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September 16, 2020

3 ways to change someone's mind

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Sep. 7, 2022.

    Leaders often must win buy-in from colleagues, partners, and clients who may be skeptical of or disagree with their decisions and choices. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Laura Huang, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and Ryan Yu, an MBA student at the school, detail three strategies that may help leaders change someone's mind.

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    3 ways to change someone's mind

    Huang and Yu spoke recently with over 60 leaders who were attempting to convince their colleagues to change their minds on a certain course of action. According to Huang and Yu, they found that—first and foremost—the leaders who were most successful identified "the root of the fundamental disagreement before trying to persuade," asking themselves: "What's driving my detractor's resistance?"

    From there, the leaders "often pinpointed which aspects of their arguments elicited the most pushback and the most emotional reactions" from the colleagues they were trying to convince," Huang and Yu write. And then, the leaders would tailor their approach with their colleagues using one of three strategies:

    1.  The Cognitive Conversation

    This strategy should be used when someone is opposed to your argument for objective, fact-based reasons with no ulterior motives, Huang and Yu write.

    To have this type of strategic conversation successfully, you need to be equipped with solid arguments and present them effectively. You'll also want to develop a clear, logical storyline and framework for your argument "to force the detractor to reassess their thinking," Huang and Yu write.

    It's important not to bring emotions into this type of discussion, as that could give the detractor the impression that you have no common ground with one another, Huang and Yu write. Ultimately, your goal should be to show to the detractor that their argument isn't as reasonable as yours from an objective, fact-based point of view.

    You'll also have to be specific with your arguments and avoid broad generalizations, according to Huang and Yu. "Be ready to mentally spar with them and come prepared with facts that back up each aspect of your overall argument," they write.

    Huang and Yu caution that, even if you get this type of detractor to agree with you on one instance, it doesn't mean they're likely to agree with you on all instances going forward. "You may have persuaded them on this specific issue, but they may disagree with you again in the future. If that's true, expect to have another cognitive conversation on that separate argument."

    2. The Champion Conversation

    According to Huang and Yu, this strategy should be used in instances where the detractor isn't persuaded by objective arguments or in an instance where a detractor has a specific grievance against you. In these cases, debating will likely be futile, Huang and Yu write.

    Instead, get to know the detractor personally and build a rapport with them, Huang and Yu write. "Here, it's not about arguments or presentation, at least initially, but understanding their perspective and why they might feel personally affronted."

    Then, over time, you can try to convert the detractor into your advocate. "By the time the decision must be made, try to make sure you're both on the same page," Huang and Yu write.

    In this type of situation, Huang and Yu advise that you shouldn't expect your detractor to agree with any future decisions that aren't rooted in logic, even if they ultimately agreed with you this time around. These types of detractors often are adept at sensing if you're attempting to manipulate situations to persuade them, Huang and Yu write, so authenticity is important.

    3. The Credible Colleague Approach

    Sometimes a colleague's personal beliefs are what cause them to oppose your idea, Huang and Yu write. Instead of attempting to argue with them, bring in a credible colleague who is either a peer or a superior and may be in a better position to convince the detractor. The strategy requires the detractor to separate you, personally, from your argument, which may help them evaluate the argument objectively, Huang and Yu write.

    However, Huang and Yu caution that this strategy could backfire and make your detractor more opposed to your argument, especially if they feel like the colleague is trying to force them to take your side. As such, "[i]t's critical to find the right colleague who can tactfully advocate for your position while maintaining a cordial relationship," they write.

    Overall, "[i]t's not easy to have detractors, and it's even harder to change their minds," Huang and Yu write. "The key is to understand the source of their resistance and use a targeted strategy that best resonates with your particular detractor." If you do, "[y]ou'll have a much better chance of getting a 'yes,'" Huang and Yu conclude (Huang/Yu, Harvard Business Review, 7/31).

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