You and I disagree on something.
Okay, maybe not on anything specific at the moment. But hey, if you and I were to spend enough time together (probably not long!), surely there would be something we’d disagree on.
And let’s be fair, not every subject needs agreement. There’s a lot of great content on people agreeing to disagree, and even on the idea that we should not offer people opinions on anything unless we’re asked.
But let’s say that whatever subject we disagree on deserves, for one reason or another, some effort to change my mind.
Notice the “my.”
Much of what is written on the subject of persuasion takes a general view. “Here’s how people persuade other people.” This is helpful, but only to a point. At the end of the day, it’s one unique person whose mind you’re trying to change.
And if I’m that person, it’s only fair to you, the disagreer, that I give some forethought to what it would take to change my mind.
I’ll never forget a conversation I once had with a friend of mine. I can’t remember what the subject matter was, but I distinctly remember he had asked for my thoughts on a subject. I shared them, and he replied very politely that he completely disagrees.
“That’s fair, Bill, I can appreciate that. So what would it take for me to change your mind?” I asked.
He paused for a long moment.
“You know…” and he paused again. “I’m not really sure what it would take. I guess I would just know it when it happened.”
Years later, I look back on that conversation and I empathize with his honest reply. Most people really don’t know what it would take to change their mind.
This post is an honest attempt to share what it would take to change my mind.
(By the way, we’ll take it as a given that your argument is sound: the premises are true and the conclusion follows from the premises. Truth and logic are, of course, crucial to ethical persuasion; but changing my mind isn’t solely a logic exercise. It’s also a relational interchange between people. This post is about the relational parts of mind changing.)
In the hopes of helping you get your perspectives across in a more persuasive way, here are 8 ways to change my mind:
- Stay calm
- Set a friendly environment
- Give something significant
- Begin with something we agree on
- Emphasize a contrast
- Call attention to my autopilot
- Appeal to the opinion of others
- Show that correctness is scarce
Let’s dig a little deeper into these.
1. Stay calm
This may seem obvious. It is and it isn’t.
We all know our voice needs to be calm when we’re in disagreement. Not raised. Not shouting or screaming. Not using foul language.
What may be less obvious are the subtle ways that intensity, strain, and urgency can creep into our interactions.
A piercing look. A lean forward. Crossing arms. Crossing legs. Scrunching eyebrows. A critical adverb (really, actually, literally, etc.).
It only takes a careless half-second to communicate to someone that goodwill is gone.It only takes a careless half-second to communicate to someone that goodwill is gone. Click To Tweet
If you buy this, there are two ways to respond: (1) become a terrific faker, or (2) address the root mindset behind loss of calm.
I’m 100% in favor of (2).
All too often, our underlying mindset is “I want to be right” or “How could he or she be so wrong?”. Lord knows I’ve been guilty of this myself–far, far too often.
Time and again, I’ve learned it’s the goal of being right that destroys calm during disagreements. Instead, we need to do the inner work needed to embrace the goal of being helpful.Time and again, I've learned it's the goal of being right that destroys calm during disagreements. Instead, we need to do the inner work needed to embrace the goal of being helpful. Click To Tweet
“Be helpful, be helpful, be helpful.”
If it takes repeating this over and over and over in the back of my mind during a disagreement, it’s worth it.
Want to change my mind? Stay calm. The desire to be helpful brings calm. The desire to be right brings discord.
2. Set a friendly environment
A calm (helpful!) effort to change my mind will go much differently in my own house, in a familiar coffee shop, or on a walk than it would in an office setting, in a large group, or–heaven forbid–on social media.
Not an exaggeration: some of my most spectacular mind-changing fails have been a result of neglecting the environment of the conversation.
It’s not that I planned it that way. Disagreements often spring up in the middle of conversations without warning.
It’s an all-to-common scenario. I’m in my office sitting at my desk, someone walks in, and suddenly we’ve stumbled into a situation where I feel the need to persuade.
“Derik, are you in a head space of wanting to be helpful?”
