You Only Need 10 Minutes to Change Someone's Mind if You Know When to Shut Up

Forget your Facebook rants and have a conversation in person.

Election season is a particularly unpleasant time of year to be on Facebook. Scrolling through your social media feed can begin to feel a bit like tip-toeing through a minefield — you don’t know which Trump acolyte or Bernie Bro is going to explode into all-caps next. While frequent updates may be a good way to make sure people see how you feel, it’s not a good way to win hearts and minds. Genuine advocacy should take place in the meatspace and it should be quick, purposeful, then over.

A study released today in the journal Science found that having a 10-minute conversation in which you actively encourage someone to look at the issue from your perspective is a highly persuasive way to change someone’s mind. Through a field experiment in Miami, researchers David Broockman and Joshua Kalla found that carefully executed door-to-door canvassing was enough to sway someone’s opinion, and keep that opinion, for at least up to three months.

“I had long been interested in studying this kind of face-to-face, high quality conversation,” Broockman told Inverse. “There had been a lot of research on voter mobilization suggesting it had a special potency, but much less in the area of prejudice reduction or political persuasion.”

Broockman and Kalla worked with the Los Angeles LGBT Center and SAVE, a Florida-based LGBT organization, which had already planned to go door-to-door after the Miami-Dade County Commission passed an ordinance protecting transgender people from discrimination. The organizations’ concern was that the ordinance would cause a backlash resulting in a veto of the law, so volunteers — 15 which were transgender and 41 which were not — went canvassing to 501 homes.

They had a very specific plan of persuasion: Inform the voters about the issue, ask the voter to explain their views; explain both sides. Most importantly, they asked the voter to remember a time where they felt judged for being different. Finally, they asked the voter if the conversation changed their mind and if so, why.

Follow-up surveys implemented by Broockman and Kalla were sent out three days, three weeks, six weeks, and three months after the visit, and the researchers found that all of the voters has increased their support for the nondiscrimination law, even though they were exposed to counterarguments at the same time. This demonstrated to the researchers that targeted, personal conversations had a much greater effect than mass media interventions or brief stimuli — like a Facebook status — on influencing opinions to match those of the person attempting to persuade.

The result is an informative one for those of us who struggle with how to make an argument best — it really is better to have a 10 minute in-depth conversation and then leave it at that — and an important step in learning how to mitigate social biases.

“The issue itself [transphobia] couldn’t be more important — as we’re seeing across the country right now, prejudice against transgender people is devastating lives, and it’s so important to learn both what does and does not work to reduce it,” says Broockman. “We wanted to see if this worked. Regardless of whether it did, we knew it could be one small step in the fight to figuring out this issue.”

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