Blaise Pascal was a 17th century philosopher. He wrote about the most effective way to get someone to change their mind, years before psychologists began to formally study the art of persuasion. According to Pascal, there is one effective way to get someone to change their mind.

Pascal’s Theory

Pascal noted that correcting someone must be done in the right manor. He wrote, “When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.”

In other words, the philosopher explained that seeing things from the other person’s point of view is an important part in getting them to change their mind. Once you’ve stepped into their shoes, you can explain the argument from another point of view, one that makes more sense to them. Pointing out all the ways that someone else is wrong, isn’t going to convince them that you’re right.

Pascal wrote, “He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.”

So instead of telling someone that they’re wrong. Aim to show them a different side of the argument – one they haven’t seen before. Pascal explained, “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.”

To follow Pascal’s theory, pointing out the way in which the other person is right, before disagreeing with them, may help effectively persuade them to change their mind. According to Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, Pascal’s theory rings true.

“One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” Markman explained.

“If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to cooperate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to cooperate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice [to] your own concerns about their position in a way that allows cooperation.”

The next time you find yourself in a disagreement, consider trying out Pascal’s theory!

Encyclopedia Britannica
Brian Pickings