Want to change someone’s mind? Use iterative conversations.

First, let’s be clear about what we’re not talking about here. We’re not talking about manipulation. We’re not talking about inception. We’re not talking about reverse psychology, underselling, or any other strategies to get your way.

What we’re talking about is the patience and iterative conversations that you’ll need to help unstick people who are already anchored to a notion that may not be right or helpful.

We all have that friend who likes to shame us or guilt us in order to agree with them. Whether it’s what we’re eating or how much we’re working out, they like to pour on the guilt with tons of hard-hitting facts that aren’t actually very moving. I’m also not talking about that, though it’s a perfect example of how not to do what I’m talking about – and sadly I see it in corporate environments all the time.

It’s also not nagging, pestering, or getting anchored ourselves.

So enough about what it’s not. Imagine, for example, that you find yourself in one of these situations:

  • You want to give someone a raise but your boss doesn’t think they’re worth it.
  • You want to purchase some technology that will automate some work but your boss doesn’t think it’s worth it.
  • You want to build a new product but your team (or boss) doesn’t think it’s possible (or financially feasible).

While a lot of people will tell you that you need to pull together the facts to help make your case, the truth is that facts don’t work for us when we’re on the other side of the equation, right? Someone can give me a lot of facts about the diet soda I drink but it doesn’t change my behavior.

The Heath brothers wrote Switch and highlighted that facts alone don’t work. You need more.

Today I want to suggest that iterative conversations is a tool that most people don’t use enough. I think about it as the notion of not trying to win an argument, especially not in a single interaction, but rather to negotiate a common arrangement. To explain that difference, let me tell you a story.

When I wanted to buy my first new car, my dad sat me down and gave me some ludicrous advice. He said:

  1. Don’t buy a new car at the beginning of the month. Buy it at the end of a month. Better yet, at the end of a quarter.
  2. Don’t buy a new car with a single visit. Go back and talk to the same salesperson 4 or 5 times. Take friends and family.
  3. Don’t buy a new car without looking at a lot of options – considering alternatives you wouldn’t immediately think about.

What he was talking about had nothing to do with me (except maybe the last bit of advice).

He was telling me that the salesperson (and finance person) would be more motivated at at the end of the month than the beginning. He was telling me that the more the salesperson invested in me (multiple visits, convincing multiple guests), the more they’ve be invested in making a deal. And he was telling me not to let myself get anchored to a specific car, model, or color.

He thought of a car purchase as a negotiation. Where we both had agendas, but they didn’t need to be at odds. As long as we both invested time and energy, we could find something that would work for both of us.

I used that advice and, shockingly, it all worked.

When I’m at work, I hear people pitch ideas all the time. And they often sound to me like, “Hey, I want that nice car over there, but for less. Will you do it?” There’s no investment on either end and often it results in ideas that don’t move very far in the process.

If you want to change someone’s mind, about anything really, it’s more powerful to approach the effort as a series of visits, a series of conversations, where investment is happening on both sides to find a middle ground – a negotiation rather than a request.

That’s why I think iterative conversations is a powerful approach when you’re trying to change someone’s mind.