Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


4 Steps to Open and Hopefully Change Someone's Mind

How to persuade someone to think differently without creating an argument.

Key points

  • Starting conversations with respectful curiosity can open someone's mind without evoking their resistance.
  • Our brains are very protective of how we think. Arguing with someone activates the fight-or-flight response.
  • Practice summarizing key ideas people share so they feel heard before you ask if you can share your ideas.
Source: Milkos/Depositphotos
Source: Milkos/Depositphotos

A friend told me a story about Derek Black, a young leader in the white nationalist movement who had a mind-changing experience. In his first year in college, he was invited and then attended several dinners with Jewish classmates. He went to the first dinner ready to defend his views with evidence. Through open, respectful dialogue, he developed a new worldview.

His classmates didn’t try to argue with him and prove him wrong. Instead, they listened to his ideas and evidence and then asked to offer their ideas. They shared their own studies; the experiences of their families and others who had lived through discrimination, even genocide; and how being racially marginalized impacted their lives. And, yet, they still hoped for a more inclusive world in the future.

When Derek went home and explained how he connected with his Jewish friends, his father rejected him. They never reconnected. Derek's view of the world had changed for good, and he could not hate his new friends.

To me, this story demonstrates the power of curiosity and acceptance to influence someone’s thinking.

Our brains are very protective of who we think we are and how we see the world. Arguing with someone only activates the fight-or-flight reaction.

To influence someone to have a broader perspective, try these steps:

  1. Start by genuinely seeking to understand the person’s perspective. With care and respectful curiosity so they don't feel manipulated, ask, “Would you help me understand what you believe is true?" and "What would you like to see happen today?'
  2. Summarize the key ideas they shared so they feel heard and understood. Ask if they would further explain what the keywords, the ones carrying a lot of emotion, mean to them so you can fully understand what is most important to them.
  3. Once they agree with your summaries, that you fully understand how they think, ask what experiences or learning led them to form their ideas.
  4. Again, summarize what you hear, and then ask, “Would you be open to hearing a different perspective?” If they say yes, but then interrupt to argue, gently remind them they said they were interested in hearing how you see things. If they say no or their gestures indicate they aren’t really interested in your perspective, tell them you’re sorry you can’t explore ideas together. Politely end the conversation or ask to talk about something else.

Remember to go into the conversation feeling a respectful curiosity. Release the desire to prove them wrong. Then remain calm throughout the interaction, frequently stopping to breathe and stay emotionally centered. You can find ways to regulate your emotions by reading this blog post, How to Manage Your Emotional Reactions. Your calmness could disarm their resistance.

You can’t convince a closed mind, but you may be able to open a mind by listening so they feel heard and understood.

More from Marcia Reynolds Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today