No matter how right you know you are, the person you want to convince to think differently isn’t looking for facts or logic.
To influence means you affect a change or shift in thinking. Influence doesn’t mean to force or teach someone; to influence thinking is to prompt insights that could expand the way someone thinks, possibly affecting their choices and behavior.
When you argue, trying to convince someone to see things differently, they feel as if you are making them wrong. Often, they feel as if you think they are stupid. This triggers their anger or shame. Either emotion blocks them from hearing you even if your intention is to help them grow or heal.
It is important that your intention to influence someone to see a bigger picture must be because you want them to achieve something important to them, not because you want to be right or feel heard. Let them know what goal you want to help them achieve. Or ask if a different perspective of the situation would help them understand the reasoning behind others’ beliefs or actions. They must feel your intention is to help reach their goal, or a mutual goal. Words aren’t enough. They must trust you care is genuine and you aren’t there just to get what you want.
Follow the steps below for engaging someone in a conversation. After a few minutes, you can evaluate if it feels like you might be able to move toward a mutual understanding or not.
If there has been no movement in the conversation after a few minutes, thank them for the chance to share your views and ask if you can come back to the topic in the future. Often, they will consider the value of the opportunity after your conversation is over and be more open the next time. If this doesn’t happen, then let it go if you can. You will live with less stress than trying to engage with a brick wall.
If you go into the conversation feeling care and respect for the person, and then remain calm throughout the interaction, your chances to influence their thinking rise. Frequently stop and take a breath to stay emotionally centered. You can find ways to regulate your emotions on this blog post, How to Manage Your Emotional Reactions.
Notice when you begin to feel irritated and want to defend your point of view. Exhale and remember you are hoping for a chance to influence, not coerce their thinking. Let your tension subside. This will also give you time to assess how to relate your point of view to their perspective, or at least to recall your mutual outcome.
Notice the urge to interrupt or even insult the person. Return to your feeling of positive regard.
Does the person’s aggressiveness shut you down or elevate your anger? Remember they are protecting their point of view and self-concept, which feel challenged in the moment. If you stay calm, their emotions might subside. If their defensiveness increases, calmly state you don’t feel like you will come to a mutual understanding and would like to move on.
Do your best not to get tangled in their reactions. If you are calm, comfortable. and present to the other person, you might see opportunities to acknowledge their ideas and encourage exploration.
You can’t convince a closed mind, but you can influence someone once they open up to you.