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Can You Change a Stubborn Person’s Mind?

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
10 min read

It’s a fact of human nature that we tend to think our opinions are usually right, while opposing opinions are not. In sales, it’s important to remember that being right does not matter at all.

The sale itself is what matters. Spending time and energy trying to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong is a waste of valuable assets. As much as you may want to change the client’s mind, you can’t. If you want the sale to move forward, there are other methods you can apply.

In this episode, I’m sharing:

  1. How to engage in a productive discussion
  2. How to demonstrate a changing landscape to the client
  3. Why you and the client should revisit things you both agree on
  4. The importance of exploring the validity of your own opinion

It’s common for the back and forth “I’m right, you’re wrong” banter to take place, but if you let it go on too long, you’ll have a harder time trying to change anyone’s mind. By engaging in a more productive conversation, you can avert the argument. Ask questions, listen intently, and throw away any notion of “being right.” You’re there to help the client.

One of the ways you can help your client is to demonstrate a new reality that you can help them cope with. They already feel stuck in the situation they’re in; that’s why you’ve been hired. You have to help them understand the potential adverse effects that could result if they don’t make a change.

If you’re still having a hard time getting on the same page as the client, try to revisit ideas you both agree on. Don’t focus on what’s separating you, focus on the underlying assumptions of why a disagreement is presented in the first place. There were things you agreed on at some point in the sale, so go back to them and discuss the assumptions that led the client to take the position they did.

It’s also worth noting to keep your opinions in check. There’s always a chance that you could be wrong, so assuming you’re not right will help you from defending your side and letting the banter drag on. When faced with a challenge or disagreement, use it as an opportunity to discover the best course of action for the client.

Mentioned in this episode:

How to change someone’s mind, according to science
The surprising reason people change their minds

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

Can You Change a Stubborn Person’s Mind?:

Full Transcript

On June 23, 2016 the United Kingdom shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union with a final vote tally of 52% voting to leave and 48& voting to stay. This move now dubbed Brexit comes at a significant cost. Depending on the exact scenario that plays out the U.K.’s economy will likely shrink between 2 and 10% by 2035 and hit the pocketbooks of every single citizen.

What’s most interesting is that as more information has surfaced and the U.K. has the opportunity to plan for the Brexit or scrap it all together very few Brexit voters have changed their minds. In the two and a half since the vote mountains of research have been published about the cost involved in leaving. In just the last month I’ve personally watched at least five indepth news stories about the unforeseen costs and delays that Brexit will create and I’m an American citizen. I don’t even live in the U.K..

And yet there’s only been 4% swing in voting opinion. If another vote were held today most polls show that 52% of people would vote to remain and 48% would vote to leave. Regardless of your opinion or mine about the legitimacy of the decision what’s fascinating is how few people have changed their minds one way or the other even in the face of mountains and mountains of new information.

Unsurprisingly it turns out that changing someone’s mind is hard work, maybe even impossible. When you’re selling anything it always easier to sell to markets that are most receptive to what you’re selling but can you change someone’s mind who doesn’t want to buy from you? In this podcast episode I’ll tell you the answer and what you can do about it.

When we’re selling no matter what we’re selling we sometimes encounter people who are interested in what we have to sell but can’t come around to making a buying decision. The reason is usually they’re not convinced they should work with us. They don’t trust us enough. They don’t think the pros outweigh the cons. They don’t see the value. That’s even despite repeated attempts to demonstrate the benefits of what you’re selling and what you could do for them.

The big question is, can you change someone’s mind to buy from you? As I thought about this question it really demands that we understand what I’m affectionately calling the science of stubbornness. I just made that up. I don’t know if it’s a real thing or not. Basically we all know how difficult it is to change people’s minds and that facts alone will not do it.

I looked at various pieces of research to understand what do we know about stubbornness and how to change people’s minds? One of the things I want to share for you comes from an article from the Washington Post. It goes over one study where researchers looked at a site called Change My View. This site is all about people engaging in discussions where they’re open to having their minds changed about a subject. The topics range from the morality of zoos to political beliefs to climate change and other popular public disagreements and arguments.

Here’s what they found when they looked at the site Change My View. They found that those people who responded faster to a post made a significant difference in changing their minds. The number of replies made a difference, too. In other words the first person who responded to the post was much more likely to change the person’s mind than the fifth person. Going back to the Brexit example at the top of the show, let’s say the person voted to leave Brexit but they wanted to hear arguments about staying. The first person who responded to their post would be much more likely to change their mind than the second, third, fifth. Especially as you go farther and farther down the line the likelihood of them changing their mind keeps going down.

I think there’s multiple reasons for that. Number one, because of the scenario, it’s an on-line forum, sort of a Q & A place. People are less likely to continue to read things the more that thread continues. That’s number one. The second thing is more time will be passing and therefore the person’s interest may wane. But what’s even more interesting than that is the number of replies and how they correlate to the likelihood of changing someone’s mind.

What they found in the study is that when there was a back and forth, someone posted, someone replied and then the original poster replied to that person, when there was a back and forth it was much more likely to change someone’s mind. That only applied to one to four replies. When there were more than four replies, five or more, it had almost zero effect on changing the person’s mind.

Here’s how I would interpret that data. Being engaged in a back and a forth may demonstrate that the person is open to new information and open to changing their mind. Therefore in order to change someone’s mind we should engage in conversation. It is also telling us that some people just like to argue and won’t actually change their minds. The longer that back and forth exchange goes the less likely you are to change anyone’s mind.

