Read my intro here and some background on belief structures here.
The podcast itself is called “Triggered!”
Note that there may be a difference between my own opinion and my parsing of what the persuasion is communicating.
My notes are in blue. Thanks to @RolyPolyIsTaken for transcribing this section.
Harris: I am here with Scott Adams, Scott thanks for coming on the podcast.
Adams: Thanks for having me.
Harris: You are an interesting guy who has written a very interesting book that I will have properly described in the intro and I will link to it on my website. We aren’t going to get into your life or other work unless it becomes relevant to the political discussion we’re planning to have. I’ll just tell my listeners that I’ve been reading your book, the title is “How to fail at almost everything and still win big” and it’s very interesting, very useful, surprising, and our conversation will not do it justice at all today […] you give a lot of good advice on how to get what you want out of life. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s thus far advice that I agree with. I just wanna heap some praise on you before we move on to other topics.
Scott: Thank you. Let me just put some context on that. The book you’re talking about is essentially how to program yourself to become more successful in whatever way you want. But the new one that’s already available for preorder is about how to persuade other people, and it’s available in October.
Harris: That… is a book I’m sure we will be getting some preview of in this conversation. Cause it obviously related to what we will be talking about. I’ll put a link to that on my blog.
So let me just set up the conversation so that everyone understands the context. [ Pre-suasion: Harris says he’s open minded and not a partisan. ] As our listeners are aware, I’ve been attacking Trump since before the election, so it’s safe to say I am not a fan. I am sure I’ll have some more impertinent things to say about El Presidente over the course of the next hour. But I’ve encountered a fair amount of criticism from people in my audience who like Trump or at least feel that he was the best choice for president in 2016. Many of these people complain that I’ve created a bit of an echo chamber here on the podcast because I’ve only been talking to Trump’s detractors, and I certainly can see how they might think that, although I’ve pointed out that the people I’ve been speaking with who criticize Trump have been Republicans, for the most part. So the idea that these conversations have been an expression of political partisanship really makes zero sense. There’s zero partisanship coming from someone like David Frum or Ann Applebaum, or me, for that matter on this topic, because for instance none of what I’ve said about Trump would apply to Mitt Romney, and I’ve also never been shy to point out all the terrible things about Hillary Clinton.
So if it’s been an echo chamber, it hasn’t been a left wing one, but in the meantime I’ve been asking Trump supporters for months who I should bring on the podcast to represent the other side of the story, and to help me recover from this much diagnosed “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” which many people say I have. And I appear to have a whopping case of it. And you [Scott] are the one who has been most often recommended to me. So I’d congratulate you on that.
Scott: Well thank you. It’s a lot of pressure on me, but ok.
[ Setting the frame of low expectations and some sympathy ]
Harris: I want to say just one other thing at the outset to set the table here. Having seen a few crazy comments online from, obviously, Trump supporters anticipating this podcast and wondering whether or not I would be fair to you, I just wanna tell you how I view conversations like this, and also tell our listeners, and I’m telling you now something that I tell most of our guests. And I don’t think I’ve ever left it in an interview. And this is certainly something that I tell any guest with whom I am likely to disagree. I don’t do gotcha interviews. My goal is never to get you to say something that makes you look bad. In fact, if at any point in this conversation you put your foot in your mouth, or I put my foot in there, you should feel free to take it out, and we’ll cut that part out, and this could apply to a whole section of the conversation. SO if we get to a topic for five minutes and you say at the end, “you know that whole bit we just did on racism” or whatever, “I’m worried about how that will make me look,” well then we’ll just cut it. So we can edit as we go, if need be, because my goal is – and this doesn’t just apply to you – my goal is always to be dealing with the best version of the other person’s