How To Change Someone’s Mind

Reddit. “The front page of the internet”. 21st most visited website worldwide. 3rd in the US. It’s a free-for-all discussion site with an extensive list of controversies.

Amongst other terms, a Google search for “Reddit is…” returns:

– A cesspool

– Toxic

– Getting worse

Reddit can be a horrible place. Some forums are dedicated to bigots, bastards and berks, frothing about how dyed-in-the-wool awful they are.

So why am I writing about the armpit of the internet?

Because researchers at Cornell University have picked Reddit as a platform to understand what it takes to change someone’s mind.

Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies… examines the interactions on Reddit’s Change My View (CMV) forum.

Users post an opinion, which they explain extensively, and invite others to challenge them on their beliefs. Discussion’s mostly quite civil and, occasionally, opinions do change.

If and when that happens, the poster awards the user/s that changed their mind a Delta symbol Δ (used in maths and physics to signify change).

Examining how and why these elusive triangles are dished out showed the most persuasive arguments shared a number of similarities.


From Reddit to recruitment

While the study focuses on written exchanges in an internet forum, the principles apply as much to phone calls and face to face meetings as they do to email and text exchanges.

i) A target client’s had a crap experience with an ex-colleague. As a result, they’ve got a negative view of your company and categorically state they won’t work with you.

ii) Your shortlist’s been sent but your client’s convinced there’s better out there. There isn’t. But telling them that won’t stop them rejecting all CVs you send.

iii) You do a week of late finishes to secure your candidate a higher offer, but they’re countered. You know how this ends, they’re smitten about staying put.

A Recruiter’s influencing skills are tested by how well they can convey their bird’s eye view. Changing minds in recruitment can be anything from explaining the vast majority of counter offers don’t exactly end brilliantly to convincing a busy client to meet you for coffee.

Timing and speed

Evidence suggests the sooner you address an opposing opinion, the better your chances of changing it. So over email or text, time’s of the essence.

In conversations, the rate you speak’s an important factor. Studies from decades ago suggest talking quickly can have a positive impact on sales. Try to avoid speaking quicker than an auctioneer however.

Varying the pace of your speech is one of several ways to Talk So People Really Listen.



The most persuasive arguments match the opinion holder’s vocab the least.

Essentially: successful arguments use unique language.

Ordinarily, mirroring language is good for building rapport. But it can undercut the strength of your argument if you’re trying to change someone’s mind.

Other things to keep an eye on language-wise include:

– Definite articles: use “the” instead of “a”

– Personal pronouns: I, me, mine, you, yours, his, her, hers, we, they, or them

– Happier language = less convincing

– Calmer language = more convincing

– Case studies and specific examples are more common in persuasive arguments

– “Hedging” phrases like “it could be the case” are more likely to make a point softer and easier to accept, rather than weaken the case for it

Number of words

Another reason speaking quickly’s effective is because it allows you to articulate a lot of information in a short amount of time. Written arguments also benefit from a larger word count, because arguments can be developed to cover more points.

That said, more words doesn’t always mean a better argument.

Concise phrases carry more weight in the right context.


Amount of back and forth

How many flogs should you give it before pronouncing a horse dead?

Five, apparently. After that, any replies attempting to change someone’s mind reduce your chances to a number very close to zero.

Going further than necessary can smack of desperation and do more to harm your cause than support it.

Knowing when to quit’s antithetical to a Recruiter’s tendency to over-deliver. And it will depend on the situation but drawing a line under a back and forth allows you to repurpose your time on more revenue generating activities.

Diversity of arguments

It isn’t strictly about having more counter-arguments. But you’re more likely to make a point that resonates if you’ve got ten reasons for someone to change their mind, rather than one or two.

Don’t rely on deflecting objections. And be prepared to back up anything you say.

Coordinating with colleagues on what to pitch to which clients and when could ensure you’re putting the most comprehensive – and consistent – message into your market.


The secret to changing someone’s mind

The key’s to make sure your points are diverse, don’t go on for tonnes of back and forth, are well developed, use unique language and get off the mark quickly.

The reality is that a mind changing is rare.

There are over 180 cognitive biases that affect how opinions are formed. They’re built on years of lived experiences and often rely on exceptional circumstances to alter.

Think about what someone would need to do to convince you the sky isn’t blue.

If it’s less cut and dry than that, there’s ways to put across an argument that says it will be received well. And if you make points in a constructive and compelling way, you’re more likely to reach a middle ground.

And from there, reaching an agreement’s a possibility.

Recruitment’s a series of constant negotiations. From drumming up new business to developing processes or securing deals for candidates. And if you need to change someone’s mind, there’s data to suggest these techniques give you the best chance of succeeding.

If where you are currently isn’t giving you the chance to make the most of your influencing skills, these 5 companies will set you on the right path to leadership.