To persuade oneself or another person to alter their perception, opinion, decision, or behavior. For that individual to change their thinking from what it was previous to the interaction.
There are three scenarios when changing someone’s mind:
- An individual is convinced of their own opinion.
- Individuals have a perception or behavior they want to change but cannot.
- A group understands and agrees on the way they currently operate.
We’ll focus on three approaches to these distinct scenarios:
- Permission structure is where one ensures the person changing their mind is offered a path to keep their integrity.
- Motivational interviewing is where the interviewer helps the person find the motivation within themselves to change.
- Leadership storytelling is where narrative delivers a pathway to influence and compel transformational change effectively.
Why Use It
Entrenched beliefs and behaviors are challenging to change because they are connected to one’s identity. Humans are sensitive to when someone else attempts to persuade them and immediately put up their defenses. If the listener feels their freedom or autonomy is threatened, they will behave differently—it is called reactance.
There are four stages in reactance:
- Perceived freedom
- Threat to freedom
- Restoration of freedom
Freedom is a felt experience via one’s actions, attitudes, and emotions. The listener perceives the “freedom,” must be able to participate in it, and feel secure they can engage with it in the future. If that “freedom” is ever at risk of being threatened, restricted, or eliminated, they will almost invariably experience reactance. Depending on the importance of the “freedom” in question, the reaction to losing it can range. Furthermore, losing one can make it feel like other “freedoms” are threatened.
While listeners tend not to perceive their reactance consciously, if they become aware, it often cements their held beliefs. In that state, the listener then works to reestablish the threatened freedom. In most cases, individuals review their options for any choice, and the resulting behavior stems from that counterforce to ensure their freedom.
When to Use It
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize synaptic connections—change your mind literally. It is possible for people to change their minds, and that in turn alters their physical brain matter. For yourself, it can mean changing negative or unwanted behaviors; for others, it means changing their mindset.
The idea is to help someone change, not prove them wrong. More information can affect a listener’s opinion if someone generally agrees with you and you’re attempting to impart a nuance to a listener’s thinking.
It is common to challenge those who disagree with you. In this case, more information can be unproductive. Confirmation bias, the propensity to analyze new information as proof of one’s current views, plays a significant role. A threatened viewpoint seeks to justify itself, and additional information will encourage listeners to cement their thinking.
First and foremost, you must have the listener’s trust. It helps if there’s something in it for them and they’re receptive to change. The process begins on common ground, asking the listener to explain how their current belief is built and then asking them to identify flaws in their argument.
- Permission Structures guide a listener to adopt a new viewpoint by helping them find a rationale consistent with their core beliefs. It offers an avenue to keep one’s integrity while changing their mind.
- Motivational Interviewing works to help those with behaviors that pose a threat to the recipient. It works to convert ambivalence into self-motivation by focusing on the importance of change, the ability to change, and why they should prioritize it.
- Leadership Storytelling inspires listeners to change by delivering a sharp, realistic, and timely narrative by a trusted and passionate speaker.
How to Use It
Changing minds, even with people who disagree with you, is possible by defeating traditional thinking traps. Evade these methods to “win” arguments and focus on collaborative ways to engage in discussion. So, put down your sledgehammer, put all the information on a bookshelf, and help someone.
There are several mental barriers to overcome:
- Overconfidence in the listener’s thinking can stop them from seeing gaps in their understanding.
- Stubbornness is often seen as a virtue societally under the guise of “standing up for what you believe in.” The double-edged sword makes humans less likely to give ground. Asking questions rather than delivering answers can ease this innate response.
- Narcissism is marked by a belief in the listener’s superiority. They have difficulty seeing how they could be incorrect. Someone affected by this mindset has high but volatile self-esteem—beware of insulting or shaming them. Help the listener acknowledge their imperfection as a first step.
- Disagreeable folks enjoy conflict and want to enter into an argument before ceding ground. Engaging and meeting them with animated discussion is essential in winning them over.
There are strategic positions to engage with different kinds of listeners:
- The Reasoner disagrees with an argument objectively and holds little emotional attachment to why they have that belief. They require a well-researched rational discussion to disprove their current thinking. By delivering a straightforward narrative and logical argument, they will listen, refute, and potentially agree with you vocally.
- The Entrenched are emotionally tied to their belief. In this case, resistance is based on self-identification with the held belief. Using a questioning method can lead to more pliable thinking. Alternatively, asking another person to help step in to convince the listener can help move them in the right direction.
- The Champion is a would-be advocate that disagrees with you until they feel committed to the relationship. It is more important to garner this person’s support than immediately argue a point. Once a strong rapport is established, bring up any well-thought issues to them.
There are best practices for any rational or emotional discussion:
- Is it important enough? Evaluate whether you need to spend the time and effort to change their mind.
- Be open to their thinking and prove that you can also be a listener in the proper forum.
- Do not gang up on the listener by discussing in a group setting.
Reframe the conversation to one where the listener wins by choosing a new viewpoint.
- Compliment them on what traits such as their empathy and thoughtfulness genuinely. They will want to continue to earn those words.
- Find out where they’re coming from by asking them to describe how they came to believe in their opinion. Similarly-minded folks often deliver views without provoking a response from the listener.
- Discover common ground and agree on something specific before moving into more challenging terrain.
- Ask questions rather than give answers. Make it a discussion where you’re both finding gaps. Allow them to illuminate new thinking and agree with them. Direct the conversation by asking focused questions.
- Invert their thinking by asking them to play devil’s advocate and argue the opposite.
