In our often-polarizing world, the ability to change someone’s mind can be a powerful asset. In a professional setting, it’s a critical tool for influencing others. And you need influence in order to drive forward certain outcomes, do your job effectively and develop your own career.
But how can you be more influential?
But getting your boss to change her mind about an important decision, negotiating with a client who refuses to budge or convincing your coworker to buy into your idea requires a lot of finesse. There are, after all, complex power dynamics at play. Not to mention the fact that it sometimes seems that in the moments when you most desperately need someone else to see things from your perspective, they seem hell-bent on sticking to their own point of view. The solution? A persuasion technique first brought to light by famous French mathematician, physicist, philosopher and writer Blaise Pascal over 350 years ago.
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others,” wrote Pascal in “Penseés,” a collection of some of his most important essays and thoughts.
So, how do you go about basically convincing someone that your idea was their idea?
“When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally, he cannot err in the side he looks at since the perceptions of our senses are always true.”
In other words, in order to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, you must first empathize with them and understand their stance. You then need to verbalize what makes them right in order to make them feel validated in their feelings and opinions. Once you’ve built that rapport and showed them that you truly do appreciate where they are coming from — and that you are not intending to debate and try to prove them wrong (because that would immediately get them in a defensive state), you can highlight your own perspective as simply another angle of the topic in question. From that point on, you can guide the conversation in a much more productive way that will make your interlocutor feel like you are on the same team. If you master this technique, you’ll basically get them to change their mind yet feel like they did it on their own terms and came to their own conclusions.
This ancient persuasion strategy still rings true today because it’s based on empathy — a core interpersonal skill that can help you navigate the different personalities and perspectives of the workplace with grace. And just like empathy will never become obsolete, the art of influence is also here to stay.