case. I want you to be happy with what you’ve said on the podcast. So this is the opposite of a gotcha interview. And I don’t think that many people understand that and, having been on the other side of literally hundreds of interviews at this point as I know you have, I think we both can say that almost no one operates this way. Journalists deliberately don’t because they want to reserve the right to catch you saying something embarrassing. This completely perverse ethic that seems to have been enshrined in journalism where, if you say something is off the record before you say it, well then they’ll generally keep it off the record but if you say that about something you regret saying just two seconds ago, something that didn’t come out right, well then they won’t let you take it off the record after the fact. This has always struck me as a less than ethical way to deal with people, and their ideas. [ This is excellent framing by Harris. Fair and conciliatory, claiming ethical high ground, and also eliminating post hoc excuses ahead of time. Harris is not new at this. ]
Scott: Yeah I agree. Um, but, I wouldn’t worry about me because like you, I’ve done a few of these. [ Don’t treat me with kid gloves. Also, in a clever move, claiming for himself some of the ethics/fairness halo that Harris just elicited in the audience ]
Harris: Yeah. I just want you to know that, I want our listeners to know that. I guess that the other thing I should say as setup is that, while I think you and I will disagree about a lot here, I don’t view this as a debate. I consider myself genuinely persuadable on certain points and genuinely ignorant of other points. Now it’s true that there are some things where I don’t see how you could conceivably change my mind. I mean if you’re going to argue that Trump doesn’t lie, for instance, that’s going to be a very difficult thing to sell to me. But, I genuinely count myself ignorant of how people find him appealing, so I view part of your job in this conversation as really educating me on how that is possible. I guess to start, what I’d like to do is have you clearly state what your view is of trump, because it hasn’t been entirely clear to me beyond just admiring his talent as a persuader. Much of what I’ve seen you say is more in the vein of explaining how Trump got elected, and it’s not really an argument that his election was a good thing or that he’s a good person or that he’s likely to be a good president. So just what is your view of Trump at this point? [ I really didn’t appreciate Harris’ framing enough on this the first time around. Harris already won the crowd on Trump lying. That belief is now unassailable. Also saved his own reputation – Harris doesn’t “lose” in any way if he changes his mind now. He’s not being inconsistent, he’s being open-minded. He’s preventing his fans from turning on him in the event that he changes an opinion. ]
[ Now for Scott’s framing and pre-suasion. This is stacked with persuasion, so I’m going to list the whole paragraph in black and then copy it below with interpretation so we can read the whole thing at once and then open it up piece by piece. ]
Scott: Well I should tell your listeners first of all that I have a background as a trained hypnotist, and I’ve been studying the field of persuasion all of my adult life as part of my job, it’s part of what a writer does, it’s part of a cartoonist needs. SO, when I saw trump enter the race, I noticed fairly quickly that he had the strongest set of persuasion skills I’ve ever seen. He has what I call a skill stack, a complementary set of skills that, if you looked at any one of those skills you’d say, “well that’s good, that’s better than most people, but that’s not any world class particular special skill.” But when you put them together, they’re insanely effective. You know, as we can see, because he’s president. He made it against all odds. And, my view on the politics of it is that my political preferences didn’t align with either side in the election. I consider myself an ultra-liberal on social stuff, meaning that even liberals don’t recognize me, because I’m more liberal than liberals. I can give you some examples to fill that in if you want. And then on the big stuff, you know the international stuff, the “how do you beat ISIS?” and, what’s the best thing to do with North Korea? My view is that none of us really know the answer to that. Because we don’t have the information the government would have, and we don’t have the full context that they would have. SO generally I don’t have a firm position on the big international stuff, and on the smaller local stuff, the domestic stuff, I am in favor of people doing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t affect me.
