You are passionate about something, and you want others to feel and live your enthusiasm. We have all had that “something” that has meant a lot to us, and we want others to embrace the same ideas. Yet, our enthusiasm and approach in helping shift the thinking of others can sometimes alienate others and can push them further away from when you started. What you believe may be a “no-brainer” idea or solution just doesn’t seem to connect with someone else and all of the convincing in the world doesn’t seem to shift someone’s thinking.
I have been guilty of this approach and have written things in the past that have reflected a “do this or become irrelevant” type nature. In 2011, I wrote a post called, “This Is Not Optional Anymore,” discussing why technology use needs to be the norm from school administrators. Here is a snippet:
There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning. We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.
This is not optional anymore.
See how I bolded and italicized the word “now” to make you feel guilty if you weren’t ready to shift thinking in a few minutes? I actually remember when and where I wrote this post and how bad of a mood I was when putting it together (not a good time to write!). Did posts like this garner praise from people that already agreed with my position while pushing people that needed support to move further away from where I hope they would shift? I still believe a lot of what I say in the original post, and the delivery may have shifted the thinking of a few, but my approach has changed, and I am a lot of more cognizant of how I bring people together, not push them apart. I can still get better at this, but I am much more thoughtful of my delivery, not just in the ideas I want to share.
From my experience, here are three things that I have found that have been helpful in shifting the thinking of others.
Listen. Our gut tells us that the more we talk and have convincing arguments, the more we can help people shift their thinking. Of course, having a good argument in what you believe can make a difference, but if we truly listen and understand where others are in their journey, we might realize that we are closer in our viewpoints than when you originally started.
Ask Questions. If you want to understand what someone is thinking, ask them questions to further understand. Sometimes in those answers, you might learn something and shift your thinking, and realize that you have more in common than when you first started. This also helps the person you are having a conversation to articulate their ideas and why they think the way they do. Sometimes having someone state and articulate their position is more helpful to their own shift than only hearing the viewpoint of someone else. Which leads to the last point.
Find Common Ground. As I have matured in my approach and viewpoint on how to help others change their thinking, I have realized that many of the answers we are looking for exist somewhere in the middle than rather than rooted in extremes. If you think about your own positions and thought process, there are things you do today or believe that you may not have agreed with at one point in your life. Was your shift something that happened overnight, or did it happen over a long period of time? Find those middle spaces with those you are serving and having conversations with and see if there is agreement. Moving people one step forward is always better than one step back, and you might learn something about yourself in the process.
Reading books such as “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie have had an impact on my thinking. I love the quote, “You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.” Shifting the thinking of others goes beyond having a “good argument.” Of course, there are times when our approach can and should be different, but we also have to appreciate that people are all at different points in their journey and that honoring that process is much more likely to lead to growth for all parties involved.
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