Permission Structures are a technique that welcomes listeners to ask why. Valuing others’ thinking encourages questioning assumptions. In situations where power dynamics afford one party more authority, it is imperative to have open channels for communication.
The concept offers four ways to avoid reactance:
- Present listeners with a choice. When folks do not have one, they may not feel their agency in a discussion. By giving them options, they’ll be prone to accept one.
Allow listeners to produce options. Instead of creating options, present a problem and let them come to their conclusions.
- Mind the gaps by highlighting one when you hear it. Get them to pull the thread of whatever thinking got them to this point. By pointing out a discrepancy between an attitude and action, one can help the listener see a new perspective.
- Social proof, noting how peers have chosen differently, is another way to prove an opinion because humans tend to conform to norms.
Motivational Interviewing is an approach psychologists developed for substance use disorders but has other applications. The idea is to interview individuals and move them from ambivalence to self-motivation. It involves a series of open-ended questions where listeners can analyze themselves and observe their thinking. The listener must communicate an urge to change, and only then can they move forward.
The conceit here is that you are not attempting to change their mind but asking them to rethink their choices for themselves.
There are four principles to the concept:
- Express empathy to the listener by paying respectful attention to what they are communicating and responding to them actively.
- Develop discrepancy by helping the listener understand the difference between their current and future selves.
- Avoid arguments when engaging with an ambivalent listener who does not see the merit in changing yet.
- Support self-efficacy, the listener’s opinion they can achieve their goal, as it is a strong predictor of change.
The stages of change are as follows:
- Pre-contemplation is where the listener analyzes the risks of their behavior. They are not ready to change yet but can entertain harm reduction strategies.
- Contemplation is where the listener thinks about the pros and cons of changing. They are getting ready, finding confidence, and the hope is to aid them in seeing the value.
- Preparation is when the listener sets clear goals and develops a practical plan with steps to get there.
- Maintenance occurs during and after the change has occurred. The listener develops strategies to avert regression.
- Relapse occurs after a regression. The listener restarts the process, aiming to return to contemplation with an open mind.
Leadership Storytelling uses the inherent power of narrative to connect with others and open minds naturally. It is one of the mediums that can spark change by internalizing a conflict and solution in the listener.
The tenants of this narrative pattern are as follows:
- The story pertains to an individual the listener can empathize with and “live a day in their shoes.”
- The story is non-fiction, credible, and about actual events that occurred.
- The story describes the issue at hand where the listener holds an incorrect belief and works to inspire a change of perspective.
- The story should display a before and after of the individual previous to changing and after solving the problem.
- The story is stripped down to its essentials, and details are used to understand the problem better.
- The individual in the story solves the problem in a positive light.
- On hearing the storyteller, the listener should be able to place themselves in the story and “write” their own narrative.
- The storyteller speaks with conviction and is considered credible.
- The storyteller is trusted by the listener, or at least not distrusted.
Change your mind by realizing control over negative behaviors or thinking patterns.
To accomplish this, one can:
- Relabel a feeling or behavior by recognizing it, describing it as unwanted, and noting why it is negative, false, or incorrect.
- Recycling a negative thinking pattern occurs when the brain is stuck in a loop. One learns more about its source by continuing to understand the root cause.
- Actualizing change relies on recognizing the negative feeling, understanding the source, then actively seeking a new worldview. Identifying a message is effective as it adjusts where the focus is placed. Then by choosing to label the thought, it changes value. Over time it can have a powerful effect on understanding and replacing unwanted thinking or behavior.
- Devalue the negative thinking pattern, and it becomes less powerful. By taking the proper steps to identify and change their value, the intensity subsides and becomes less likely to capture one’s attention.
How to Misuse It
Changing someone’s mind about entrenched beliefs or behaviors is hard work and not always possible if the listener is not receptive. While it may seem reasonable to use facts to guide someone to a new way of thinking, it can have the opposite effect, primarily when used as a last resort.
Once you have done your best, it is crucial to let the listener speak for themselves in their own words. While it may not always be what you hope for, the identification of belief is essential regardless of the outcome.
Instead of prosecuting someone’s thinking, take a moment to recognize it will only serve to cement their current position. Actively disagreeing with someone else produces an equal and opposite reaction. To successfully change a listener’s mind, one needs to employ cognitive flexibility.
While it is unlikely you will change someone’s mind in one sitting, it does not mean you have failed. Moreover, ensure that you remain a trusted individual by understanding why they have chosen a particular belief. If the listener starts down a path toward change, that is reason enough to compliment and applaud their efforts.
The Peak-end rule is a cognitive bias that highlights an individual’s memory and how they will remember emotional peaks and the end. Leaving a few positive impressions and ending optimistically can ultimately deliver this outcome.
Finally, remember to give someone a few materials they can look at afterward. It can aid in further learning and growth on the listener’s part and ultimately cement a new belief.
Where it Came From
Motivational Interviewing was first coined by William R. Miller in his 1983 article published in the journal Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy. Miller and Rollnick expanded on this in their 1991 description of clinical procedures.
While the term Permission Structure has been used for many years, it was popularized by Barack Obama and David Axelrod in 2008 as a tactic to use when attempting to affect change in politics.
Esther Choy first described the concept of Leadership Storytelling in her 2017 book, “Let the Story do the Work.”
What Are Mental Models?
Mental models are thinking tools that help guide and shape our perceptions of the world. They simplify complexity so we can understand life better, make decisions confidently, and solve problems.