When they’re wrong, how can you change someone’s point of view?

Frequently we encounter people that we disagree with, frequently we talk about why they’re wrong, but rarely do we consider the steps to convince them to change their views.

Many people seem content to tell people that they’re wrong, without making the effort to explain *why* they’re wrong in a way that they’ll respond to.

Essentially, the process can be broken down into three steps:

Step 1) Understanding that other people are entitled to hold other views, even when they’re wrong

Step 2) Understand that other people hold their views based on their principled stance of the world (which may be different from yours)

Step 3) Articulating your views in terms of their principled stance of the world

Can you change someone's point of view?

Can you change someone's point of view?

Let’s address those one by one with an example:

Step 1) Understanding that other people are entitled to hold other views, even when they’re wrong

My friend “Jim”, believes that speed limits shouldn’t exist on UK motorways – he believes that as he has a fast car so he shouldn’t be limited by the law.

I disagree. I think that speed limits exist for a good reason, and whilst I’m uncomfortable with his position here, I’m happy to sit down and drink a beer with him and talk about other things. I’m also happy to casually chat about this – I know it’s not easy to change your mind about something you feel strongly about, and I may not cause any change, but I feel strongly about it, so I’m willing to try.

It turns out we support the same football team and so can chat for hours about something we both agree on – it’s important to find some common, neutral, ground.

Step 2) Understand that other people hold their views based on their principled stance of the world (which may be different from yours)

After chatting to Jim over a few beers, I find he strongly feels that the law is unjustly criminalising motorists and milking them for cash. He sees speed limits as an unwanted tax on cars to pay for “green power” schemes that he doesn’t agree with.

Jim is 46, and is a manager at a factory that makes polystyrene packaging, he doesn’t really read newspapers but listens to BBC 5 Live, and has Sky at home, he has a wife and two children from a previous marriage who largely live with their mother and her partner.

As Jim has a forty five minute commute to work, with longish trips sometimes at weekends to see/pickup his children.

Jim isn’t all that good at articulating his views – he gets agitated if you push too hard with a different viewpoint so that he feels like he’s “losing” – because he can’t explain his views as clearly as you can – so it’s important that you intersperse the conversation and not to take things too seriously.

Step 3) Articulating your views in terms of their principled stance of the world

It’s very easy to articulate that someone else’s views don’t make sense given your view of their world, but articulating your views in the terms of someone else’s principled view of the world is more challenging and takes a little thought.

For instance, it’d be very easy for me to say to Jim, that “driving at 90Mph causes considerably more pollution than cars travelling at 70mph” but this isn’t something Jim cares about – he just wants to go from A to B. He’s had campaigners come round before who gave him a flyers about how his car was fuel inefficient, but they were casually dressed students and he has no respect for their agenda, labelling them “hippitards”.

On the other hand, Jim cares a great deal about his children – if we can explain how extra speed limits may affect his children, we may stand a chance. we must be careful, however, not to criticise him personally – or suggest he is a bad driver – we want to find something we both agree on, that makes him think that perhaps speed limits, of some sort are required.

One thing we could point out is road safety statistics involving the speed of the accident – research how fast collisions have different effects to slow collisions – sympathise on his getting from A to B frustrations, but show some maths to calculate how little time it’d save in total – instead suggest that turning a set of problematic pedestrian lights into a pelican crossing could save more time. Perhaps suggest the effect of other people driving recklessly at speed – does he see bad drivers often? Do they upset him? Should this problem be tackled first? What does he think?

The most important thing is not to try and tell him what to think – point out various things, and let him draw his own conclusions from them. If you’ve given the right perspective, he’ll be persuaded, even if he won’t agree.


Frequently, one of the problems is that people like Jim haven’t encountered anyone who will listen to them for long without trying to preach their own views upon them. If you can gently try and talk to them about various things that already fit within their view of the world, you can make some serious progress.

It’s not easy, it’s not necessarily fun but it can be very rewarding.

Next time you disagree with someone over a view they hold, try thinking – what would it take to help them change that view?

Help show someone the light

Help show someone the light

One Response to “ When they’re wrong, how can you change someone’s point of view? ”

  1. Good one Tim. May I recommend this politics discussion group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/367740956646533 (“Civil Politics UK”)

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