It’s important to be open to the idea of conversation when we’re looking to change someone’s mind, if they’re in the sale, they’re pushing back on us or they have an objection. It’s important to engage in conversation about that but once it starts to feel like an argument the situation may become intractable. We want to avoid that feeling of an argument. It’s certainly the way that we know that it’s an argument if there’s this relentless back and forth and no one’s budging.

It’s important to note that people posting on this site by very definition of why someone would go there, they’d only be there for two reasons. One is they’re open to having their minds changed or their views changed in the first place. Or two, they just want to get into an argument. Because some subset of people are open to having their views challenged in the first place it’s going to attract a self selecting bunch of people who are open to new information.

Anyone talking to you about buying something is generally open to buying at some level. That’s good news for you. Some subset of people will just like to argue or just be there to get a demo or just be there to understand how you sell or whatever. You’re not going to be able to change their minds. That’s the takeaway. Here’s the action that I would associate with this one finding. It’s okay to engage in a little bit of back and forth but the longer it goes on the less likely you are to change anyone’s mind.

It’s also important to note that we hold our opinions in high esteem. In fact, our opinions, the things that we believe, they start to become part of our operating system so much so that research has shown that we take longer to process information that disagrees with our opinions. That doesn’t mean our opinions can’t change.

There was a study done by Kristen Lauren of the University of British Colombia and it looked at views on Ontario, Canada’s 2015 ban on smoking in parks and restaurant patios. There were surveys before the ban came into effect and after the ban came into effect. What she found is that after the ban more people had changed their opinions about the ban itself. More people thought it was a good idea than they did before the ban was enacted.

Even more than that when smokers were asked to recall their behavior prior to the ban smokers told her team that they did about 15% of their smoking in public places but after the ban they recalled only 8%, which means they adjusted their very memories about how often they were smoking in public places. It altered their judgments to convince themselves the ban’s effect wasn’t so bad after all.

This research and some of the things I just said came directly out of a article that I’ve linked here in the show notes. They summarized it really well with this quote: “We rationalize the things we feel stuck with.” How this affects your sale is it actually works against you in a lot of cases. Your potential client is “stuck with their current situation.” They’ve already rationalized it. Of course they’re talking to you to entertain making a change but you have to help them understand how bad it is in order for them to actually make the change.

There is a lot of inertia that you have to help them overcome. Once they do overcome it it will be the new normal and of course they won’t want buyer’s remorse. They’ll want to feel like they’re a smart person who makes smart and great decisions and so chances are they’ll be happy with working with you.

Here’s the action I want you to take: Demonstrate a changing landscape or environmental force that make them stuck with the new reality that you can help them cope with. If you think about the smoking ban, if there’s some sort of environmental factor beyond their control they know now they have a new normal to cope with, it makes your solution much more attractive.

One of the biggest challenges to changing someone’s mind is to do it without making them feel like they’re wrong. One of the biggest mistakes that I see in handling objections is most people address objections in a direct back and forth creating a situation where one person has to be right and the other person has to be wrong. That is not the correct way to go about it.

No one really wants to be wrong. No one wants to feel stupid or inferior or less than in any way. So one thing you can do instead is to focus on the underlying assumptions rather than the exact point of disagreement. One thing you can do to help you out with is re-visit the things that you already agree on. There was a point in the conversation where things were going really well and you agreed on how you might be able to work together or exactly what you could do in a working relationship. So revisit those things that you agree on and then discuss the underlying assumptions that led them to their conclusion in order to clarify their position and yours.

Another thing to consider is to give them a win and concede minor points so that they can feel right. It’s important to keep in mind that the goal of the sale is to help the person. The only way you can help them in a maximal way, if there’s a fit to work together, is to actually work together so you can let go of being right. The point is to help them not to be right and the point, let’s be honest, is if you can help them you want to get the sale. Don’t worry about being right. Allow them to be right as much as you can and focus on the bigger picture here.

The last thing I want to leave you with is this: Explore the validity of your own opinion. There’s a chance, however small, but definitely a chance, that you’re the one who’s wrong. Again, I don’t want you thinking in terms of right or wrong but if you are stuck on that keep in mind that you could be the one who’s wrong. If there’s one thing that’ll help you avoid defending your own side, it’s to not assume that you’re right. Instead treat any disagreement as an invitation for exploration to determine the best course of action for your client.

If they have an objection, if they believe that this is not a fit for them try to figure out why. Understand where is this coming from? Challenge your own assumptions about your own correctness, that you have the right answer. Challenge those assumptions and approach it with an open mind. Maybe, just maybe, their hesitations are well placed. It is possible that they know or understand something that you don’t. Explore that. Keep in mind that not everybody is going to be a fit for you and that is okay, my friend. That is not a problem.

Going back to the original question, “Can you sell something to someone who doesn’t want to buy?” The answer really is no, but there are steps that you can take not to necessarily change anyone’s mind but to one, engage in productive discussion, a little bit of back and forth. Two, demonstrate a changing landscape or environment force that has created a new reality for them. This is often coming in the part of your sale that is discovery and in particular establishing the problem. Three, re-visit the things you agree on and focus on underlying assumptions rather than the point of disagreement itself and number four, explore the validity of your own opinion.

Thanks so much for listening today. My name is Liston and I hope you have a fantastic day.

Modern Sales Podcast