Changing minds

I recently had a client who was determined to change his wife’s mind about something that he disagreed with. He was frustrated and upset that she wouldn’t “listen to reason.” He had explained to her how ridiculous her point of view was. He had told her that her thoughts and beliefs defied logic. Somehow, all of that had failed to convince her.

How is it that people change their minds?

Interestingly enough, the answer is embedded in the question. People, over time, develop thought and beliefs that are based on their experience, knowledge, and interactions with others. Once formed, those thoughts and beliefs become part of the person. They help him or her define who he/she is. As long as those thoughts and beliefs enable him/her to go about life in a reasonably good way, they remain unquestioned and firm.

However, when these thoughts and beliefs are challenged or questioned, a person must then either examine them or defend them. For most people, these thoughts and beliefs are so much part of them that questioning them would require a major internal reorganization. So what they do is to defend them. If the person came to these thoughts and beliefs in a reasoned way, then he/she will have a logical argument or facts to back up his/her point of view. If they were formed because of experiences, then he/she may have personal examples he/she can cite that make the thoughts and beliefs seem valid and reasonable.

However, if, upon examination, the person finds that his/her facts were wrong or the conclusions he/she drew were not well founded, then he or she can change his/her mind.

And therein lies the challenge. Because when we have formulated thoughts and beliefs that have become part of ourselves, it is very hard to give them up, even when we may understand that they are not well thought out or valid any longer. Coming to a different point requires quite literally, a change of mind. All of the neural pathways that we have been reinforcing for a long period of time now need to be changed. Now, A no longer leads to B, it leads to C, and that is difficult to hold onto when it has led to B for so long.

In many cases people really resist change. They say things like “that’s the way I am” and “I have always disliked (fill in the blank) and I always will” and despite facts to the contrary, they will maintain their old thoughts and beliefs.

For people who like to influence others, it is important to know a few things:

1. Change of thoughts and beliefs takes time. People do not change overnight and certainly not as the result of one discussion, no matter how hot and heavy. You can wear someone down, but that doesn’t mean you’ve changed his/her mind. Change is a process that goes on internally and pushing from the outside does not hurry the inside.

2. The more one badgers the other, the less likely the other is to consider the facts and arguments on the other side. When badgered and nagged, people generally will try all the harder to hold onto what they believe. Generally it will cause the other to solidify his/her opposition to the new idea. At that point it becomes a struggle for his/her identity and integrity as a person.

3. Arguing beyond a certain point may yield what looks like victory, but in the end, the other will either return to opposition later or passive aggressively oppose the other side.

How to be effective:

Trust that the other person is a healthy, intelligent person and that he/she is capable of thinking for him/herself and that if he/she is given information, he/she will examine it and decide what to do with it.

Give the person the time and space to consider things. Understand that relationships are not about how wins and who loses, who converts who to their point of view. Relationships are about mutual respect, so be respectful.

Be patient.

And most of all, understand that you yourself might sometimes need to rethink your own thoughts and beliefs.

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