Changing minds is a delicate issue. While it can easily be done through manipulation for selfish intentions, genuinely elevating a person’s understanding with your heartfelt application takes some serious considerations.
Do you think you have an idea worth sharing? Did you recently gain some insights on an issue that you are eager to tell your friends about? Wanting to share our thoughts is natural, especially when we think others could benefit from them.
However, views vary from person to person, so our perspectives don’t always align with others. Whether you are sharing out of enthusiasm or the hope to influence someone’s thinking, there are a few things to keep in mind so as not to jeopardize a good relationship.
Consider your intention for changing minds
Are you sharing your insights hoping that the other person will agree with you or are you opening the door to a dialogue for mutual learning? When we think that our views are inherently right, we are assuming that others should think the same way we do. Thus, what we may believe to be our “good intentions to help them understand,” may unwittingly be signs of our desire for self-validation.
If, on the other hand, our intention is to discover the truth, we will naturally be open to learning from others and broadening our perspectives. If we are willing to set aside our own views in the interest of gaining greater understanding, the interaction will become constructive, with both parties being willing to listen to the other.
Listen first and do it deeply
No change in mind can take place without a conversation, and no conversation is possible without the participation of both parties. Before sharing your own ideas, take the time to listen to the other person and discern where their values lie. What are their perspectives? What experiences shaped their worldviews?
By understanding the other person, we can turn the conversation into a personal experience where the information exchanged is relevant—and valuable—to all those involved. Listening without judgment and asking thoughtful questions can create the occasion for a meaningful connection.
Ask yourself: will they benefit from what you want to share?
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Now that you understand something about the other person, pause to consider whether your input will be of value to them. Do they have their own opinions on the matter already? If so, would your contributions help them broaden their view? If you find that your input will not benefit the listener and you still want to share it, take a moment to examine your motives. What may appear to be a selfless desire to share your knowledge, could actually be an unconscious desire to show off your knowledge.
If the person has no prior knowledge of the topic, this is the time when your intention to help and your desire to share can go hand in hand. Since your input will potentially benefit the listener, make sure that your communication is coherent and that the information you provide is complete. You’ll be laying the groundwork for the other person to form his or her opinion, so it is important that you help them distinguish between the facts and your personal views. After all, everyone appreciates the freedom to decide what they think is right.
If, on the contrary, the initial phase of listening made you realize that it is you who can learn from the exchange, embrace the opportunity to gain new insights. As the Greek philosopher Socrates wisely stated: “Admitting one’s ignorance is the first step in acquiring knowledge.”
Offer your input as a gift
If, after analyzing your motives and getting to know your interlocutor, you still believe that this person would benefit from having the same opinion as you, there is only one way to possibly change his or her mind: through compassion.
Ask yourself: Why does this person need to understand my view? How could it benefit him or her? Would I still want him or her to acquire this perspective even if I wasn’t the one sharing it? Am I hoping to gain anything from this interaction?
When the other person becomes the priority and your intentions are grounded on selflessness, then it’s possible for the conversation to take a genuine turn. When this change in mindset occurs, the listener will naturally detect that the interaction is not meant to force views upon him or her but instead, that their interests and freedoms are being considered and prioritized. With this, openness and mutual understanding are bound to emerge.
Welcome any response and rejoice in your good intentions
Although a positive response is always ideal, be prepared for rejection. Opinions and beliefs are often deeply ingrained and attempting to modify them may bring about a strong negative response.
When your desire to share ideas is met with a dismissive—or even contemptuous—attitude, put your heart at ease and remember Elie Wiesel’s words: “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.”
When we realize that every person is unique and that their behaviors and reactions are simply part of who they are, we can be detached from the outcome and not take things personally. Ultimately, we can only control our own thoughts and attitudes, but you can rejoice in recognizing that your attempt was grounded on the noblest intention—that of compassion.
Continue improving yourself
Whether we can change other people’s minds or not, our quest for the truth continues to be a personal journey. Make a point of gaining new insights daily and be sure to maintain a welcoming attitude that is open to the input and understanding of others. When the time comes, you’ll be able to share your breakthroughs open-heartedly with anyone who is ready to listen.