Save Your Breath
The amount of breath we hotheaded humans waste trying to change other people’s minds is, well, breathtaking.
Think about it. How many times have you argued, demanded, begged, cajoled, or debated someone? And how often did it result in that person saying, “You’re right. I’m wrong”? Probably about as often as you’ve said the same to someone else.
Nobody teaches us how to change someone’s mind (or our own) in school. We follow our Neanderthalian instincts and learn how from a-holes on TV and the internet instead.
You can do better. And the fact that you’re reading this is a sign you’re on the right track. It’s evidence you’re aware, open-minded, and patient (or desperate) enough to consider a different approach.
The approach I’m going to suggest to you here is called Belief Remodeling. It’s a step-by-step summary of best practices I distilled from a dozen books on the topic and from deconstructing the strategies of the rare few people who routinely succeed at changing people’s minds.
It’s not magic. And it’s not easy. But it will probably work better than whatever you’ve been doing. At least it will save you some breath. So give it a try.
How to Change Someone’s Mind
Put Down the Sledgehammer
Imagine you live in a home you built from scratch with your family and community’s help. Then imagine some smart-ass named Bruce saunters in through your front door uninvited. He glances around quickly and tells you, “Your house is stupid.” Then he whips out a sledgehammer and starts whaling away.
It sounds ludicrous, but most of us act like Bruce whenever we try to change someone’s mind. We barge into each other’s beliefs and try to remodel them with verbal sledgehammers.
It never works.
Now imagine the roles are flipped. You want to remodel Bruce’s beliefs. How would you get invited inside his home and get his ok to do some remodeling?
This is the mindset of the belief remodeling strategy for how to change someone’s mind.
Get in that mindset. Then let’s get started.
The Belief Remodeling Strategy
Before You Begin
✓ Get Invited
First thing’s first, you’ve got to get an invite from Bruce.
Nobody in their right mind’s going to allow some stranger into their treasured mental mansion. And Bruce especially won’t want you over if he knows you intend to go all Extreme Makeover: Belief Edition on him.
You have to befriend him and earn his trust first.
✓ Is It Worth the Effort?
Bruce isn’t paying you for your interior design efforts. Simply wanting his beliefs to look like yours so you feel better is not a good reason to do it.
✓ Set a Win-Win Objective
“The only way to influence people is to talk about what they want and to show them how to get it.”Dale Carnegie
This is the most crucial part of how to change someone’s mind.
What’s in it for Bruce? In what way can you reframe your conversation so that he’s eager to do some belief remodeling?
If you can come up with a win-win design that gets what you want and what they want, changing someone’s mind won’t be so hard.
✓ Lead by Example
See if you can’t invite Bruce over to your place before you go to his. Show him around and be open-minded to suggestions he makes on redesigning your own beliefs.
Allowing them to change your mind will make them more open to changing theirs in return.
✓ Choose the Right Moment
Head over on a sunny day when Bruce is likely to be in a good mood.
And come alone if you can. Bruce will probably get nervous and protective if you’ve got a whole gang with you.
✓ Warm Them Up
“A barber lathers a man before he shaves.”Dale Carnegie
When you get to Bruce’s, start with some compliments.
The best compliments are for having the traits that will make it easier for you to get your job done—open-minded, adaptable, reasonable, thoughtful, empathetic, etc. Bruce will want to prove your compliments are accurate by acting consistently to them, making it easier to change his mind.
Get Into Changing Their Mind
✓ Converse About a Question
The best way to sway others is not to tell them your answer, but to arrive at an answer — together.Nilofer Merchant
No matter how obviously ugly or shoddily-constructed you think Bruce’s beliefs are and how desperately you want to tell him you know how to fix things, don’t.
✓ Start a conversation instead. Look at Bruce as your conversation partner, not your adversary or target. This subtle mindset shift will help you resist the urge to fast-forward things with your sledgehammer.
✓ And focus on a single question. Agree with Bruce on a specific question to discuss that, if you can answer together, will help you arrive at a win-win design. For example, instead of debating the pros and cons of an open concept floor plan, ask, “How would this look if we tore down that one wall?”
✓ Agree Before You Disagree
If you’ve ever watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, you’ll have noticed that the experts at home remodeling start by pointing out redeeming features and furniture to rebuild around.
Try doing the same when remodeling belief: Before trying to change someone’s mind, agree on what can stay the same.
If you can’t find any redeeming features in Bruce’s outdated, shag carpet, asbestos-filled, cockroach-infested beliefs, turn around and agree on what’s wrong with more extreme versions of your beliefs. For example, if you’re trying to get Bruce to be more minimalist, agree with him that the people who say they can get away with owning only 27 items are taking things too far.
✓ Ask About the Blueprints
This is the most effective way to change someone’s mind:
Ask them to explain how they built their beliefs in the first place.
Most of the time, there was no blueprint. Like most of us, Bruce probably developed, designed, and maintains his beliefs haphazardly:
- Copying other people’s designs without understanding why.
- Letting others install some beliefs for him using cheap materials.
- Covering it up with wallpaper, forgetting about it, and even building on top.
- Patching up any glaring faults with duct-tape rather than doing a complete remodel.
Bruce’s haphazard construction hasn’t collapsed on him yet. It works fine, so he doesn’t need your suggestions. But he’s not stupid (…probably). The right questions that poke holes at his absence of blueprints will cause doubt to creep in.
Don’t press too hard. It is embarrassing to admit ignorance and mistakes in building beliefs. Once you see the doubt start to seep in, stop and let it spread on its own.
