There’s an old saying that goes, “It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.” Although this was used in a slightly derogatory way, as if all women are fickle and indecisive, the ability to change their minds is a positive trait.
Too often, people become rigid about their opinions and refuse to budge, as changing their minds on an issue makes them weak and immature. But the ability to decide that you used to feel one way about something, and now you feel differently, is mature and thoughtful.
No matter how stubborn you are, there will be times when you will falter, and other times when you will want to influence someone else.
A study from Cornell University states: “Changing one’s opinion is arguably one of the most important challenges of social interaction. The underlying process proves difficult to study; it is difficult to know how one’s opinions are formed and whether and how one’s views change.”
So the researchers looked at almost two years of posts on ChangeMyView, a Reddit forum where posters post an argument and then invite people to reason against it.
Topics cover everything from “Big business is good” to “Near-death experiences are pretty good evidence of an afterlife.” Commenters are asked to explain their reasoning at length, and also require that responders let others know when their view has changed and explain what changed it.
By analyzing these dialogues, the researchers were able to study exactly what persuades people (outside a laboratory). There are a few things to remember when trying to change someone’s mind.
Here’s how to change someone’s mind fast.
1. First, find out if the person is open to other ideas.
The researchers noted that the language a person uses to express their original thought can reveal whether their thought is changeable or not.
The researchers found that first-person pronouns like “I” indicate whether a thought is malleable, but first-person plural pronouns like “we” suggest the opposite.
Adjustable views were expressed more positively by using words like “help” and “please” as well as more adjectives and adverbs.
2. It’s a numbers game.
The study found that the more people tried to persuade the original poster to change their opinion, the more likely the person was to change it. Think there is strength in numbers.
3. Timing is everything.
If you are one of the first people to respond to a post, you are more likely to convince the original poster than those who respond later.
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4. Always use calm language.
Yes, speaking quietly can be boring, but quiet speech is also perceived differently. It’s all about avoiding the words that excite us and get us all worked up.
More muted, less incendiary language can put people right on your side.
5. Use specific examples to get your point across.
As humans, we like concrete and simple material that we can easily process.
Articles defined as “the” rather than “a” and phrases such as “for example”, “for example” and “e.g.” found in winning arguments. Also, linking to supporting material can really help sway someone to your side.
6. Do not quote the person to yourself.
When trying to change a person’s mind, it can be tempting to do so.
But the study found that directly quoting the person whose mind you’re trying to change can backfire. That’s because it can seem like you’re criticizing them, rather than trying to sway them.
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7. Limit the amount of exchanges.
The study also found that while an argument may involve a lot of back and forth, it may not work in your favor.
In fact, many comments (more than three or four) between the original poster and the challenger do not change the person’s mind.
Convincing someone to change their mind is no easy task, and even with these suggestions it can sometimes be impossible. But if you substantiate your claims and approach the situation civilly, you can be successful.
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Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She has had articles in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, and Woman’s Day. Visit her website or Instagram.