Antony Sammeroff, Contributor
How do you change someone’s mind?
Well first of all, you have to be aware of the fact that people rarely change their mind on fundamental issues in one conversation. The mind is like a river running down the side of the mountain. It has momentum and likes a path of least resistance. In order to change the course of a river you have to divert it in such a way that another path down the mountain becomes lower and easier to follow. So it is with the mind. The mind likes its habit pattern because it is familiar, and so it is often reluctant to change.
People are more likely to want to take on new information and learn than to want to reverse their opinion and “unlearn” so to speak. Thus, the first step to changing someone’s mind effectively is to set up a dynamic in the conversation where both people are sharing their views and engaging in a “Mutual Learning Experience” (real or perceived) that is non-oppositional.
How do you do that?
By being careful how and when you contradict the other person’s statements.
It is best to take the position of being genuinely curious in the other person’s views and why they hold them. If you think you have “heard it all before” and know more on the topic, at least have the humility to remain patient and feign curiosity. Even if you have heard the other person’s positions, arguments, and evidence in the past, you have never heard them explain them personally. Each person is a unique individual who deserves the basic dignity of being heard before they open up and are willing to be challenged. Most people need to feel safe enough to be challenged, so do not interrupt mid-sentence or attack anyone’s character for holding their positions. This will only make them double-down and fight harder to maintain their views. If you interrupt or get personal you miss out on an opportunity to learn where another person is coming from. Even if you still disagree it’s always interesting to learn how others see the world – if you have taken the time to cultivate a love of seeing the world through the eyes of another. This brings us closer together.
Next you need a few communication skills to properly erode the other person’s assumptions without making them feel like you are attacking them personally. The first is simply to resist the urge to destroy their view with arguments and evidence off the bat, and instead ask a simple question to find out why they believe what they believe. Any of these will work if you use a curious and respectful enough tone:
“How did you reach that conclusion?”
“Where did you get your information?”
“Based on what evidence?”
Once they have explained why they believe what they believe it is now your turn to contribute to the discussion. Take the position of adding information to what they already know or have assumed rather than trying to prove them wrong. Take on the character of a benevolent teacher filling in gaps in their knowledge. “Actually I read about a study that said something else,” “It’s funny because this is a subject that has been of a lot of interest to me and in my reading I have found…”, “As it so happens I have a different view, I learned that…”
This approach works because it is non-oppositional.
If your debating partner continues in disagreement, another hot tactic is to listen to what they have to say and then paraphrase their position back to them in your own words. “So if I get you right you believe that such-and-such, because so-and-so?” This will give them an opportunity to make clarifications on their position which they feel are really important for you to understand. Simply being understood in a non-judgemental way by another human being is something that we all crave. (Perhaps it is a basic human need!) If you can offer this understanding – even in a debate which is one of the hardest times to do it – it will go a long way to softening the other person’s position. Understanding transforms what is understood. When you are feeling sad, empathetic understanding can make you feel happy. When you are angry at your partner, having your anger understood will make you love them more. When your need to be right is validated that need may simply vanish.
If appropriate, ask how you and your partner can determine whether a position is true or false, and then measure it according to criteria you can agree on. Affirm any points of agreement before stating where you disagree, and keep an open mind! If you take the attitude of being willing to be convinced that your view is wrong, your opponent is more likely to take the same attitude.
Unless a dispute is over a fundamental difference in values that cannot be overlooked, the quality of your relationships is more important than being right. Once feelings are on the line things have got out of hand and the debate should come to an end. Suggest that you pick it up once you have each had time to digest what the other has said. Do not expose yourself to emotionally harmful arguments involving character slurs, sarcasm and passive aggressive or catty remarks, leave the situation and reconsider associations with people who are consistently verbally aggressive.
At the end of the day, not everyone’s mind can be changed. That said – you can do your best to debate with dignity and remain respectful, even where there is a difference of opinion. If you don’t win the dispute, you will at least win the respect of the people around you, and your own self-respect into the bargain.
About the Author
Antony Sammeroff is a counsellor and relationship coach living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he runs workshops on effective communication and creating fulfilling relationships. His passion is helping people improve their self-esteem, relationships and overcome procrastination. He puts out free self help videos and administrates The Progressive Parent youtube channel. Antony takes international bookings over Skype and you can reach him at email@example.com.
Also from Antony Sammeroff:
The Healing Power of Attention – http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/12/06/healing-power-attention/
Break free from the prison of your conditioning – http://www.wakingtimes.com/2014/01/03/want-break-free/
Perspective on “tough justice” and violence – http://www.wakingtimes.com/2014/08/04/perspective-on-tough-justice-inability-to-end-violence/
When Children Misbehave – http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/12/13/children-misbehave/
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