What Does It Take to Change Someone’s Mind?
Tips on what not to do
Managing perceptions is complicated for many reasons, some of them not quite obvious.
For example, trying to change someone else’s point of view can deprive them of the chance to change their minds about us on their own. Often, In our anxiety to make sure that no one thinks ill of us- that we’re too aggressive, too ambitious, too angry or too___(fill in the blank), we forget that most of the time, others are not committed to holding a negative assessment. And we overlook the reality that people often shift their opinions if we give them time.
I learned this early in my career, when I worked in corporate communications. One day in a meeting, I was the only woman present and the most junior person in the room, so I was feeling a bit out of my depth. Yet because the topic under discussion was within my area of expertise, I found the nerve to raise my hand and offer an idea that I’d been noodling over.
No one responded. It was as if I hadn’t spoken. An awkward hush settled over the room that was only broken when one of the top dogs on the team made a suggestion that had nothing to do with what I had proposed. I felt deflated, though not especially surprised.
Then, as we were leaving the meeting, Ted, my boss’s boss, sidled up behind me and murmured in a sarcastic tone: “Well! You certainly aren’t afraid to share your opinion.”
I was astonished. Ted had never spoken to me. Now I’d succeeded in getting on his bad side. I could hardly have felt more crushed.
But for some reason, rather than groveling or being defensive I heard myself responding to him simply: “No, I’m not.”
As Ted harrumphed away, I thought, Well, I guess I’m cooked. My boss’s boss thinks I’m out of line. I figured I’d better start looking for another job since I was clearly going nowhere in this company.
But nothing happened. Time passed. I sat in on some more meetings where Ted was present and made a few more contributions when I had something to say. After all, I had nothing to lose. I was probably leaving anyway.
Then one day, about a month later, I happened to be walking down the hall when I overheard Ted speaking to a colleague in an adjoining room. “You know what I like about Sally?” he was saying. “She’s not afraid to speak her mind.”
I could hardly believe my ears. He seemed to approve of the very quality he had criticized me so harshly for.
It took me a while to understand what had happened: because I had replied to his putdown in a neutral way and persevered instead of trying to swoop in and do damage control, trying to manage what he thought, I’d given him time and space to get used to me and to adjust his assessment.
As a result, I’d been able to secure his good opinion on my own terms. All it took was a little time. And sufficient discipline to refrain from trying to manage someone else’s perceptions.