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5 Ways to Change Someone's Mind

You can be as persuasive as a crook.

Source: Miamiamia/FreeImages
Source: Miamiamia/FreeImages

An expert recently claimed that knowing—and using—a few simple rules can help you change the minds of other people.

The first rule of changing minds is to keep your message short, sharp, and simple. People tend to respond less well to long convoluted arguments, according to Kevin Dutton, author of Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art & New Science of Changing Minds.

Dutton's book isn't itself a short or oversimplified how-to book. Dutton, a psychologist and research fellow at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge Univesity, fills out each of his points with numerous clarifying (and often amusing) examples and anecdotes from every nook and corner of social psychology.

The crux of Dutton's message is contained in his five elements, made easy to remember with the acronym SPICE. Here they are:

Simplicity: Keep your message short, sharp, and simple to convince people it's true.

Perceived self-interest: Con-men agree it's the key to getting us to do something we didn't think we wanted to. (So be sure to focus on the benefits to the person whose mind you want to change, rather than emphasizing your own wants and wishes and emotional history. Not: I'll be sad if you don't, but: you'll be happy if you do.)

Incongruity: Surprise people—tell them your cupcake is 400 cents rather than four dollars and they're far more likely to buy it.

Confidence: The more confident you are, the more we believe you're right—even when we know your facts are wrong. (Think aggressive politicians and other salespeople.)

Empathy: Look people in the eye, nod when they nod, tell them you're from the same small town they are—we trust people like ourselves. (We prefer to work with those who happen to come from a similar tribe, whether that means the same town or perceiving some other form of connection.)

What can you learn from a con?

As I read Split-Second Persuasion, I had a question about good versus evil. So I asked Kevin Dutton whether earnest and well-meaning people use such techniques as often as the greedily self-interested. His (persuasive!) response:

The majority of the persuasion exhibits in my "influnce museum" could be described as "good" rather than "evil". I guess that may be due to a response bias, however: people may be more likely to report good instances, or show themselves in a positive light, than in a bad one.

But I have no doubt that, in everyday life, the techniques of Split-Second Persuasion are used predominantly for the purposes of self-interest. Think about it. Lawyers, advertisers, politicians, scam artists ... few of the "professions" most usually associated with professional persuasion have a good reputation, do they!?

Did I write the book to help redress the balance in favour of the good guys? Yes, I think I did. Anyone who has read Harry Potter knows that the same techniques of magic may be used either for good or ill, and I wanted to open the game up a bit for regular, everyday people. Not just so they can get their way more easily, but also so that they are better able to resist persuasion attempts from the "evil geniuses."

Especially important in this day and age is conflict resolution. With society becoming increasingly disaffected and volatile, the ability to defuse trouble quickly and efficiently has never been more important.

Read my blog or follow me on Twitter @bunnyape.

Copyright (c) by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.

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