How to Change Someone’s Mind When It Matters

Have you ever needed to know how to change someone’s mind? Did you ever see a great opportunity (or problem) for your company-- and your boss or coworkers didn’t see it at all?

2 business people trying to persuade each other. Text-- 'Effective persuasion: psychology & examples, plus a workbook with vocabulary & examples of Persuasion at Work.'

Or you might be working on a critical danger like climate change that can only be avoided if people unite to take action.

How can you convince people who disagree with you to change their perspective?

When there is a clear solution to a problem and no one feels threatened, persuasion can be simple.

But so often prior experiences and emotions complicate human responses. Even with convincing evidence, you may find it hard—or nearly impossible—to change someone’s mind.

It’s important to understand the obstacles to persuasion and to be realistic about your chances. It’s still worth trying when the issue is important! Here are the best ways to convince people (based on evidence of what has worked.)

Jump to the section on

Learning How to Change Someone's Mind

An excellent Forbes article points out that “the single most effective persuasion technique is also the easiest to master.” What is it?

Really listen to people before you begin to argue or explain. Learn their fears and dreams and what they want to see happen.

Then you can show them (if it’s true) how the change you’re proposing can help create that future they want to see. You'll be prepared to explain how it can help avoid what they (& you) fear could happen.

Don’t talk statistics at this point—paint a vivid picture of the ways things could be better. Facts and evidence matter. So does their trust that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re being honest with them. But it’s when that picture reaches their heart that change can happen.

The essentials of that process of persuasion have been clear for thousands of years. (Aristotle pointed out the need for all three parts of the process):

1. logic and evidence that your idea will work,

2. giving people a reason to trust your motives and that you know what you’re talking about, &

3. appealing to emotion—the desires, hopes, and fears that are the strongest human motivations.

The Neuroscience Behind Changing Someone's Mind

These ideas have been used effectively for centuries. However, neuroscientists have been learning more about why they work—the reasons our brain reacts as it does.

Their research suggests how to make your arguments even more effective. I found several fascinating articles, but I want to mention two on ‘framing’ in particular. “Frames” are mental categories our brains use to sort and make sense of our experiences.

A (long) article by Vox again emphasizes the importance of listening to the values of the “other” side. Using the arguments that convince us is rarely effective in convincing those who don’t already share our beliefs. Instead, we need to consider what matters to them. Then we can “frame” our arguments based on their perspective and values.

Vox discusses the results of a technique called “deep canvassing." It involves talking little but asking open-ended questions, then more questions. “In talking about their own lives, the voters engage in what psychologists call ‘active processing.’ The idea is that people learn lessons more durably when they come to the conclusion themselves…”

A Fast Company article explains the neuroscience of framing in detail. It gives some great examples of persuading people at work by reframing an argument to show how it helps reach their goals.

Start by understanding their concerns, then show your proposal meets them. “The point is to influence them by finding enough common ground to win them to your side…”

Want to Change Someone's Mind? Your Words Matter!

Think of the power of the words in well-known speeches like those of Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. They changed history with their words. Steve Jobs helped shape the thinking of a generation.

Choosing the best word for your purpose can make a significant difference in the way people respond to your suggestions. Check out the discussion of connotations on Why the Right Word Matters.

What if You Don’t Have a Large English Vocabulary to Choose From? 

There are a few 'power words' that are crucial for arguments, from persuading a colleague to convincing a client of the value of your service. They can persuade a family member to accept a friend or tolerate a decision you have made.

You probably know many or most of these words already, but you may not remember to use them when you speak.

Persuasion at Work e-book cover.

A businesswoman explaining something to a businessman.

I’ve made a workbook with examples of common English phrases to persuade a coworker, boss, or client to consider your idea.

It also includes ways to argue against an idea you think would be harmful and ways to ask the opinions of others.

Many of the examples are incomplete 'sentence starters.' To get the most value from this workbook, copy the ones you might need and complete the sentences.

Then practice using them in a conversation with a friend-- or even by yourself.

After the examples there are matching exercises (to practice meanings).

Then there is a list of about 100 important word families (often a verb and related noun and adjectives) to use in these discussions.

At the end of the workbook are links to videos to help you pronounce English vowels and some of the more difficult words.

If you’re interested in the workbook, complete the form below so I can send it to your email address. As I mentioned, I will not share your name or email address with anyone, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Note: If you sign up, you should get an email soon asking you to "confirm your subscription." (This ensures no one else signed you up without your permission.) If you don't see the email, check your spam folder.

When you click "Yes," it should take you to a short page with a link to download your pdf. If you have any questions, please contact me via a link in the blue section at the bottom of this page. I hope you find it helpful!

HomeAdvanced Communication Skills in English  > How to Change Someone’s Mind

Didn't find what you needed? Explain what you want in the search box below. (For example, cognates, past tense practice, or 'get along with.') Click to see the related pages on EnglishHints.

site search by freefind advanced

New! Comments

What do you think about what you just read? Leave me a comment in the box below.
Enjoy this page? Please share it (link to it.) Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.