Have you ever had a conversation with someone you disagreed with and no matter what you said or how you explained your viewpoint, no progress was made? You are not alone. Millions of people around the world spend their time trying to change other’s minds and convert them to their own way of thinking each day. Instead of trying to change someone else’s mind, try helping them change their own mind. This strategy is much more effective and necessary for civil, pleasant conversation and persuasive arguments. There are four keys to helping another person change their own mind: 1) Ask Questions, 2) Understand, 3) Agree, and 4) Plant Seeds.
Strategy consultants are paid to solve large-scale problems for Fortune 500 companies around the world. Before making recommendations to the CEO about he should really run his or her company, they ask a series of structured questions to tease out the issues. These questions are to both understand the business model and identify the main issue. In the same way, your conversation should start out with questions that help you pinpoint the anchor of the underlying beliefs about the issue.
Psychologist Stephanie Parmely says, “When trying to change someone’s mind, we often lead with our own perspective and what the other person needs to do to change.” Instead of leading with your own perspective, understand the viewpoint of the other. Be genuinely interested in why they believe what they believe. As you ask questions, ask follow-up questions to make sure you understand fully.
Once you fully understand their perspective on the issue, say these words “I agree with you…” Then pick something in their perspective’s view that concurs with what you believe. It can be as simple as “I agree with you that all people should have access to basic healthcare”. You may disagree with how “all people” should get access to healthcare, but the principle is the same. Why do you agree? By agreeing, you lower the other person’s barrier, forge common ground, and show you believe a part of their perspective.
After you have asked questions, understood their perspective, and agreed with a piece of their perspective, plant seeds for change. To plant seeds for change, ask a couple of critical questions that will cause them to evaluate their argument through a new lens and get the wheels spinning. These questions must address the anchor of their perspective and be said in a kind, non-demeaning way. The goal is not to convince the person on the spot but to have them thinking about why they believe what they believe through a new lens. If you accomplish these steps, the other person will at the very least be more understanding of your perspective and at the very best in alignment with your perspective.