How to disagree with others and win them over

Sometimes people are just wrong.  Plain wrong.

There’s no denying it. So you tell them and they dig their heels in even more.

I recall a particularly conversation with Heinrich Matthee, now Senior Analyst and Strategy Advisor at JISR. It was several years ago, when we were both working at a business school. I was laying down a communications training strategy with him.

By the time, I’d left the meeting, I realised Heinrich had turned my strategy on its head.

He didn’t do this by telling me that my ideas wouldn’t work. Neither did his technique include one ‘but’ or ‘that won’t work’.   Heinrich used his influencing skills to change my perspective with more subtle and effective techniques.

Why direct contradiction won’t win your argument

Dale Carnegie in his seminal book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, states that influence is awakening in the other person ‘an eager want’ in which both people gain.

In the classic, ‘When Prophecy Fails’, published in 1956, psychologist Leon Festinger and his co-authors described what happened when a UFO cult announced the arrival of its mother ship.

Strangely, the aliens apparently got held up and the UFO didn’t arrive at the expected time.  Maybe it was the wrong kind of star cluster that night.  Could have been a traffic jam in the Milky Way.

However, the cult would not admit they were wrong. Instead, they simply piled prediction on to prediction.

This is because when you present others with evidence showing that they’re wrong, they’re unlikely to throw their hands up and agree with you.

Being told they’re wrong just makes them more resistant to accepting a new belief.

When we force our opinion on another, this encourages cognitive dissonance. This happens when the other person’s belief clashes against the new evidence you present. This actually increases misperception because it threatens the other’s worldview or self-concept.

Hence, it would have been a waste of breath to tell that cult the UFO’s arrival was about as likely as an armadillo doing a tango.


Phrases that make changing someone’s mind difficult:

  1. Bearing in mind, the concept of cognitive dissonance, phrases such as:
    “You’re wrong” or “I don’t agree with you and here’s why” will only make the other person more insistent in their point of view.
  2. Generalisations:
    Generalisations, such as, “you’re always so….” or simply “you are…” strikes people’s identity.  That’s not so easy to change and neither is it necessary since it’s the behaviour in specific situations that is usually the focus.
  3. Ignoring their viewpoint:
    Part of effective communication skills training is the art of acknowledging objections before introducing your own viewpoint.  In conversations, paraphrasing others is very powerful and here’s a 5 minute pitch structure in which objections are built into the rationale.

What if you’re wrong?

If you find that you’re wrong, Dale Carnegie says admit it.  I’m of the thinking that admitting you’re mistaken isn’t as effective as validating someone else is correct, especially for women in business.  Consequently, instead of saying, “I’m wrong,” you’d say, “Actually, I can see how that works.”

The difference is important. In the second phrase, you’re not putting yourself down in the process.  You are, however, allowing yourself to change your perspective.

Influence is about mutual gains so there’s no need to be apologetic.

13 Phrases that help you win people round

1. “I’d like to present another perspective”
2. “Interesting you should say that. I saw it like this….”
3. “There is another way of looking at it”
4. “Have you considered the impact of…. ?”
5. “How do you see this working in the event of… “
6. “Did you know, I’ve heard / read…”
7. Tell the story of what you heard and read and add ‘Does any of that ring true for you?’
8. “Yes, this may well work for you. You might want to consider the possibility of…”
9. “Well, now, I thought otherwise but the contexts might be different. So I came across this ….”
10. “Have you thought what you would require to make that happen?”
11. “How do you see this working?”
12. “In certain cases this would certainly apply. It seems to me that here the situation would be different…”
13. Ask questions in a friendly cooperative way such as:

“How do you see this working?”
“What challenges do you think could arise?”
“How would you mitigate against these challenges.”

As the attitude begins to soften, you can gently introduce facts that may introduce a new perspective but don’t do it as if you’re forcing a point.

Your Action:

1. Write out three of these techniques on a piece of paper or on your phone. If on paper, tape to your laptop or desk so you have them at hand.
2. When you’re next in a meeting, on a call or videoconferencing make sure you have them discreetly available to help you win people round.




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