[ Restating the paragraph ]
Scott: Well I should tell your listeners first of all that I have a background as a trained hypnotist, and I’ve been studying the field of persuasion all of my adult life as part of my job, it’s part of what a writer does, it’s part of a cartoonist needs. [ 1) Establishes Adams as being an expert and authority (“trained”) in a skill set that ALMOST NO LISTENERS have, and certainly Harris doesn’t have. The typical listener does not have any basis from which to evaluate the claim, so it is provisionally accepted. 2) Here Scott is eliciting a variety of responses that he can use. a) Attention 1: An unexpected development forces the listener to pay more attention. b) Attention 2: “A hypnotist and persuasion master? He can’t hypnotize me, I’m too smart! Watch – I’ll check for all the signs to prove to myself he’s not doing it to me.” c) Uncertainty: they thought they knew the whole story, but this elicits uncertainty, as in “Hmm I don’t know about hypnosis. Does that change things?” d) Curiosity: “Hypnosis? There’s something to it, because I’ve heard it does some neat things with stopping smoking, weight loss, and hilarious stage hypnotist shows.” And thus the audience attention gets directed inwards, which is a trance phenomenon, and takes up some of the mind’s working memory, which makes the person more suggestible. This continues for the entire discussion. ] So, when I saw trump enter the race, I noticed fairly quickly that he had the strongest set of persuasion skills I’ve ever seen. [ The persuasion expert, whose expertise nearly all of the audience lacks the knowledge to evaluate, evaluated Trump as having a skill set they hadn’t considered. Another new idea. More confusion, more attention. And because he says “I noticed…,” instead of “Trump has…,” he leaves no room for someone to contradict him. Nobody can say that Adams (the expert) DIDN’T notice it. If a listener didn’t, that’s understandable because the listener is probably not an expert. By being unable to argue against Adams having noticed, most also don’t argue against Trump having the persuasion skills. They conflate the irrefutable nature of the “I noticed” statement with irrefutable nature of WHAT Adams noticed. Also note the use of “so” here. It connects the previous assertion of Scott having persuasion skills with Trump having persuasion skills. In order to understand how the two ideas are connected by cause and effect from the word “so,” you HAVE to assume the first part is true. And as most people have no ideas with which to dispute Scott as persuasion master, when they “provisionally” accept it, it never gets revisited. At this point Scott is the undisputed persuasion master. ] He has what I call a skill stack, a complementary set of skills that, if you looked at any one of those skills you’d say, “well that’s good, that’s better than most people, but that’s not any world class particular special skill.” But when you put them together, they’re insanely effective. [ A third new idea. More curiosity, a mild trance as people try to comprehend it. People’s conscious minds are starting to get overloaded with processing. More trance. ] You know, as we can see, because he’s president. He made it against all odds. [ This is a “because” persuasion a la Cialdini. He has a skill stack (“what? Unproven”) BECAUSE he is president. (“Oh, yes I do know that he is president, as I can visually verify, against long odds, so ok he does.”) Plus, the way Adams phrased the statement as “You know,” in order to disagree with it, the person must say, “No I don’t know” which Harris’ audience of people who enjoy thinking they are smart are highly averse to saying. So Adams uses what he knows about his audience to double bind them into accepting it as true. Also frames Trump as underdog and somewhat heroic. And it taps into the widespread belief amongst anti-Trumpers of “How could this happen?” They’ve been looking for an answer for months and here it is. It has the immense psychological convenience of ending the angst, so in the absence of any conscious objection it gets accepted for its utility in that regard. And that isn’t going away because for it to go away, they would have to face the pain and angst of the how could this happen thing again, which they won’t do. And the new idea further cements people’s vision of Adams as an expert. ] And, my view on the politics of it is that my political preferences didn’t align with either side in the election. I consider myself an ultra-liberal on social stuff, meaning that even liberals don’t recognize me, because I’m more liberal than liberals. I can give you some examples to fill that in if you want. [ Adams immunizes himself from becoming a proxy target for people’s Trump hate (which he knows will soon be unleashed as he destroys people’s anti-Trump beliefs). He doesn’t give any examples here, but commands the audience to fill that in on their own with the embedded command “Fill that in if you want.” Pay attention to the tonality he uses for that phrase. Does it change from the rest of the sentence? He is now relatively immune from the audience attacking him personally. Also, more confusion: “Wait — how can that be? Isn’t he defending Trump? Who is this guy?” ] And then on the big stuff, you know the international stuff, the “how do you beat ISIS?” and, what’s the best thing to do with North Korea? My view is that none of us really know the answer to that. Because we don’t have the information the government would have, and we don’t have the full context that they would have. So generally I don’t have a firm position on the big international stuff, and on the smaller local stuff, the domestic stuff, I am in favor of people doing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t affect me. [ We are not going to talk about international affairs or local affairs today in this debate. Irrefutable because/so reasons given. ]
Harris: So again I should say, I haven’t seen or read everything you’ve said on this topic. I’ve read some of your blog posts and I’ve seen some of your periscope videos, which you’ve been doing quite regularly about Trump. It seems to me that you are sort of having it both ways here because you seem to delight in his ability to get away with doing… at least questionable things. I would say bad things. But certainly dishonest things. Because you admire his talent as a persuader, but, to my eye it very quickly begins to seem like a defense of the bad things he’s doing or at least a denial that they are bad, or a denial that he’s doing any harm to our civil discourse or to our politics by lying to the degree that he does. So where does your appreciation of the artistry grade into actually thinking he is good and liable to do good things?
