How to Change Someone's Mind
How do you change someone’s mind? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately--not only for my work, but also in light of our current political climate. With the dichotomy of opinions blasted all over television and social media right now, it’s hard to not think about it.
Even consultants who make a living by changing people’s minds need to be reminded how to do so every now and then, so I write this post for myself as much as for other readers who may be interested.
A few months ago, I stumbled upon a gem covering this very topic. You Are Not So Smart has a podcast that features quantitative behavioral studies being made on a Reddit discussion forum called Change My View where the object is to try to have your mind changed about something. It can be anything from politics to breakfast cereal. Indeed, the You Are Not So Smart podcast begins by illustrating a debate on Change My View about Tricks the Rabbit, the mascot for Trix Cereal.
The podcast is one-hour, so save it for a long flight or commute. Be sure to listen at your nearest opportunity, though. It’s an exceptional production and well worth the time investment. In the meantime, here are the highlights interspersed with a few of my thoughts:
1. The person has to be open to having her mind changed.
This is a prerequisite for participating on Change My View. Think of how many social media wars start and rage on without resolution because people simply don’t want to have their minds changed. Focus your energy on people who are open to having their mind changed about a particular topic. Otherwise, you’re beating your head against the proverbial brick wall.
2. The person must take time to be introspective about why he holds a certain view.
Change My View requires its participants to explain their view in no less than 500 words. The reason is that the simple act of doing so helps those posting get to the core of why they think a certain way, which helps them clarify their thought processes and root causes of their belief systems.
Having clarity of thought and being conscious of what drives one to have a certain belief system sets the stage for changing one’s view. That’s why journaling and individual coaching are often recommended as effective tools for personal reflection and growth. From a team perspective, workshops that promote group discussion, interaction, and focused reflection lead to new discoveries or realizations.
3. Use bullet points.
What? Bullet points? Yes. Bullet points. The researchers and forum overseers analyzing the Change My View content found that persons who used bullet points in their written commentary were more effective in changing someone else’s mind. Bullet points helped those posting build and present a clear case for why or how to think about something differently and made it easier for the reader to digest a counter argument.
4. No insults.
This seems obvious, but it’s too often forgotten when we’re passionate about a particular topic. I know I’ve been guilty of it. Insulting someone’s intellect doesn’t help build another’s case. Instead we have to think of what experiences the person may have had or not had that led to his current belief system. We’re all a product of our experiences. Hurling insults doesn’t help. Change My View has clear rules against hostility, low-level jokes, and memes. Any threads exhibiting such are removed.
5. Forum rules are pre-established and enforced.
Change My View is successful because they established clear guidelines that participants must follow in order to take part in a discussion. It includes the ones I already listed above, as well as rules like, participants can’t soapbox--they must have a sincere interest in changing their own mind and be participating in good faith.
Now I have a few to add to the list.
6. The person experiences an alternate view.
I mentioned earlier that we’re a product of our experiences. Change consultants try to create experiential learning opportunities to help clients practice something in a different way. It could be anything from trying out new open-style office furniture setup to testing new software systems to preparing a speech about the change to a large audience. Such experiences reinforce learning and clarity, make evident an alternate way of viewing something, and may even create a “disorienting dilemma.”
Disorienting dilemmas (Mezirow, 1991, p.168) force an individual to reevaluate long-held assumptions about a particular topic or worldview. They often emerge with anguish, such as in these extreme examples: A woman’s personal identity faces crisis after she is unexpectedly laid off from a beloved job she held for 30 years. A father critical of homosexuality learns that his son is gay. A girl who grows up in a small, xenophobic community leaves home to attend a diverse university in a large city. These are dramatic examples of personal experiences that can be life altering and result in changing one’s mindset.
Assessments, such as 360-degree surveys or personality inventories are great for creating self-awareness as well, and there is no shortage of tools from which to choose. Other clarifying a-ha moments occur from something as simple as an eye-opening discussion, reading a poem, seeing a piece of artwork, viewing a documentary or compelling photograph, or reading a book.
7. The person must understand why it’s important to change his mind.
If an individual cannot see the bigger picture, he is unlikely to understand the importance of changing. Change consultants create clear, compelling cases for explaining why a particular change is important to the company and its employees. “If we grow, we’ll continue to be successful and have good jobs.” “If we update our workspace, we’ll be more productive and secure the top talent we need to innovate.” “If we change our culture, we’ll increase our customer base.” Change always boils down to individuals doing something differently, so explaining why it’s important to do so is essential for mindset change.
The bottom line?
It is possible to change someone’s mind. According to the You Are Not So Smart podcast, one third of participants in Change My View have their minds changed--an astonishing rate that begged further research on what they’re doing right. Researchers are producing quantitative analysis and identifying elements that are centric to changing someone’s mind. In fact, the elements are showing up so consistently that one researcher believes that artificial intelligence could soon be developed to moderate such discussion forums, or even social media threads, in the future.
What experiences have you had with changing someone’s mind? What did you do that was particularly effective or not effective?
McRaney, D. (October 9, 2016). You Are Not So Smart Podcast. Episode 86: Change My View. Retrieved from https://youarenotsosmart.com/2016/10/09/yanss-086-change-my-view/
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.