David McRaney’s book, ‘How Minds Change’ is an insightful read. When I pre-ordered it, I was sent a PDF which had some interesting stories and a ‘Persuasion Quick Sheet’ outlining how to change someone’s mind in 10 steps. Whether you manage it or not using this process is – in my mind – irrelevant. Rather it outlines a successful way to navigate opposing views – viewing them as conversations rather that a debate.
Human brains have evolved to reach consensus—sometimes on the facts, sometimes on right and wrong, sometimes on what to eat for dinner—by banging our heads together. That led to the innate psychology that compels us to persuade others to see things our way, especially when we feel as though others are mistaken, misled, or misguided. Thanks to that innate psychology, we are all capble of changing our minds and changing the minds of others.
To leverage that capability, it’s crucial to avoid debate and start having conversations. Debates have winners and losers, and no one wants to be a loser. But if both sides feel safe to explore their reasoning, to think about their own thinking, to explore their motivations, we can each avoid the dead-end goal of winning an argument. Instead, we can pursue the shared goal of learning the truth.
Persuasion quick sheet – how to change someone’s mind in 10 steps
STEP ZERO: WHY DO I WANT TO DO THIS?
The first step, step ZERO, is to ask yourself why you are so sure. Ask yourself who you trust and why. Admit to yourself that you are likely not an expert on the topic, and that you are basing your attitudes and beliefs on personal experiences, incomplete information, and on experts you trust. Explore, for yourself, why you harbor that trust. Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to change the other person’s mind.
STEP ONE: BUILD RAPPORT
Next, in the conversation, make it your number one priority to build trust and express both curiosity and compassion. It’s important to remember that the other person must be open to all of this. You must ask for consent, and you must remain transparent.
Then, as you open the dialogue, assure the other party you aren’t out to shame them or put them
in a position to be ostracized by their peers. Demonstrate your openness and respect, and work
to collaborate on a shared goal of understanding why you disagree. The goal is to build rapport
and to avoid-us-versus them framing. If your relationship with the other person has suffered from disagreements and arguments in the past, building rapport could take a few conversations. This may take time, but until you establish trust, it’s best not to move on to the other steps.
STEP TWO: ASK THEM TO IDENTIFY THEIR BELIEF
If the issue is fact-based, ask for a claim. This could be anything from “the moon landing is a hoax,” to “cars run on the sadness of ghosts.” Since the rest of the steps will encourage the other person to investigate the personal reasoning they feel supports their claim, both parties must agree on what they will be discussing.
STEP THREE: REPEAT THEIR CLAIM + CONFIRM UNDERSTANDING
Repeat the claim back to the other person in your own words. It’s important to truly listen and understand, and just as important to communicate your understanding. Assure the other person you are listening by asking if you have it right, and when they say you do, move to the next step.
STEP FOUR: IDENTITY THEIR DEFINITIONS AND USE THEIR TERMINOLOGY
Clarify their definitions. Once you have, use their definitions, not yours. From the book: “The problem with most arguments is that we often aren’t actually arguing, because our definitions of the terms aren’t the same as theirs. Take ‘the government,’ for example. You might see it as a collection of civil servants trying to appease their constituents. They might see it as a smoke-filled room where a ring of wicked billionaires share plans to divvy up the country. If you assume that you are both talking about your concept of ‘the government,’ then you end up arguing with yourself rather than focusing on the other person’s ideas.”
STEP FIVE: ON A SCALE OF 1 TO TEN, ASK HOW CONFIDENT THEY FEEL
Ask your conversation partner to put a number on their feeling of confidence. It could be 1 to
10 or 0 to 100. Use whatever you prefer. The idea is to encourage active processing so they can begin to think about their own thinking. From here, ask why that number feels right to them, and hold space for their explanations. You can prompt further exploration by asking “why not higher?” Or “why not lower?”
STEP SIX: ASK YOUR PARTNER TO ARTICULATE THEIR REASONING
Identify the reasons they feel support their confidence. If they offer several, look for what seems common amongst them. The reasons that come to mind might not be the true reasons they feel strongly about the issue. We often avoid introspection and offer provisional justifications at first, sometimes parroting common arguments or offering what seems like a reasonable explanation without considering if there might be something else motivating our certainty or lack thereof.
One way to help someone investigate their thinking is to ask about a particular reason they’ve presented, “If you discovered that was not true, would it change your mind?” If they say no, then you can put that reason aside and continue to explore.
STEP SEVEN: ASK QUESTIONS THAT ENCOURAGE REFLECTION
In this, the most important step, the goal is to help the other person test the reliability of their methods for arriving at certainty on this issue, and maybe others as well. There are many ways to go about asking questions in this step.
You could start by simply asking what method they use to determine their reasons are good. Another variation is to ask if someone else were to look at the same evidence but reach a differ- ent conclusion, how would a third person looking at both of their arguments determine which was true? Whatever they answer, you can keep exploring by asking if someone using their method could arrive at a different or competing conclusion. The goal is to help the other person judge the quality of their reasoning process when it comes to their certainty on this particular belief.
STEP EIGHT: CLARIFY, REPEAT, AND CONNECT TO THEIR VALUES.
Paraphrase as best you can what they’ve shared so far and ask if you’ve heard them correctly. Repeat until it feels like you’ve reached a stopping point, and then feel free to share your own beliefs on the matter. Ask if the other person wants to explore them in the same way you explored theirs. If so, go through the steps yourself. Otherwise, finish with the next step.
STEP NINE: CLOSE WITH APPRECIATION FOR THEIR OPENNESS
Wrap up, wish them well, and part company by suggesting you have more conversations like this in the future.