Adams: The way I like to frame it… is that I’m helping people see him clearly without the filter that the opposition is putting on him. [ Telling you his frame, then framing it. Hard to consider it bad to help people see clearly. ] Cause he has a set of skills and a talent that we’ve never seen before, meaning that nothing like this has been in the political realm that we’ve seen. So what he can do is probably different from what a regular politician can do, both on the upside and the downside I would think. [ 1) Reframes from “Trump does bad things” to “Trump’s high persuasion skill includes some risk.” Also, in order to understand this, one has to provisionally accept, for a second time, that Trump is a master persuader. Repetition eventually means truth to the subconscious mind. 2) This is new this is new this is new! So, therefore, old filters and systems of measurements don’t apply. This leaves a void of “well, how DO we evaluate him?” Next, he tells them how. ] And so I’m not discounting that there’s greater risk under a president Trump than under a vanilla president. [ Reframe: Trump isn’t bad; he’s risky. Risky bad or risky good? The second part reframes Trump as exciting and interesting, rather than a boring predictable safe “vanilla” president. Also uses the Cialdini comparison principle. ] Uh, but I think his supporters have said explicitly and often, “we’ll take the risk, we’ll take the chaos, that’s the price of change.” So there’s a lot of that that his supporters accept, and I see my role in this as clarifying, and if they like that choice, if that’s a risk profile that they appreciate, then at least they can see it a little more clearly. * [ Trump isn’t scary because he does bad things; he’s risky, and risk is the price of change. Hard to disagree with if you want the current system to change. And Scott reinforces that he is not a Trump cheerleader; he is crucially outside of the picture showing other people what’s going on inside the picture. If you show someone something more clearly, you are not in the picture. ]
So let me, let me speak about the lying part. Because I think that’s probably central to your problem, would you say that’s true?
Adams: So here’s now I frame that. It is unambiguously true, and it is clear to both his supporters and his critics, that he says things fairly frequently that do not pass the fact checks, and you would agree with that right? So I think we’re starting from the same factual starting point. [ Pace on what he has correctly calibrated from Harris’ intro as Harris’ biggest objection. Again, keep your target off me because I agree with you! Major pace of both Harris and the audience. ]
Harris: It understates it for me, but yes, I’m with ya. [ Adams secured a public acknowledgement of agreement. ]
Adams: Now obviously, his supporters would say “Well, that one thing he said wasn’t so wrong,” you know, so there would be a lot of disagreement in the grey areas. [ Acknowledging there is room for disagreement. Pushing the audience away from absolute yes/no evaluations of true/false, because they might be in the frame of “if anything about it is false, the whole thing was a lie.” But rarely is anything that cut and dry.] But there’s no question that there are a lot of things that he said that don’t pass the fact checking, and everybody agrees with that. [ PACE ] Here’s the part that I put on top of this that I think is helpful. [ Now the lead ] When you understand persuasion at the level that he does, and at the level that I’ve come to understand it through my own work over the years, the truth is not as useful as it should be, because it doesn’t change people’s minds, and the job of politics is often to change peoples’ minds, their hearts, their emotions, what they care about, what their priorities are. So if you were to look at the types of things that the president said that didn’t pass the fact checking—and that’s the way that I’m going to prefer to say it – is, that they are almost always emotionally true. Or they are emotionally compatible with what his supporters are already thinking. So there is an emotional and directional truth to what he does that’s independent from the facts being completely wrong. So for example when he said “there were Muslims dancing on the rooftops or in the streets after 9/11,” that does not pass the fact checking. But it is unambiguously true that his supporters, and even his critics, would say, “I’m a little concerned that there are some people in the Muslim faith who are not as unhappy about 9/11 as they should’ve been.” So in other words, what he said was technically, specifically, factually incorrect – as far as we can tell, you know, unless something new comes around. But it still fit what we were thinking, it fit the general truth that we all accepted as probably true, and I would think that you probably accept that as well, and, what you see in persuasion is something called Pacing and Leading. [ Adams is doing this to Harris and the entire audience as he describes it, yet they don’t realize it. Then moving on to the second point without allowing a break between sentences for Harris to interrupt or object ] It’s a very important concept in persuasion. The pacing part is where you become compatible with the other person that you’re trying to influence. You’re trying to match them in some way that’s important. And if you match them long enough, called “pacing”, eventually they will let you “lead”, because you are one of them, they’re comfortable with you, they agree with you, they feel the same way you feel, they trust you emotionally. And that’s the way people need to trust you. Because trusting somebody factually is sort of a non-starter. It doesn’t help that much. But trusting somebody emotionally says, “Yeah, I can let you do things that I don’t think are right, but I know that you’re heading in the right direction, I know that you have more information than I do, I trust that if you have to pivot because it doesn’t work out that you’ll do that, because you and I are emotionally on the same page. We want generally the same thing.” [ This paragraph is a great lesson in persuasion in and of itself. Harris has different epistemology that his identity as a super smart rational is tied into. He can’t understand this. ]
Similarly with, take immigration. One of the things that President Trump, and before that Candidate Trump, was saying that was emotionally compatible with a lot of people was that, “Hey there is an immigration issue, it brings with it some amount of crime that we wish we didn’t have, and it brings with it some risk of terrorists slipping in which we wish we didn’t have, and those things scare us, and we would like to have less of it.” Now that’s the emotional truth that is common to both sides of the conversation right? Everybody would like less of those things. [ pace pace pace ] Now the way he does it, of course, is with his typical hyperbole of coming in with the biggest first offer we’ve ever seen, which is of course that “I’m gonna ship back 12 million people who are undocumented in this country.” Now when you heard it, and when people on the other side heard it, they quite reasonably said, “holy hell, there’s no way you can do that first of all. It would be cruel second of all. It would cause riots in the streets, it would cause civil war practically. I mean it’s such a big, hard-to-do bad thing.” [ Pace pace pace. Pacing people’s irrational fear about societal upheaval that underlies a great many of their conciliatory positions. Also shows the strategy and thus weakens the Trump is crazy narrative. ] But when I heard it, I said to myself – and I said publicly a lot of times – he doesn’t mean that. [ Here’s the LEAD. The word “but” counters the previous section about upheaval. This is also process instruction for the listener to say to himself “he doesn’t mean that” a lot of times when faced with a provocative statement Trump makes. The new process is: 1) hear a “crazy” Trump statement 2) say to yourself and to others multiple times “he doesn’t mean that” 3) (implied) feel less fear or discomfiture about the outlandish Trump statements ] He’s making a big first offer that gives him lots of room to negotiate back. So now as we watch him as president, and what he’s doing is I guess ICE is rounding up a lot of people who have committed crimes while in the country, after coming into the country they committed additional crimes. And probably there are some cases I think almost surely, some cases where ICE breaks down a door and there are a room full of people and 3 of them have been in a serious gang violence situation, so of course you wanna deport those guys, but then there’s guys who are just members of the gang, who, you know, you don’t have any proof that they did anything that was an additional crime, but what are they doing in the room? So let’s say those two guys get shipped back too because they’re sort of in the grey area, they’re so far into the grey that they’re dark grey – [ Everybody agrees on deporting criminals. This section gets people to see non-criminals who also get deported as grey or dark grey in their mind. It’s hard to care much about anything you see internally as grey or dark grey, so this is instruction to not care about the issue of non-criminals also getting deported along with criminals. Brilliant. ] well you don’t have any proof. Now when you see that story, [ Read this as “Well you don’t have any proof now when you read that story.” ] and I’m sure that story is going to be trickling out in different ways, [ Future pacing. Look for this in the news. ] and people compare that, they contrast it to what they imagined could have happened, which is 12 million people rounded up and shipped home, they say to themselves “Well, I wish we wouldn’t deport people who we haven’t seen for sure committed additional crime, but that’s not so bad compared to what I thought was gonna happen.” [ When you do see a news story about non-criminals getting deported, make the comparison to all 12 million getting deported so it doesn’t seem bad at all. Cialdini’s comparison principle again. ]
So you see that process in a number of ways. [20:20]
That’s the end of the first section. Questions welcome. If this is helpful let me know in the comments so I know if I should keep going!