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How To Change Someone’s Mind, According To The Latest Science

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The ability to change someone’s mind when they are set in their ways is an elusive skill. Many of us find it frustrating when we are unable to convince people to our point of view. Even when we know it is the right thing.

Much of what we do to change someone’s mind does not work as well as intended. We’ve been trained on the wrong influence methods. That’s why we have little success in persuading people. New findings in behavioral sciences shows us why the old ways are futile.

We need to stop using our gut instincts in changing people’s minds and attitudes — reasoning, logic, and aggressive selling — because they don’t work. But this does not come readily to us and we need to practice a different approach.

But once we understand how people make their decisions, it becomes clearer and easier. You will find a noticeable and positive change in how people view your suggestions. There will be less resistance and a surprising willingness for them to say yes to you.

How People Decide Whether To Change Their Mind

As humans, we make most of our decisions in our primitive, subconscious minds. Psychologists call this System 1 thinking — an instinctive, emotionally driven part of our brain. This is where we feel fear, pain and pleasure. The areas of our brain that are involved in System 1 thinking evolved first. They kept our early ancestors alive and safe from predators.

The other form of thinking, System 2, is a slower, more rational mechanism. This reflective or conscious system is the part of us that deliberates and analyzes things. As far as we know, exclusive to humans, System 2 thinking is how we cooperate as humans and get ourselves to the moon. System 2 reasoning evolved in humans later.

What the latest science is showing us is that our System 1 processes are primarily responsible for our decision-making. We only think that our analytical minds (System 2) are making the choices. But these so-called reasons we give ourselves are actually a back-fitting of our subconscious decisions to rational reasons. People suffer from an illusion of choice.

Why Is It So Hard To Change Someone’s Mind

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Other startling psychological research has shown that reasoning with people makes them argue with you more. The hypothesis here is that reasoning in humans evolved more for the sake of arguing with others than for decision-making. You can read more on this fascinating topic here:

Why Reasoning With People Is A Waste Of Time: What You Should Do Instead

This is why it is so hard for us to change someone’s mind. We spend our efforts on their rational minds (System 2). But that only makes them argue and resist us all the more.

The good news for us from these findings is that we now have an easy, more reliable way to change people’s minds. You don’t need a complicated approach to convince people to your view. They can be won over by a series of small and easy solutions that work on getting their subconscious minds aligned with you.

Here are 4 easy steps to do this effectively.

1. Work On Changing Their Subconscious Mind

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Initially, this first step where you focus on people’s emotions will be difficult. Our instincts drive us to provide reasons for the choice we provide. You will need to actively suppress this urge because we now know it will hurt your chances at changing people’s mind.

If you rationalize with someone, you will engage their conscious mind, which is not their decision-making power center. The next few steps are the easiest ways to get someone subconsciously aligned with you. If you do this correctly, they will be ready to say yes to you. Now when you provide reasons for listening to you, they will be subliminally pushed to change their mind. And to agree with you.

2. Make Their Needs Your Focus Before Trying To Change Their Mind

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If you are persuading someone, never talk about yourself. Always start with the other person. Make them the center of the conversation.

In his seminal book, The One Sentence Persuasion Course – 27 Words to Make the World Do Your Bidding, Blair Warren teaches us the best way to accomplish this.

The One Sentence Persuasion Course - 27 Words to Make the World Do Your Bidding

People light up when you talk to them about their dreams and aspirations. Who and what they are afraid of. And who is to blame for what they lack. The best persuaders know this and always start here when changing minds.

Let people know you are there for them. And that they can count on you. When they view you this way, you won’t get resistance or arguments from them when you make requests.

3. Use Mental Shortcuts To Change Someone’s Mind

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Most of the time people don’t really know how to decide on something. Our choices are more complex than we are willing to admit. So what do we do? Our minds look for subconscious cues to help us. These mental shortcuts help us make our decisions. But all this happens below our awareness. We think other factors affected what we did.

These mental shortcuts include our tendency to do what we see other people do (social proof), an urge to repay favors others have given us (reciprocity), and putting a higher price on dwindling resources (scarcity).

Behavioral sciences research in this area tells us that almost all successful persuasion works through these unconscious pathways. You can read more on how these principles work here– Cialdini’s 6 Principles Of Persuasion.

Or get it directly from the source book — Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) by Robert Cialdini.

Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion

4. Give Them The Reasons To Change Their Mind

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People are rarely aware that subliminal emotions drive their decisions. Our conscious minds do need to feel in control. So, once our System 1 mind has made a decision, it allows our conscious mind to look for or even invent reasons for this choice.

Thus, the reasons you provide to people don’t need to be great at this point. They have already been won over by you. The nice part is that now they won’t over-analyze your reasons or look to argue with you. Most of their resistance will be automatically pushed aside.

This is how real influence works. The best persuaders in the world operate in this fashion — first connecting with someone and then providing reasons to change our minds.

Final Thoughts On How To Change Someone’s Mind

Getting someone to change their mind and listen to you does not need a complicated solution. If you start influencing people by making analytical appeals, however articulate, you will get little compliance. In fact, this will often make people resist you.

People’s minds can be changed by a series of small and easy steps that work subconsciously on them. Think back on someone who you’ve had a hard time persuading previously. Try out the steps here and see if there is any difference in the outcome. You will find much less resistance to your ideas and will finally be able to make people more receptive to changing their minds.

If you want to get deeper insights and advice on these topics, here are some books that will help you.

Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs. He can be reached at [email protected].


How to change someone’s mind; Decision-Making; How to convince someone to your view; Behavioral Sciences; Opinion-Change; Influence; Persuasion

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