Are You Really Open Minded?

If you asked 1000 people if they were open or closed-minded, my guess is that more than 90% would claim to be open minded. But are they really open-minded?

Nobody wants to admit they are closed-minded. In fact, it likely doesn’t even occur to a closed-minded person that they are closed-minded. This blind spot makes the situation even worse.

How do you tell the difference between open and closed-mindedness? Ray Dalio, founder of investment firm Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, suggests some simple ways in his book Principles.

Protect vs Challenge Beliefs

Closed-minded people hold onto their beliefs strongly and ignore any contrary evidence. They are more interested in being right than getting to the right answer. They don’t want others to ask questions that might challenge their beliefs.

Open-minded people actively look for opinions and information that challenge their beliefs. When a disagreement happens, they are curious about the underlying reasons. In Dalio’s words,

Rather than thinking, ‘I’m right.’ I started to ask myself, ‘How do I know I’m right?’”

Statements vs Questions

Closed-minded people prefer statements rather than questions. They frequently offer opinions (often disguised as facts). They rarely ask others to explain their ideas but focus on information that refutes others.

Open-minded people actively seek out opinions from others by asking open-ended questions. When making decisions, they seek out others with diverse backgrounds who might have contrary point of views. As my first boss taught me,

Decide what information might change your mind and then try to find someone who has that information.

Understanding vs Empathy

Closed-minded people spend their time trying to be understood by others. When someone disagrees with them, they are quick to rephrase – or even repeat – their point of view. They use phrases like “you might not have understood me” or “I might not have explained myself well.”

Open-minded people are empathetic and want to hear others’ points of view. If you disagree with an open-minded person, they focus on understanding you rather than explaining themselves.

Dalio urges us to practice Radical Open-Mindedness. Here are two ideas:

  • Remember that you’re looking for the best answer, not simply the best answer that you can come up with yourself.
  • Be clear on whether you are arguing or seeking to understand, and think about which is most appropriate based on your and others’ believability.

I’m intrigued by radical open-mindedness and think it could support a goal of lifetime learning. Just remember: it’s important to keep an open mind but not so open that your brain falls out.

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4 Responses to Are You Really Open Minded?

  1. Terry Lund April 30, 2018 at 6:17 am #

    Jonathan, like most of your posts, there’s some great “food for thought” in this article, particularly in the context of what’s going on in the (political) world around us. Thanks for sharing the article and the links.

  2. Denis J Browne April 30, 2018 at 11:13 am #

    Great post. It reminds me of the quote, “The mind is like a parachute, it works best when it is open” 🙂

  3. Mike Cylkowski May 1, 2018 at 10:52 am #

    Proselytizing for such rigid open-mindedness encourages close-mindedness about being close-minded. I am close-minded about somethings and will entertain no arguments for open-mindedness about, for example, child pornography, or child abuse, or human trafficking. I can give you a list of subjects that disgust me and for which I have zero tolerance. Am I a close-minded person? If so, thankfully, some of us are.

    I belong to a Bio-Ethics council where members present cases that some professional has interpreted to be ethical behavior. What were they thinking? But, there are always council members who attempt to give arguments of support – I suppose they are the open-minded members – or are they naively buying into thinking they have to be open-minded at all costs because Ray Dalio might think less of me?

    On the other hand, some subjects, like “tribalism,” which I feel serves no useful social purpose but will read and listen to others voice their opinions. Does that earn me an open-minded credential?


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