A Modern Survival Guide Interlude
You’re reading the Modern Survival Guide, a guidebook for navigating and interacting with the modern world. This essay is an interlude, an article that talks about a tip for modern living. This isn’t a philosophical insight, or a deep discussion of human impulses, or an explanation of some major phenomenon; it’s just something people might want to know. And one thing everyone ought to know is how to change someone’s mind.
So I’m going to come right out and say it: you can’t.
Ha! Bait and switch! Nah, but seriously, trying to force someone to adopt your way of thinking or belief is a losing battle. It doesn’t work; we all dig in our heels when someone challenges us directly. So don’t enter any discussion, conversation, or argument with the intention of changing someone’s mind.
Instead of changing someone’s mind, the goal should be finding ways to get them to change their own mind.
It’s a subtle distinction. It’s sneaky. It’s manipulative as hell. And you should know how to do it — if only to recognize when it’s being done to you. So without further ado:
Thirteen Ways to Help Someone Change Their Own Mind
There are several different strategies you can employ here. I’ll go through a few of them, but know that this isn’t an exhaustive list and they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive. Here we go…
- Plant a Seed: Don’t argue, discuss. Most people, when challenged directly, are not going to back down. It’s a pride thing and a mental defense thing. We don’t like to admit when we’re wrong. Instead of trying to get someone to say, “Oh, may bad, all my opinions and beliefs are irrelevant, you’re actually correct,” it’s sometimes a better strategy to give reasonable but non-confrontational opinions, then let the subject come to their own conclusions in their own time.
- Get the Other Person to Commit: People feel better about their decisions once the decision has been made. This is why salesmen the world over try to get to “yes” as fast as possible; once you commit to a purchase, your brain kicks rationalization into overdrive to make you feel good about your choice. Getting someone to commit to an idea similar to yours is an effective strategy to start bringing them the rest of the way over.
- Earn Trust: Most people will listen and accept suggestions from people whom they trust. Being trustworthy is therefore a good way to get someone to buy into your ideas. A good way to do this is to let them talk first, demonstrate that you’re listening, then offer your opinion if they ask for it.
- Cite Sources: Referencing other sources for your information, particularly higher authorities, can help. This takes the form of: “I can’t claim any special knowledge, but if lots of people think something, particularly if they’re important people, it must be true! Right?” Alternately, “God said so!” is a solid standby for religions around the world.
- Pick Their Side: Stating that you’re on someone’s side, even (or perhaps especially) when you’re not will make them more likely to believe your ideas. It takes the adversarial component partly out of the equation and allows them to view your idea in a more neutral or favorable light. Note that this only works if you have the same overall goals.
- Cite Incentives: If you know what motivates a person, couch your idea in those terms. “You said you wanted to reconcile with Aunt May; do you want to invite her to dinner?” is a good way to get Aunt May invited to dinner, even if the subject wouldn’t normally be too keen on Aunt May being there.
- Ask Questions: But don’t be condescending. Asking leading questions in a neutral tone is a way to make people think about what you’re saying without dismissing it out of hand. This usually takes the form of “Have you thought about…?” or “What do you think about…?”
- Use Tailored Language: How you phrase things is important. Using big words can make you sound more intelligent (but only if done well), which can give your arguments some additional punch if the other person values intelligence. If they don’t, the intelligent thing to do is to use simple language instead.
- Make Them Think It’s Their Idea: You do this by making suggestions instead of giving direction, or asking questions, or even declaring your opposition to a particular position (if you’re already on opposing sides from your subject). Then, if they take up your idea as their own at a later point, immediately jump on board (or continue attacking it if you’re on opposing sides — remember, an attack prompts a defense).
- Remove Competing Influences: This is how cults, exclusionary religions, and most political ideologies work. Instead of competing with other ideas, isolate the subject by painting these ideas as evil, treasonous, heretical, etc. Then offer ideas that appeal to the subject on a base emotional level and associate those ideas with yourself (this is also known as “love bombing”). If you do it right, the subject will self-segregate their consumption of information, thereby gradually indoctrinating themselves to your way of thinking.¹
- Use Positive Reinforcement: Praising someone when they have ideas close to your preferred idea is a good way to get them moving in the right direction. Just don’t overdo it; flattery only gets you everywhere if done in moderation. Saying “I think you’re right, that’s a good idea,” is much better than, “OMG YOU’RE A GENIUS, NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN SMARTER THAN YOU!!!” Unless, of course, you’re dealing with a narcissist, in which case there is no such thing as too much flattery.
- Repeat Your Claim: People believe things that they read or hear on a recurring basis. Seriously. People believe things that they read or hear many times. I’m not joking, people believe things that they read or hear a lot. So if you want to help someone convince themselves that you’re right, just repeat your claim over and over. Because people believe things that they read or hear over and over again, persistence pays off.
- Speak Quickly: This is how talk radio and conspiracy theorists (insofar as there is a difference) work. The faster you talk, the less time the subject has to think about what’s being said. They are more likely to believe you simply as the default option, rather than going through all the work of parsing out what you said.
With That Being Said, Be Good
Do you feel a little dirty just having read some of those suggestions? If so, congratulations! You’re not an asshole. Some of those are dirty, dirty tricks. You have a responsibility to be a good person — it’s kind of critical to the whole “living in a nice world with nice people” goal. So take all of this with the following grains of salt:
The ends do not justify the means in most cases.
You should approach every disagreement with respect for the other person in most cases.
You have a responsibility to support the truth in most cases.
You are likely not right about everything you believe, so be humble.²
So be good, for goodness’ sake. And if you feel you must change minds, try to make sure that you’re changing them for a good reason.
¹Hi Fox News! Hi MSNBC! Hi right-wing Christianity! And hi to all you other memetic kidnappers — you know who you are.
²Yes, that includes me. Everyone reading these articles should feel free to challenge me, or disagree with me, or write me off as a kook, I’m not freaking Jesus.