How many times have you listened to someone and thought their idea was…well, that it needed work? (Yes, let’s put it that way.) Or that it simply wasn’t worth entertaining, which is why you embarked on a tirade about why your idea was the only one that made sense?
It’s surprising how many of us have an “illusionary superiority”—a belief that our abilities and qualities are generally better than those of others. This cognitive bias often leads us to use reason to downplay other people’s ideas and arguments.
Not many of us would admit to this, though! Most people would be offended at the mere suggestion that they might need to be more open-minded. They’d present you with a list of instances where they let go of a disagreement, or allowed others to speak even though not much of it was worth listening to. What they don’t know is that by digging their heels in, their rant is actually proving their close-mindedness.
Before you decide that you certainly aren’t one of them, I invite you to ask yourself a few questions taken from the book Principles by Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. These questions may reveal a lot more about you than you care to admit!
Questions or Statements?
When you engage with someone, do you tend to ask open-ended questions, hoping to discover something that you may not have previously known about the topic? Or do you sit back, waiting to express your own opinions and/or disprove everything they’ve just said?
If the latter, you may want to work on asking people to explain or expand on what they’ve said so that you understand them better.
Listen or Speak?
Do you listen deeply, trying to understand what the other person is saying, rather than just hearing the sound of their voice? Or do you like the sound of your own so much that you’d rather it was the only one in the room?
If the latter, you may want to invite others to express their opinions—especially those who have been quiet for a while.
Empathy or Anger?
How do you tend to feel when you’re part of a conversation? Do you feel calm and collected, and are your emotions generally positive? Or do you feel angry when others don’t agree, and repeat yourself louder when someone asks you to explain your point?
If the latter, you may want to cultivate empathy by trying to see the argument through the lens of the person delivering it.
And or But?
This one is quite telling! Do you listen to the other person and say, “You have a point… AND I also think….”? Or do you believe you’re being open-minded because you say something like, “I’m not 100 percent sure of this…BUT here’s my opinion”? Believe it or not, this shows that you’ve simply been planning your comeback all along.
If “buts” dominate your conversations, try to see communication in terms of win-win outcomes. It’s not a zero-sum game, after all.
Multiple or Single?
Can you embrace the idea that there may be more than one truth? Can you hold on to multiple perspectives, including your own, at the same time? Or do you see the world in black and white, and can only handle one idea—usually yours—at a time?
If the latter, you may want to get a little more comfortable with ambiguity and start appreciating the world in all its wonderful shades of gray.
Of course, your answers will likely vary, depending on the situation you’re in and the person you’re with.
But if you find yourself generally getting frustrated by other people’s opinions, or repeating the same mistakes over and over again, perhaps it’s time to do a mental inventory.
Where in your life could you benefit from a little more open-mindedness? And how would you approach arguments and obstacles so that you learn from them rather than fight them head-on?
At the end of the day, learning to be open-minded is a journey—an essential one—in a world where we’re increasingly being called to harness the power of billions of brilliant minds.