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.