Parsing Persuasion in the Sam Harris – Scott Adams Podcast: Intro

In early 2017 noted rationalist, atheist, and Trump hater Sam Harris invited Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and persuasionist extraordinaire, to come on his show and debate about Donald Trump. Adams accepted and on July 18, 2017 they engaged in a two-hour discussion. In the resulting twitter discussions Harris supporters generally seemed angry; Adams supporters seemed to have had a good bit of fun calling out the Harris supporters for cognitive dissonance.

This was a great event for students of persuasion for a number of reasons. First, it provided a beautiful contrast between super smart, super rational, scientist Sam Harris (and his followers of similar brains and bent) with super smart, super persuasive Scott Adams and his followers. Second, it provided us with a master class in belief change work, if we are willing to dig into it and work out the techniques.

Because Harris debated Adams, but Adams didn’t debate Harris. Adams used the debate as a vehicle to destroy anti-Trump beliefs, as conveniently presented by Harris, for a large audience of listeners.

So let’s dig into what went on. I’ll parse out some of the techniques used and we can learn some useful stuff.

Some notes before we begin:

  • I’ll be posting the transcript in sections, along with notes on the persuasion and structure, as I finish them
  • I will only be publicly parsing out what I will call Level 1 techniques. Even so, you might be surprised at how deep the crafting goes into persuasion, even in live conversations
  • If you are on twitter, send out thanks to @rolypolyistaken for writing out the transcript for the first section
  • It will help greatly to be familiar with some of Adams’ persuasion reading list, particularly Cialdini
  • The next post will be on beliefs and how to use the new information we will be learning. After that I’ll post the first section of the transcript with notes


1a. “I want to learn persuasion!”

  • Start with “Influence” and “Pre-suasion” by Robert Cialdini.
  • Then Google “Scott Adams persuasion reading list.”
  • I would add 1 more book to Adams’ list: “Monsters and Magical Sticks.” There are some more but those are all on the advanced level.
  • When you have read through some of the persuasion reading list, read Win Bigly by Scott Adams. It will tie it all together into usable strategies.
  • I do some exposition of persuasion techniques in action on my blog:
  • Follow my account on Twitter (@PersuasionRisng) and search for “1.” or “students” or “persuasion.” You can find a lot of persuasion examples in my posts, particularly reframing.
  • If you want to study belief change, the Sam Harris – Scott Adams podcast is a master class. Also: Socrates / Plato and Jesus.

1b: “Teach me persuasion faster than that!”

Spend $3k per seminar plus travel and lodging and go through Mike Mandel’s hypnosis trainings or Richard Bandler’s NLP trainings. Bandler’s books are good, too.

Michael Hall has some good books too.

Tony Robbins is fine for most people, although in my opinion he installs too strong of motivation, to the compulsion level. I’m not into that, but some people love it. And if you go to any of his seminars be prepared to buy all of his stuff, according to your income and over an appropriate time. You won’t be able not to.

1c: “I don’t have the cash. Is there ‘budget path’?”

Persuasion is power. Earn it to own it.

Read the books in 1a. For each book:

  • Read something by someone persuasive (Trump, Obama, Tony Robbins, Alan Dershowitz, Peggy Noonan, MLK, almost any presidential speech, a blog post from me or Scott Adams, etc.) and WRITE OUT NOTES explaining the use of any techniques you’ve read about.
  • Then, take an opinion editorial and rewrite it using the persuasion techniques you learned in that book. Do this with BOTH ones you agree with and with ones you actively disagree with. This last part is perhaps the most important, so be sure you embrace it fully.
  • Create your own flash cards with the techniques. Practice talking about a subject, pull out a flash card at random, and work that technique into your discussion on the fly in real time.
  • Find a live, in-person partner to practice the flash card conversations with.
  • Twitter can be good practice too, but remember that a key component of persuasion is calibrating to the others and using voice tone and body language, which can’t be done via Twitter.

2a: “I want to clear out my emotional baggage” or “I want to reach emotional clarity.”

Spend ~$90 and buy a 4-pack of paraliminals from Learning Strategies (and use these links because it helps me support the blog). Get these 4 sessions:

  1. New History Generator
  2. New Option Generator
  3. Self-Esteem Supercharger (This is not actually about self-esteem. Get it.)
  4. Any other one that strikes you.

Every week for 6 months, listen to New History Generator, then New Option Generator, then Supercharger, in that order, during the week. Listen to your fourth one any time you want.

In 6 months so many of your issues will be gone and replaced with pretty good functionality that you will barely recognize your old limits. And you will feel so good doing it that you will enjoy the process as well.

2b: “How can I use persuasion and/or hypnosis to improve my life?”

There are many, many ways. Some posts on that are in the works.

2c: “Just give me one single thing to do to improve my life.”

If I could give all of humanity one single piece of advice, it would be to let it go.

The Let It Go paraliminal session can be used to release issues universally. As far as I can tell, the releasing of attachments is also the only effective way to immunize yourself from cognitive dissonance.

3: “I practice Stoicism / Buddhism / Jainism. What can help?”

In my experience the biggest challenge with non-attachment philosophies/religions is that most adherents mistakenly conflate emotional suppression with actual non-attachment. There is no value in emotional suppression. A superior approach is to fully experience and then let it go. An approach called the Sedona Method (full course) or Let It Go (paraliminal) is one way to do that. Letting go is the best way I know of to practice non-attachment, non-disinterest.

Gary Craig’s Gold Standard EFT (which he teaches free of charge) is remarkably effective.

Meditation and many eastern practices like tai chi, qi gong, yoga, etc also work, although they take longer and work more on a holistic (rather than issue-by-issue) approach.

The more of your “emotional backlog” you let go of or clear out, the less your current experiences will trigger the pent-up emotions in your backlog. Clearing out your backlog entirely is the goal of many Eastern religious practices.

4: “I want to use persuasion to improve my sex and/or love life.”

Read my thoughts on a good method here (for both men and women, who want to connect with either men or women).

5: “How did you learn persuasion?”

More than two decades of working with a grandmaster of hypnosis and persuasion, undoing some seriously messed up programming done to me (and many others) as a teenager by a team of masters and grandmasters who ran a fundamentalist religious group. Plus more study and practice than many people would believe. And there’s more to it than that.

6: What is the 3D thing about?

My first ever email address ended with “L3D.” And once people started talking about persuasion as 3D vs the 2D world of information, it seemed like a natural fit.

7: “Persuasion is unethical!”

Go ahead and try to avoid persuading. It’s not possible.

Don’t mess people up though. Leave them better than you found them.

And remember, special forces elite commandos don’t get into bar fights.

8: “I’m too smart for persuasion or hypnosis to work on me.”

Some say intelligence is positively correlated with trance capacity. In my experience it’s simply built into how the human mind works.

What do You Mean, Parsing Persuasion?

When I see a really good example of persuasion I’ll sometimes post it here with an explanation of techniques used.

@RolyPolyIsTaken is working with me on transcribing the Scott Adams / Sam Harris podcast. That is a belief change masterclass! I plan to post that so persuasion students and practitioners can read through it and try to work out the techniques used. I’ll also post a parsing of “level 1” techniques Adams used when I finish writing it out.

So that’s what I mean by Parsing Persuasion.