Last week, I explained a process for changing another person's mind. This column provides an example of this process: changing the mind of a reluctant customer.

As a quick reminder, rather than pushing against the other person's beliefs with facts (which creates resistance) you show the other person how their beliefs actually support your viewpoint, rather than the viewpoint they currently espouse.

This is a three-step process:

  1. Validate the beliefs. The opposite of "pressure creates resistance" is that "acceptance creates flexibility." Showing that you understand the other person's beliefs and accept them as valid (even if you don't 100% agree with them) causes the other person to relax, especially true if they were expecting you to attack them directly.
  2. Weaken the connections. Lead the other person to see flaws in the logic that connects their belief to the conclusion or opinion that you'd like to change. This is best done through questions rather than statements, because questions lead the other person to hold forth from "center stage," while statements are likely to feel like an attack.
  3. Reconnect the beliefs. Show how the other person's beliefs--when taken in total--more naturally lead to different conclusions or opinions than the ones they've previously reached. In other words, you never attempt to change the other person's beliefs; you merely show how a different conclusion better reflects those beliefs.

Here's the example:

The Scenario:

You're selling software that turns employee training manuals into game-like interactions on a screen. It will cost your prospect approximately $200,000 to convert the current manuals to the interactive format and an ongoing cost of $20,000 a year after that.

In the prospect's company, the manuals are currently created by a training group which also provides classroom training. The manager of that group, John, controls a "training" budget of $300,000 a year and a staff of three writer/trainers.

The Problem:

John has been slow to provide like sample manuals, he cancels meeting appointments at the last minute, and he raises so many arbitrary objections that you feel as if you're playing whack-a-mole. To make the sale, you must get John on board.

You have a binder-full of facts (ROI analyses, customer testimonials, case studies, research reports, etc.), all of which prove your software will reduce training costs and improve customer satisfaction. However, John is unimpressed and continues to dig in his heels.

The Solution:

If you read the previous column on this subject, you've probably got a good idea of what's going on. John believes that your software threatens his budget, his staff and his career. The facts you're providing simply confirm his fear.

Needless to say, you can't just blurt out that John is afraid of losing his job and power... even though that's the core belief that's driving his behavior. Instead, you approach his fear obliquely... as concern for the company rather than his career.

Here's how:

  1. Validate his beliefs. "John, if I were in your position, I'd be concerned that implementing our software might involve a lot of changes and some risk of failure."
  2. Weaken the connections. "In my experience, the most important success factor is having an experienced leader who understands how employees can best learn what they need to know.
  3. Reconnect the beliefs. "So, what's absolutely crucial here is your ongoing participation and leadership as you help your staff learn new techniques that are grounded in real-world experience."

Do you see what happened?

  1. You surface John's beliefs (obliquely) without judgment or contradiction.
  2. You reframe the situation from a threat into an opportunity for career growth.
  3. You reconnect John's beliefs so they support the success of the project.

In all likelihood, this will change John's mind so that he stops acting as an obstacle into the sale and begins supporting and sponsoring it.

BTW, this method works also works if you're trying to change somebody's mind about politics or even religion. It takes a lot longer because such beliefs are usually quite strong but the basic principles 1) "pressure creates resistance," and 2) "acceptance creates flexibility" seem to be pretty universal.