If genuinely yes, PAUSE again.
“Derik, is this the right environment for being helpful?”
If genuinely yes, then begin. If no, then wait: this isn’t the right time or place.
A real-world example: ever wonder why Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Origami Owl, Rodan and Fields, and so many other social network-driven sales models continue to spring up all over the place?
It’s because environments matter. Selling kitchen utensils in a home with tea, friends, and laughter works. Selling kitchen utensils as a stranger knocking on the door with a catalog doesn’t.
Want to change my mind? Pick a friendly environment where helpful intentions can be best received.Environments matter. Home-based business get this principle. Selling kitchen utensils in a home with tea, friends, and laughter works. Selling kitchen utensils as a stranger knocking on the door doesn't. Want to change my mind? Pick… Click To Tweet
3. Give something significant
A genuine, sacrificial gift prepares the soil of the mind to receive the seeds of change.A genuine, sacrificial gift prepares the soil of the mind to receive the seeds of change. Click To Tweet
Bestselling author Robert Cialdini calls this the rule of reciprocity. When someone gives me something, I am innately wired to feel an obligation toward that person. I may not always act on that obligation, but I will feel it.
We see this principle applied everywhere in the marketplace. Giving something up front. Free samples. Free first month of membership. Free content (yes, even on this blog!).
But when we’re practicing the rule of reciprocity with people, a gift doesn’t need to have monetary value in order to be significant.
A handwritten note of encouragement. Washing out their coffee cup for them. Bringing their favorite Starbucks.
We have opportunities all day, every day to exercise the rule of reciprocity.
And hey, if all else fails, why not schedule it?
Yep: an alert on your calendar each day that just says “Give.”
For 5 minutes you stand up, walk around the office, and give something. Anything.
My guess is you’ll be amazed at how people begin to change their mind about things.
Want to change my mind? Give something significant of yourself.
4. Begin with something we agree on
Another one of Cialdini’s people rules is the rule of consistency.
We’re all creatures of habit. We instinctively want to cling to what we’re already doing, what we already know, and who we already are.
Changing my mind often means showing me how the change actually helps me stay who I already am.Changing my mind often means showing me how the change actually helps me stay who I already am. Click To Tweet
In ministry it may be, “Let’s start here: we both want to serve Jesus, am I right?”
In business, maybe, “Let’s start here: we both want this thing to grow.”
And at home, maybe it’s, “Let’s start here: can we agree that you and I both want a great marriage?”
From that starting point, you have a much better shot at changing my mind by showing how the fresh idea comports with that shared starter idea.
Two reasons for this, both of which tie back to the rule of consistency:
- Generally speaking, I want to be consistent in my interconnected web of ideas
- Once you get me saying yes to something, the rule of consistency says I’ll prefer to keep saying yes
Want to change my mind? Wherever possible, start (or restart) the conversation from a place of agreement.Want to change my mind? Wherever possible, start (or restart) the conversation from a place of agreement. Click To Tweet
5. Emphasize a contrast in outcomes
Now wait a second.
What about agreement? What about the rule of consistency?
Yeah, agreement is the best place to start.
But changing my mind ultimately comes down to teeing up a choice between two contrasting options.
Now I can’t speak for everyone here, but what moves me most often is a clear contrast in outcomes.
Why did we all (well, most of us) go along with social distancing during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic?
In part, because everyone else was doing it (see #7).
But also because we heard the contrast in outcomes:
- If we all do it, the US death toll will be in the thousands.
- If we don’t do it, the US death toll will be in the millions.
Want to change my mind? Contrast the outcomes of the candidate mindsets in a way that highlights the WHY behind the WHAT.Want to change my mind? Contrast the outcomes of the candidate mindsets in a way that highlights the WHY behind the WHAT. Click To Tweet
6. Call attention to my autopilot
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” – Ralph Waldo EmersonClick To Tweet
Once I’ve accepted the starting place of our discussion AND the best final outcome, all that’s left is the middle stuff.
