In most areas of life, it’s perfectly acceptable to have differences of opinion. But if someone has an opinion that is problematic or destructive, you may feel compelled to try and persuade that person to your way of thinking. For example, if someone ignores health recommendations, carries bigoted beliefs, or exercises cruelty in certain situations, you may feel a moral obligation to try and move them to a different mode of thinking.
The obvious issue is, most people are difficult to persuade, and don’t change their minds often. This is human nature, so it’s unavoidable.
However, there are many strategies you can implement to increase your likelihood of changing a person’s mind.
Never Resort to Attacks
Your first responsibility is to avoid resorting to a personal attack. It’s not just that personal attacks are unproductive in conversation; they’re actually counterproductive. The problem with an attack is that it triggers a defensive response in the person you’re speaking with, without adding any value to the discussion. On top of that, it makes your side look immature and incapable of presenting valid counterpoints; the person may walk away feeling like your side only resorts to personal attacks.
There are obvious personal attacks, like “you’re such an idiot. That view is completely archaic,” which are tempting if you feel angry or impatient, but are otherwise easier to notice and avoid. But most of us need to be more cautious about subtler attacks, like “that argument is ridiculous.” Don’t be condescending or contemptuous; this isn’t a battle. Instead, remain patient, and try to address each point with a counterpoint—without invalidating their perspective. This is especially important on social media and other public platforms, where observers will see what you’ve written.
Establish Your Own Authority
Next, try to establish your own authority. This is tricky territory, because if you’re too self-aggrandizing, you’ll end up turning people away; a statement like, “well, I’m an expert, so I know better” isn’t going to be effective in changing someone’s mind. Instead, the better idea is to explain where you’re getting your information. Point out statistics you’ve seen and where you’ve seen them. Talk about your personal experience in a given field. Mention books you’ve read and talks you’ve seen. Citing authorities doesn’t automatically make you right, but it can lend power to what you’re saying.
Additionally, if you’re trying to persuade someone via blog or another public platform, work to improve the perceived reputation of that platform. On your blog, make sure you cite plenty of offsite sources, and consider using link building services to get more citations of your own.
Find Common Ground
The most powerful way to persuade someone is to find common ground. Even if we disagree on what seem like big issues, chances are we’re in absolute agreement on our most fundamental core values. Figure out what values you do share with this individual, and try to bridge the gaps from there.
For example, you and a friend may be arguing about the merits of socialism vs. capitalism as economic systems. You may strongly disagree about the “right” way to handle economics in a country, but you probably both agree that we should have an economic system capable of creating the most value for individuals. From there, you can figure out what “value” means and what kinds of value each system is capable of creating.
This is best done in the context of a one-on-one interaction, since establishing common values becomes increasingly difficult as you add new voices to the conversation.
Understand the True Opposing Views
It’s embarrassingly common for people to “straw man” views they don’t agree with. They take the worst, simplest, and/or weakest possible interpretation of a counterargument, and use that as a way to invalidate it. In reality, individuals’ views tend to be much more nuanced and thought-out.
For example, being in favor of better unemployment benefits could be accused of “wanting free money,” but the real arguments are much stronger and better considered. When discussing an idea with someone, take the time to understand the strongest possible version of their view; you’ll be able to carry on much healthier disagreements.
Focus on Incremental Steps
Finally, focus on making incremental steps. Don’t try to bully someone into “joining your side.” Instead, just introduce them to the strongest version of your argument, and take the time to hear what they have to say. True persuasion on fundamental issues takes a long time and a lot of effort, so don’t get impatient prematurely.
You may never be able to change a person’s mind on a given issue, but that’s okay. Sometimes, just exposing a person to new ideas and helping them consider new perspectives can have a positive long-term effect.