22 Jan 2016

3 Ways to Shift Someone’s Thinking


Haranguing just doesn’t work. Or shouting ‘you’re wrong’. I’ve tried them both – and heard others do it too – it’s like trying to stop concrete setting by screaming at it.

So what other approaches might work? If we understand that the other person genuinely, indubitably, absolutely believes they are right and accept that there might just be a teeny weeny chance that they are right, then that understanding is a good place to start.

Be prepared to actively listen.

When we believe that the other person is wrong, then we slip into cosmetic listening. We put on our ‘listening face’ and wait patiently for them to finish their (pointless) point. The trouble with the ‘listening face’ is it doesn’t fool anyone; your eyes might be looking at mine and your head might be cocked to the side but I can see that all your energy is focussed on what you’re going to say next. Only by really, actively listening will we discover any loose threads to the other person’s argument that we can pull on -gently – to unravel the logic they are relying on. Or (heaven forbid) by actively listening, you might just start to see things differently. Either way, it’s a great (and respectful) place to start.


I don’t mean interrogation – but rather the genuinely curious kind of questioning borne out of wonder about how the perspective can be maintained in light of the factors that have persuaded you that you’re right. Whether it’s a plan that the other wants to adopt, and you can see exactly why it wouldn’t work; or a viewpoint about another person that you think is unfair and fails to recognise certain actions or behaviour sufficiently. By asking ‘what about when she did…’ or ‘ if we do that, how will we overcome….’ imbued with a tone of ‘you might have thought of something that I haven’t,’ you will likely shine a light on an area of the idea that has been mentally unexplored.


Once you’ve asked your questions and are listening (actively) to the response, try to look among the information pouring forth for some morsel that you can (genuinely) agree with. If you can’t find one, then look for something that you can (sincerely) acknowledge as true for the other person. I can’t stress enough the need for sincerity, otherwise you will sound like one of those recorded telephone messages that makes you want to throw the handset against the wall (‘your call is important to us…). Once you’ve found that, you can move on to make your alternative point without articulating disagreement, and in a tone of voice that is respectful and indicates that you are not coming from a place of ‘rightness’ but rather just an alternative viewpoint.