Gabriel Byrne’s 6 Step Guide to Developing Persuasion

by Brad Isaac on March 7, 2008

Gabriel ByrneOne of my favorite actors is Gabriel Byrne. He stars in my favorite movie of all time. He is such a great actor, I can’t help but be a bit mesmerized by his performances.

A few weeks ago, I learned about his latest work which is a series for HBO called In Treatment. In it, he plays a highly successful psychoanalyst named Paul confronted by 5 different patients with difficult personal problems. As a sub-plot, he is human, so he has his own life problems as a husband and father. I’m about 2 weeks into the series so don’t spoil anything!

What’s different about this show is the lack of action, violence and sex. Instead it’s a show where people sit and talk. Yet, it’s still exciting to watch. Additionally, there is a side benefit to watching it. His character Paul, is subtle, but powerful. Although a fictional series, the fundamentals that Paul uses are based on real psychoanalytic and persuasion methods. As such, by watching a few episodes, I found myself influenced to employ some of the skills in my recent communications with family and friends. Not to persuade, but to listen a more closely, and hear a little more… Which is a good thing for everyone, I think.

You too can learn these techniques and to start, here are the 6 methods you can study as you watch the show…

1. Listen Quietly - The average conversation is anything but listening… We interrupt each other. We think about other things. We sigh to ourselves and think “won’t they just shut up?”

Alarmingly, in the first episode, Paul doesn’t say a word for a long time. He just sits there waiting for his patient to speak. At which point, he listens quietly – without interruption and without appearing to wander or become distracted. By listening quietly, the other person feels pressure to fill the void of silence by speaking – which is exactly what he wants. By being a listener and not a talker, he gets the upper hand.

2. Reflect Back - In my University studies I remember reading countlessly about this technique. “Reflect back what your clients are saying,” the books would say. “When you reflect back, the person discloses more and you have more opportunity to get at the root of their problem.” Yep, that sounds great! But how do you do it?

Byrne’s character is an amazing teacher of this skill. A client says “I just don’t feel like they care.” He reflects back, same voice, same emotion “It’s important for you to feel cared for…”

Like in real situations, some of the patients catch him doing this and say “stop analysing me.” Yet, they continue disclosing…also like in real life.

By “reflecting” the other person feels understood. When was the last time you felt completely understood? We all seek to be understood, but rarely do we feel it. Reflecting projects this understanding that people so desparately want.

3. Do not reveal personal details – Paul does not reveal anything personal about his clients – not even to his wife. This, in fact, makes him trustworthy. By keeping personal details to yourself, people learn they can trust you. Not that you should “cover up” a crime, but if someone expresses a personal detail about their past, keep it to yourself. That trust will go a long way toward personal power.

4. Be Inquisitive - Ask plenty of questions, clarify. Again, the deepest emotional needs of humans is to be important and be understood. Paul speaks very little during his sessions, but when he does, he is usually asking a question. After the patient finishes what she’s saying, he’ll ask “And then what happened?” even after you think she’s done. As a viewer, you can become uncomfortable because you think she’s done. But of course, she’ll continue her story.

As odd and uncomfortable this feels to the viewer, it is an accurate representation of the method. Give it a try sometime. When your friend finishes a story, say “and then what happened?” Or “then what did you do?” You’ll find almost every time the story continues…

5. Be Non-Judgmental - At least in appearance, Byrne’s character does not seem offended by some of his patient’s stories. One of the clients is a pilot who tells him that he dropped a bomb on a school in Iraq due to the mis-targeting of the people in command. Another client informs him that she was going to have sex with a stranger in the bathroom stall of a nightclub the whole while fantasizing about Paul.

Even though he might be personally repulsed by these stories, he remains calm and non-judgmental. By remaining in his words “safe” the other expresses more and can see their thoughts more clearly.

6. Face uncomfortable topics - Often in one of the sessions a patient will tell him “I’m not ready to talk about that.” Paul nods and lets them continue speaking, yet closer to the end of the session, he’ll bring it back up. He isn’t afraid to face uncomfortable topics.

By facing tough topics with the other person, you are reinforcing your role as someone safe and someone who can be trusted.


These skills make you more trusted, likable and attractive – as evidenced by the many patients who fall in love with their therapists.

However, I’m not recommending you watch this show and start counseling friends and family – that might be annoying. I am only saying there are some powerful persuasion and communication techniques at work here and this is the best example of them on film I’ve ever seen. Putting some of them to work will help you develop closer bonds and influence.
Have you seen In Treatment yet? If so, what do you think? Do you find Byrne’s communication style as influential as me?

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March 9, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Great suggestions. If I could build on the first one.

Not only should you listen quietly, but also employ clean listening. Clean listening is when you remove your own inner voice and thoughts from the conversation. You are not judging the other persons words or anxiously waiting to put in your two cents, you are just absorbing their words at face value without filters.

The Machine Levine March 9, 2008 at 10:00 pm

The other night he said something I thought was profound.

He was asking a woman to put herself in a scenario and think of what she would have done. She got angry saying that type of fantasy was beneath her dignity.

He said: “I don’t believe anything is beneath our dignity, if it takes us to a place our dignity will not allow us to go.”

I like the show too!

Sara March 12, 2008 at 8:50 am

Love, love love the show and love Gabriel Byrne. I can totally understand why Laura fell in love with him. I think I’m in love with him!

Brad Isaac March 12, 2008 at 9:21 am

“I can totally understand why Laura fell in love with him. I think I’m in love with him!”

I know I’m in love with him! haha…as an actor. His mannerisms make you feel like you are watching an old friend. Brilliant.

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