote combined with a statistic. Good stories have the added benefit of engaging a person’s empathy, which as we have seen enhances empathy.

Decreasing Resistance (the brake pedal)

Have you ever driven behind someone who taps the brake pedal often, whether going uphill or downhill or on a straight-away? That’s driving with resistance – inefficient and frustrating.

Think of a really horrible customer service experience you’ve had, either recently or in the distant past. Whatever the company or person did or didn’t do directly contributed to your feeling more resistant. What could they have done differently? All of those things they could have done would have decreased your resistance instead of increasing it. One key factor is asking questions (and really wanting to hear the answers).

Your Brain On Questions

True questions bypass the amygdala, an almond-shaped part of the brain that is like your body’s guard dog. When new information comes in, the amygdala decides, “is this a threat?” If it decides that there is a threat, even a low-level one, it will start ‘barking’ and release chemicals that will help move you to physical safety more quickly. While that’s helpful in times of physical danger, it increases resistance to being influenced. By bypassing the amygdala with questions and engaging the neo-cortex, you increase your chance of being a positive influence.

Listen for Connection

If you listen for ways that you can connect, areas of common ground, ways to be on the same side, you increase resonance, something Howard Gardner describes as a key factor in changing someone’s mind.

Request vs. Demand

As Dr. Marshall Rosenberg notes in his book Nonviolent Communication, a request enlists the other person as a common ally and allows them to independently choose to help, something we all long to do. A demand doesn’t give the option of choice and creates resistance

Influence vs. Manipulation

We all know what manipulation feels like. Manipulation throws out the idea of building a relational context and is more akin to a bulldozer. Whether the cause is noble or not, people can sniff out manipulation, even if it’s after the fact.

Real Empathy vs. Faux-pathy

You’ll often see what I call ‘faux-pathy’ in public arenas such as company leaders, political candidates and pundits. You’ll know it when you see a rictus for a smile,  eyes wide open and eyebrows high. Paul Ekman has done some excellent research into what true emotions look like in a face, and what fake ones look like. These are summarized nicely in his book Emotions Revealed. Faux-pathy increases resistance, while genuine empathy decreases it. In their best moments, Reagan and Clinton were each able to convey genuine smiles of connection that could win an audience over.

Can you can meet people where they (metaphorically) live, establish some common ground and lead them somewhere that’s beneficial to both of you? By patiently (change usually happens over time) increasing resonance and decreasing resistance, you will be well on the way to becoming a more effective influencer.