✓ Keep Getting Them Mentally Disassembling
To elaborate on the blueprint technique, here are two strategies to subtly get Bruce mentally deconstructing, rearranging, and rebuilding his beliefs:
1. Use Rating Scales
Nobody’s beliefs are perfectly-constructed and 100% indestructible. Scales can help you get Bruce to admit it—to you and to himself.
To use scales, ask Bruce how strong his belief is on a scale of 1 to 10.
- If he says a low number like a 6, ask why it’s so low.
- If 8 or a 9, ask why not 10.
Bring their beliefs down an extra notch by finding undeniably stronger ones to compare to. For example, “If Fort Knox is a 9.5 out of 10 on indestructibility, how would you rate this room you built with plywood when you were a teenager?”
2. Get Them Hypothetically Redeveloping
Ask questions like:
- What facts would change your mind?
- Under what conditions could [insert belief] be wrong?
- How could that belief be wrong?
Be patient when Bruce has a hard time coming up with a good answer. It’s harder than you think. To have some sympathy, ask yourself the same questions about your own cherished beliefs. (This is one of our favorite exercises for opening your mind.)
If Bruce can’t or won’t answer, show him how it’s done. Have him ask you the same question, answer it, then ask him again to try.
✓ Save Your Breath
“While you are actively learning about someone else, you’re passively teaching them something else.”Daryl Davis
No amount of huffing and puffing is going to blow Bruce’s house down. So shut up and listen.
You know you’ve done an amazing job at actively learning and listening if you can put Bruce’s beliefs in your own words so clearly that he says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
✓ Hold the Facts
Facts are as counter-productive as sledgehammers at changing someone’s mind. Bruce’s beliefs haven’t come crashing down on top of him so far, so your nerdy calculations done with measuring tape and levels won’t make a difference.
It’s a different story when it comes to making someone’s mind. Then, facts can help. But that only happens once Bruce has torn down his beliefs and is ready to rebuild.
Facts help people make their minds, but they don’t help change them.
End With Style
You’re unlikely to change someone’s mind in a single conversation. Follow these strategies to make the most progress possible:
✓ Give Them Face-Saving Excuses
Soften the blows to Bruce’s ego by giving him excuses for being “wrong.”
Try something along the lines of, “Thirty years ago, that style of belief was widely accepted as the best and it’s costly to renovate, so it makes complete sense to wait until the right moment.” Or, more generally, “These issues are really frustrating and difficult. We’re all doing the best with what we’ve got.”
Basically, you’re saying the opposite of, “I told you so.”
✓ Leave on a High Note
As soon as Bruce starts rearranging or redesigning his beliefs the way you’d like, shake his hand, say thanks, and head out the door.
This uses what psychologists call the peak-end theory to your advantage. People don’t remember events based on an average of every moment but based on the most intense point and the last one. So even if most of your conversation is a 5 out of 10 on average, if you have a high point of a 7 (maybe a good joke or a strong point of agreement) and end with an 8, Bruce will remember it as a 7.5.
✓ Don’t Leave Them All Alone
“You can’t expect someone to change their mind if you take away their community too. You have to give them somewhere to go.”James Clear
Soon enough, Bruce’s old friends and family members will come over, see what he’s done, not like it, and whip out their sledgehammers. You can’t always be there to help him defend himself, so leave him the tools and strength to do so.
Connect Them to a Community
Introduce Bruce to other people who have done similar remodeling. Share Instagram accounts or Facebook groups with him. Subscribe him to magazines or newsletters on the topic. Invite him to relevant events.
Leave Some Info Behind
Like a Jehovah’s Witness, leave some relevant material with Bruce that he can leaf through once you leave. This could be podcast episodes, books, or internet articles.
These are good things to end on and useful conversation starters if you come back later to pick up where you left off.
✓ Let Them Do the Work
A man convinced against his willUnknown
Is of the same opinion still
Resist the urge to do the work for him. If you do everything yourself or force him through it, a couple weeks from now Bruce will look at his foreign design, not remember what the hell he was thinking, and replace it with what he had before.
They’re Bruce’s beliefs. He built them and he has to take them down and remodel them himself.
Give Belief Remodeling a Try
Since researching how to change someone’s mind and summarizing it into this Belief Remodeling approach, I’ve found more and more opportunities to try it in real life. I’ve tried it with Kim, with Uber drivers, and with my crazy barber who said he can be as evil as he wants to be and still get into heaven thanks to Jesus. And I’m using it on this blog, like in this post on How To Wipe After Peeing.
Try it next time you feel the urge to pull out your sledgehammer. It won’t come naturally but it’s not that hard. It’s even kind of fun. Most importantly, it works.
More On How to Change Someone’s Mind
My favorite resources from my research on how to change someone’s mind:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Originally published in 1936, this classic doesn’t get old because our brains don’t change.
- How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide, by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay. An instruction manual on changing people’s minds. Each chapter has increasingly advanced lessons.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. Six scientifically-backed and psychology-based ways to persuade people.
- Love + Radio’s podcast episodes, The Silver Dollar and How to Argue. A black musician named Daryl Davis explains how he has managed to befriend dozens of Ku Klux Klan members and change their minds about racism.
- Example of belief remodeling: Our post on How to Wipe After Peeing demonstrates many of the techniques. It was supposed to be used as an example in this post, but morphed into a post of its own.
- Change your own mind. Read our posts from our previous newsletters on how to be more open-minded today and how to keep an open mind.