How to Change Someone’s Mind: 10 Key Steps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Can you learn how to change someone’s mind? How does it work and what communication techniques can you use?

Learning how to change someone’s mind isn’t easy. People are often set in their ways and are inclined to hold on to their beliefs. But with good communication, you can learn how to change someone’s mind.

Keep reading to find out how to change someone’s mind and more tips from How to Win Friends and Influence People.

How to Change Someone’s Mind Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

Do you want to know how to change someone’s mind for real? There’s a way you can learn how to change someone’s mind without forcing them or bullying them, and you can do it without them resenting you. Keep reading to learn how to change a person’s mind.

1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

  • It’s always easier to listen to unpleasant things after hearing praise about our good points. Without praise, it just sounds completely critical without any appreciation of the hard work done.
  • Avoid being formulaic with the praise. [This is stereotyped in the corporate world as the “shit sandwich” – when it’s used formulaically, you just wait for the real meat of the criticism in the middle.] Tactics:
    • Be sincere with your praise. You have to actually appreciate the work to sound genuine.
    • Give specific praise about specific items well done, rather than generalities.
  • This is even more effective when the person knows you are upset with the work and have come to complain – sincere appreciation is a surprise and makes the person receptive to your feedback and can be effective in learning how to get someone to change their behavior.

2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.

  • Avoid the direct surgical attack. People typically know what they’ve done wrong, and calling explicit attention to it feels like issuing an order, which invites resistance. 
  • With an oblique approach, you allow the person to come to her own conclusion more. It also allows them to save face, thinking something like, “I had a good reason for the last mistake, but no longer! I am resolved to right the ship.”
  • Tactics for how to change a person’s mind
    • Follow your sincere praise NOT with “but” but rather with “and.” Contrast: 
      • “You’ve done an excellent job working hard, but you could have prevented these careless mistakes.” vs 
      • “You’ve done an excellent job working hard, and if you focus next on building a checklist, you’ll improve your accuracy rate.”
      • This avoids the negative detraction of feeling failure. 
    • If a task is slipping, do it yourself, then show the work to the person. This sets a proper example of diligence.

3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.

  • Giving unilateral feedback gives the impression of an overbearing, perfect overlord chastising a flawed underling. It diminishes the person’s importance.
  • Admitting your own mistakes shows that you recognize the task is difficult and the person’s mistakes are understandable; implicitly encourages the person to rise to your level; effaces your own importance to match that of your partner.
  • Adopt the genuine attitude that you are doing better primarily because you have considerably more experience, leading to high personal standards that are currently above others’ capabilities. 
    • This includes your relationship with entry-level employees and children. How can you expect a 10-year-old to make the same decisions you do at age 40? Did you do the same when you were 10?
  • Tactics for how to get someone to change their behavior
    • “You’ve made a mistake, but it’s no worse than many I have made. You were not born with judgment. That comes only with experience, and you are better than I was at your age.”

5. Ask questions instead of giving orders.

  • Asking questions has plentiful benefits:
    • It allows your partner to come to her own conclusions independently. People like their own ideas better.
    • It preserves agency, importance, and pride. Instead of following someone else’s orders, the person is now following her own. They have ownership in the path forward. This is part of learning how to get someone to change their behavior.
    • It stimulates the creativity of your partner. New better ideas might actually surface.
  • Tactics
    • “You might consider this.” “Do you think that would work?” “What do you think of this?”
    • When the solution is unclear to you, ask your staff.
    • [See the Socratic method chapter above.]

6. Let the other person save face.

  • People crave importance. If you bulldoze this importance away, the person will resent you and become more difficult to influence later. Let them preserve their pride even when receiving feedback.
  • The book doesn’t give clear directives on a general way of how to do this, but it centers around preserving the person’s pride and what they care about.
    • Acknowledge that mistakes are done out of momentary carelessness or inexperience, and not lack of ability.
    • If there is a misfit with a role, focus on the person’s other strengths and lift those up.
    • Express confidence publicly in the person who made the mistake, to preserve the person’s social bonds (and avoid making her toxic). Avoid embarrassing her publicly.
    • If letting people go, express that it was not due to the quality of their work, but the changing needs of the business. The business is rooting for them and believes in their potential.

7. Praise every slightest improvement.

  • Praising every improvement inspires the other person to keep on improving.
    • [I’m bad at this. A fear I have is that praising someone gives them an early reward, preventing them from reaching the full goal. Similar: declaring your weight loss goals publicly is self-defeating, because you already gain some amount of the social recognition you crave. 
    • In reality, I should realize that people crave importance like food, and giving them a little will make them hunger for more.]
  • Look back on your life and remember moments where just a few words of praise sharply turned your entire future. You can have this impact on others.
  • Tactics
    • Give specific praise. Single out a specific accomplishment, instead of general flattering remarks. This makes your praise sound more sincere, and also forces you to find genuine points of appreciation.
    • Some relationships, especially parents and work, have evolved into a vicious cycle of yelling. The parent gives no praise, the child resists, the parent yells at the child, the child resists further, the parent yells more loudly to get any result. You must break out of this vicious cycle to build a virtuous cycle

8. Give the person a fine reputation to live up to.

  • People want to feel important. Being valued for certain traits or their reputation makes them feel important, and they will work to continue feeling important.
  • If you want to improve something about a person, act as though that trait were already one of her outstanding characteristics.
  • Tactics
    • To an angry customer: “I have always admired you for your fairness and patience, and I you to apply those today. Please forgive us for our mistakes.”
    • To someone who’s rejected you: “I have respected your open-mindedness and and are big enough to change your mind if presented with new facts.”
    • Try this for people who are historically underappreciated – find a trait of theirs you want to emphasize. 
    • [If a person has a poor reputation for what you want to improve, reversing it may sound disingenuous. Instead, praise a related character trait the person prides, then obliquely connect it to the reputation. For instance, a person may be hard-working but make many careless mistakes – praise the diligence, and how by focusing hard, they can overcome their carelessness.]

9. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

This is an important part of learning how to change a person’s mind.

  • If you tell someone they lack the talent and will never be good at something, you have removed interest and hope for improvement.
  • Instead, tell them they have the right talent and fundamentals, but just need to practice to get better. Make the steps easy to do.
  • Tactics
    • Connect it to something they’ve mastered in the past. “There’s nothing to it other than ___. You’ve done ___ before. X will be a cinch for you.”

10. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

The last step of learning how to change someone’s mind is being able to encourage a positive response to them changing their mind.

  • Always keep the other person’s interests and incentives in mind. Link your suggestion with meeting their interests.
  • Ask yourself what it is the other person really wants. Then consider the benefits that person will receive from doing what you suggest.
  • [This can sound disingenuous when someone is doing it to you, talking only about your interests without theirs. You suspect that not everything is being revealed. One way to avoid sounding disingenuous is to acknowledge why you want the action upfront, then talk about the benefits you both enjoy.]
  • Tactics
    • When rejecting someone for a responsibility, intimate that they’re too important for the role.
    • If turning down a social event or invitation to speak, offer up an alternative – a substitute speaker, another time to meet.
    • Make people feel important with new responsibilities, job titles.
    • [Consider making a cheat sheet of what different people care about, then when announcing big changes or requests, tie it to that person’s unique interests.]
How to Change Someone’s Mind: 10 Key Steps

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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