Tips to Help You Change Someone’s Mind

change someone's mind

No megaphone required.

By Yvonne Milosevic

In a perfect world, everyone from work colleagues to friends and family would instantly get on board with all your brilliant ideas. Sadly, our world is far from perfect. We often need to work hard to persuade others to adopt our way of thinking. (For some reason, hitting them over the head with facts and logic doesn’t always get the job done.) If you need to change someone’s mind, these four expert tips will help you get past the obstacles and into the land of agreement.

Tip #1 Ask questions to understand their point of view.

Resistance to your idea could stem from various factors. But you won’t know what those are until you start asking questions and listening without judgment to the replies. Find out what’s important to them. Once you understand the issue from the other person’s perspective, acknowledge their position. You may disagree with them, and that’s okay. But validating their point of view can help break down the initial opposition.

Tip #2 Keep emotions out of it.

You can’t have a productive discussion if the other person feels frustrated, angry, or belittled. Start the conversation with friendly curiosity. If they have a logical reason to oppose your claim, you’ll need to use sound arguments and a good presentation to change their mind, Harvard Business School’s Laura Huang explains.

She says, “The goal is to show the person that, on an objective and factual basis, their initial stance on the situation isn’t as reasonable as your argument.”

Tip #3 Offer a few pre-approved options.

This advice is a favorite of parents of young children everywhere. Offer up some vetted choices and encourage the person to pick their preference. “No one likes to feel like someone is trying to influence them,” says Wharton School marketing professor Jonah Berger.

“Advertising agencies do this when presenting work to clients,” he notes. “Instead of offering one idea, which the client could then spend the rest of the meeting poking holes in, they offer two or three.”

The more you allow for autonomy and allow people to participate in the process, the more effective you’ll be. —Jonah Berger

Tip #4 Bring in a third-party proxy.

It’s nearly impossible to change someone’s mind if they have a personal grievance with you or if your beliefs fundamentally differ. In these cases, Harvard’s Professor Huang suggests bringing in an external supporter to help sway their stance.

“Rather than trying to argue with someone who seems resistant, bring in a credible colleague,” she says. “A champion of your position from another part of the organization, whether they are a peer or superior, may be better-suited to convince this detractor.”

With this move, says Huang, the person must separate you from your argument and might be better able to evaluate the idea based on its objective merits. But make sure to choose the right person for the job. The ideal colleague is one who can advocate for your position while keeping things cordial, Huang notes. 

Bonus Tip: Change someone’s mind with the Scheherazade method.

INSEAD professor Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries has written a brilliant post about how to change someone’s mind taking inspiration from the classic tale of Scheherazade, the narrator of One Thousand and One Nights.  

As a refresher: Scheherazade enchanted the vengeful King Shahryar with a suspenseful story that ended with a cliffhanger every night. Though he planned to behead her in the morning as with his previous brides, the king spared her life to learn the ending of her tale the following evening. The process continued over 1,001 nights, and King Shahryar eventually fell in love with Scheherazade and repented his vindictive ways.

“Many of us find ourselves in difficult circumstances that require influencing people and encouraging them to change,” Kets de Vries writes. “Powerful storytelling can awaken curiosity and challenge people to shift their outlook.”

From resisting imposing your point of view to sowing seeds of doubt to guiding change without force, Kets de Vries makes many connections between how Scheherazade influenced the king and how we can do the same.  

“Words and stories hold more power than we realise,” he says. “After all, if Scheherazade could change the heart of a mass murderer, it shouldn’t be that difficult to change someone’s mind!”