Unfortunately no. The “middle stuff” is where all the disagreement lives.
Consider the US political party system. Both parties agree the US can be an even better country than it already is (starting place). Both parties want to see a country where people enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (the outcome).
It’s the definition of “progress,” the middle stuff, that drives all the controversy.
One way to help me reconsider my own middle stuff is by calling attention to my autopilot.
That’s where the Emerson quote at the beginning of this section comes in.
Everyone lives by consistency. We have to. Life would be unlivable without the economies of autopilot. Hypervigilance is exhausting.
But there is such a thing as “a foolish consistency.”
That was Emerson’s point. Our autopilot should work for us, not the other way around.
A change of mind often involves calling attention to my autopilot.
How is this done?
Often it takes a bit of a shock, a discomfiture, a jolt of some sort.
Someone once said the shortest distance between truth and the human heart is a story.Click To Tweet
One reason this is true is because stories disengage our autopilot. They expose us, if every so briefly, to the possibility of a foreign idea.
Want to change my mind? Make me disengage my autopilot with a mild cognitive jostle, often by way of a compelling story.Want to change my mind? Make me disengage my autopilot with a mild cognitive jostle, often by way of a compelling story. Click To Tweet
7. Appeal to the opinions of others
FOMO. Fear of missing out.
Oh yes, it’s real. It’s the same terror of being the last kid picked on the kickball team in middle school.
It doesn’t go away as a grownup. If anything, it gets worse.
No one wants to be the last to know, the last to get something, the one left out.
Since all of this may be obvious, I’ll throw in my own take on what specific sources of opinions persuade me most.
I listen most carefully to the opinions of people who…
- Aren’t easily swayed.
- Once passionately believed the exact opposite thing.
- Have nothing personal to gain from my changing others’ minds.
- Sacrifice something significant (see #3).
- Are under a lot of pressure to recant, but don’t.
- Stay calm and kind in the midst of disagreement (see #1).
- Appeal to facts.
If you can find people who share your view and check some or all of the above boxes, by all means share that with me as you’re trying to change my mind.
One of the best examples of someone who fits the full profile above is a missionary from the Bible named Paul.
- An educated man who was accustomed to learning from the best and teaching others.
- Believed the Jesus-following sect of Judaism was a threat and sought to have Christians killed.
- Poor all his life and had nothing to gain from converting others to Christianity.
- Imprisoned for years and ultimately gave his life for his Christian faith.
- Brought before various rulers and pressured to recant, but didn’t.
- Remained loving toward his Roman and Jewish captors.
- Shared repeatedly the personal experience he had of encountering the risen Jesus.
Want to change my mind? Appeal to the opinions of unlikely, passionate, sacrificial, well-mannered, fact-driven supporters of your view.Want to change my mind? Make me disengage my autopilot with a mild cognitive jostle, often by way of a compelling story. Click To Tweet
8. Show that correctness is scarce
One of the many odd tensions within all human beings is the tension between fitting in and being unique.
As real as the fear of missing out is, just as real is the need to feel special.
These two seemingly contradictory ideas find their reconciliation in membership in a unique tribe.
“I’m one of those rare few who really get it. And those select few of us who do? We’re in this thing together.”
One thing that this idea has going for it is it’s pretty much accurate.
For the vast majority of people, their worldview consists of a hodgepodge of incoherent ideas.
As philosopher Thomas Kuhn discovered in the 20th century, the tipping point that causes most people to change their minds is not factual but social.
Show me how I can be an elite member of a small, authentic, chummy society of truth-tellers and I’ll come running.
Just as beauty is scarce, so is correctness.
Want to change my mind? Appeal to the scarcity of being right.
What Do You See?
As I read back over the list, I’m astonished at how many of these I bumble and stumble over in everyday life. Refocusing on these eight serve as a constant reminder to me is that my default mode of persuading others gets it very wrong.
So that’s it. That’s how you can change my mind on just about anything.
Do any of these resonate with you? Surprise you?
What’s your list of things it would take for someone to change your mind?