Changing people’s minds – how to turn ‘no’ into ‘yes’

Posted by  Mark Schenk —October 23, 2018
Filed in Business storytelling, Leadership Posts

Changing people’s minds can be tough, especially when they have strongly entrenched views. It turns out that story is a powerful weapon, albeit a surprising one, that can really help turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.

In September, I was running our Storytelling for Leaders program for a group of Vice Presidents of a global technology company in New York. They were a great group.

Sanjay, one of the participants, described how he recently faced a difficult client situation. The client CIO was planning part of their digital transformation and Sanjay’s company was the implementation partner. Sanjay outlined the planned implementation roadmap which consisted of a proof-of-concept and a staged implementation approach.

But the CIO resisted. He believed that a proof-of-concept and staging was unnecessary and would cost more and take longer. He wanted a ‘big-bang’ implementation to hit time and cost targets.

changing people's minds

Sanjay had seen many such implementations and was convinced the proof-of-concept was the right approach. But the CIO was unshakeable in his determination to proceed immediately to full-scale implementation.

So Sanjay changed tack

He told the CIO about an incident in about 2005, in the early days of digitisation. His wife saw an offer from Costco to ‘digitise your photo albums’ and provide all your photos back to you on a CD-ROM. So she emptied her photo albums and took about 2500 photos into Costco, filled out the forms and waited for delivery of her new, digital, photo library.

Sanjay was quite surprised when he heard this and asked why she hadn’t taken in a smaller sample, say 50 photos, to make sure the process worked. His wife assured him that everything would be fine.

She was very excited. But the call from Costco didn’t come. So she rang them and was assured that everything was fine and the job would be done within the week. Again, no call. At the end of another week she called again and was told there had been a problem.

Her entire photo history was lost. It included the only photos she had of her mother who had passed away two years previously. It was devastating.

When the CIO heard this experience he reconsidered his position and agreed to go with the proof-of-concept. Sanjay’s convincing arguments had met nothing but resistance but his story had changed the CIO’s mind.

From push to pull strategy

The psychology underlying the power of story to change minds is relatively simple. Convincing arguments are a ‘push strategy’. When you use argument to influence someone you often meet resistance – because when you push a human being, in most cases they push back, defending their position.

Story on the other hand, is a ‘pull strategy’. The listener pictures what’s happening in their mind which creates a sense of ownership. Stories are like a Trojan Horse for your arguments. They are doubly effective when your story includes the relevant facts and figures.

Using story is no guarantee you will succeed in changing someone’s mind. But I do guarantee that if you add story into your influence toolkit you’ll have a surprisingly effective new tool to change people’s minds.

Storytelling for Leaders is a six-month training program comprising a one-day workshop and a deliberate practice program — ideal for improving your communication and presentation skills. Find out more


Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. Dave Stokes says:

    It’s a great story fellas and a powerful example of selectively choosing your influence approach.

    In a similar vein, my father recounts the ‘Tale of Two Salespeople’.

    It was the 1970’s and Dad was working with EDP Services – a division of Valentines Greeting Cards who were ‘dipping a toe’ into computer technology with a new payroll product. The Boroughs mainframe computers used to run the payroll reports occupied a mere 40 square meters of floor space, and had a bleeding edge memory capacity of 256 Kb.

    Dad was charged with selling the payroll bureau service to local industry.

    The concept was taking off. Companies were realising they could produce their weekly payroll much faster and with less human error. So EDP employed a new Sales Manager – David – to further expand the growing business.

    In those days – and probably still today – Dad was of the mindset that growth was an incremental process, where you ‘sell a little extra, earn a little extra, then spend a little extra’. He had the same gentle ‘we’ll get there’, no pressure attitude toward his clients. Not so for the new sales manager!

    On the day David was appointed to his new position, he took a lease on a brand new Mercedes 450 SEL, with a crippling monthly repayment.

    When Dad asked him why he’d chosen one of the most expensive cars on the market, his reply was simply: “If I don’t sell enough, I’ll lose the car. That will get me up and at ‘em every working day!”

    At the end of the sales year, targets had been reached, Dad bought himself a brand new Datsun 180B, David got to keep the Mercedes for another year and they all enjoyed a holiday as an incentive prize for making budget.

    Which only goes to show…

    Pulling yourself toward a Datsun, can be just as effective a motivator as being pushed out of your Mercedes!

  2. Mark Schenk says:

    Hi Dave, that’s a cool example. One of my friends had a Datsun 180B as his first car and I have many happy memories of holidays we took in that car. Grinding slowly up hills, loaded with camping gear and surfboards. Your story shows that motivation looks different for different people. Thanks for sharing it.

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