"Time makes more converts than reason." --Thomas Paine
Let me start off by saying that I myself am not very good at changing minds. Theoretical understanding of a concept does not necessarily equal practical expertise. I even know exactly what parts of the process I'm bad at, and I'm working on getting better, because I believe this is a very important skill. This is not what I do when I want to persuade people. This is what my study of the decision science literature has led me to believe I (and anyone) should
Jonathan Haidt came up with this great analogy to explain how decision behavior works: the rational brain is not a scientist, it's a lawyer. It's not analyzing and fighting the impulses coming out of your emotional brain; it's constantly working to come up with workable justifications for those impulses. For example, there are many logical reasons to be vegan, and I list them when people ask why I chose that lifestyle, but in truth my own path to veganism did not involve much logic at all. I wanted to be vegan because of a visceral distaste for the idea of meat and animal exploitation. I did the research, and I found the evidence to back up my choice, but the choice itself was not rational. I don't eat meat because, in short: corpses, ewwwwww.
When someone's mind is functioning like this, arguments tend to be heated and pointless. (When both people's minds are functioning like this, the arguments are even worse. I'm giving the reader the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the position you're trying to promote is, if not the actual correct position, at least logically defensible.) These instructions are not about how to win an argument, and following them is not a way to make yourself look good to observers. This is about actually instilling doubt in the person with whom you're communicating.
1. Don't focus on getting them to agree with you right now. If they end up expressing agreement during just one conversation, either they were already on the fence or they're saying it to shut you up. Think of your goal as getting them to continue considering the topic on their own time.
2. Start by getting them to want
to agree with you. Think of ways things would be better for them if they were on your side.
3. Present your facts in I-statements--this is why I believe this, it's my understanding that, etc. Don't make it about them. If you used to agree with them, tell them that, and try to establish commonalities. The more they can see you as a peer and not an obstacle, the more likely you are to get through to them.
4. Don't shove evidence in their face and demand a response. When you ask people to consider facts that counter their beliefs, their beliefs actually grow stronger.
This probably has something to do with defensiveness. So try to avoid getting confrontational. Give them things to think about, not things to react to.
5. Wait. This can be hard, but really, these things need time to percolate. It took me years to be ready to challenge my own thoughts about abortion. Some people take decades to be ready to challenge their own thoughts about things like religion. In the meantime, be available to answer questions and provide information, but don't keep bugging them about it. That won't make them any more open to listening to you.
6. Don't get meta. I don't think this is a problem for most people, but it's where I fall hard. I see people expressing certain thoughts, or justifying themselves in certain ways, and I just can't help telling them all about why they believe the things they believe. This does not help. Ever.
This is not to say that heated argument doesn't have its place. Anger is a powerful tool
. If you want to fire up people who already agree with you, change laws, start social movements, then torches and pitchforks might be your best bet. Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" is a fantastic book for atheists, and for religious people who are already massively disillusioned and looking for evidence to hand their lawyer brains. But it's a terrible book for the currently pious. It's way too confrontational and condescending.
Being confrontational and condescending can (doesn't always, but can) stomp people down. It can show everyone else present that you're right and they're wrong. But you're not going to honestly change anyone's mind by ripping them apart.