I have written this blog with a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the protest marches following the death of George Floyd and, lurking in the background, Brexit. It is a time when people are expressing very strongly held beliefs, ideas and opinions. Maybe as never before, now is a time for people to open their minds to the beliefs, ideas and opinions of others. In this blog post, the corporate trainers at Eagle Training discuss characteristics of an open-minded leader, the importance of open-mindedness and what prevents open-minded thinking.
That said, I have to begin this blog by holding my hands up and confessing that for many years I was anything but open-minded. Had my mind been a parachute I would have hit the ground really hard because, for most of the time, it was closed! I’m not saying that I have mastered the practice of being open-minded just yet, but I’m a lot better than my younger self. Looking back I think I had a high need to be proved right about pretty much everything!
importance of open-mindedness
And yet, according to the University of California Davis Internship and Career Centre, being open-minded is a highly sought-after employee characteristic in the 21st Century. Being open-minded needs you to be willing and prepared to listen to others’ ideas and opinions and, perish the thought, actually consider the possibility that you might be wrong or may need to change your own perspective.
An increased emphasis on work teams over recent years has made open-minded employees even more valuable to teams and organisations. Without a culture of listening and cooperation, it is hard for groups to work together to deliver projects in a timely way, with the required quality.
For the last 20 years, we have worked in collaboration with Advance Consultancy in the area of infrastructure projects such as Crossrail, HS2 and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Our challenge has usually been to help build collaborative teams across the projects; involving the clients, contractors and other organisations in the supply chain.
My reason for mentioning this here is that Advance, in conjunction with Nottingham University, has created the first psychometric profile on collaboration and being open to ideas is one of 7 facets of that tool; it’s that important.
Most 21st Century organisations are filled with people from different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences. To be successful, you need to be open-minded about ideas and behaviours. When managers and employees don’t keep an open mind, the work environment can be poisoned by biases and intolerance, leading to miscommunication and mistakes.
Stephen Covey discusses the importance of open-mindedness in his chapter on “Synergize” in his seminal book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He indicates that open-minded team members learn things and achieve things that they wouldn’t be able to do on their own and participate in greater solutions than they could come up with alone. This is because they use the complementary skills of other people that they do not have themselves. Being open-minded also helps you work through interpersonal or intra-team conflicts that arise.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN OPEN-MINDED LEADER
Open-minded people exhibit the following characteristics:
- They actively seek advice and feedback from others without feeling that their own ideas are being criticised
- They are open to learning from others
- They are willing to balance their ideas against those of their colleagues
- They are humble about their own knowledge and expertise and admit that they might not have all the answers and consider the possibility that they might be wrong
- They are curious to listen to the thoughts and opinions of others and then to change their mind in the light of new information
- They have empathy for other people
- They are assertive and believe others have a right to share their ideas and thoughts
- They think more critically, especially when faced with unpredictable circumstances. This helps them see the bigger picture and think more laterally about how best to solve a problem
- Finally, an open-minded leader who is prepared to listen encourages their employees to bring new ideas to the table. It helps team members develop their confidence that their voices will be heard and fosters a sense of loyalty.
Benefits of open-mindedness
One other benefit of being open-minded is it can help you grow as a person because it’s hard to keep learning when you surround yourself with the same old ideas; either yours or those of similar people around you. It’s really difficult to grow if you practice a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ or ‘not invented here’ philosophy.
It also makes you more adaptable and better equipped to cope with jobs and co-workers who are different than what you are used to. This is especially important in the early 21st century, as projects become ever more diverse in nature and where tolerance of diversity in the workplace promotes creativity because everyone feels free to express an opinion and share insights.
what prevents someone from being open-minded
So, what prevents someone from being open-minded? It seems that there are a number of factors that can affect how open or closed-minded a person is:
- People have varying levels of comfort when dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. This is especially relevant as we are now living in a VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – world. Some people struggle in this environment and so retreat into a closed-minded approach that they feel is safer and less stressful for them
- Research has found that people expect that experts are less open-minded in their areas of expertise. Such dogmatism is sometimes an attempt to keep things simpler and easier to understand. By rejecting alternative ideas that might challenge the status quo, people are able to minimise uncertainty and risk – or at least their perception of risk
- One of the biggest contributors to closed-mindedness is your unconscious confirmation bias. Your confirmation bias involves you paying more attention to things that confirm your existing beliefs and ideas, the things that prove you right, while at the same time discounting evidence that challenges what you thin
This last point is a critical one because when you are faced with an idea or information that does not fit with your view or previous experience, you might have a tendency to shut down and stop listening. Alternatively, you might choose to defend your particular idea.
How to Open Closed Minds
However, while potentially painful, it is possible to overcome this tendency. To become more open-minded can be, you will first have to be prepared to adjust your thinking; i.e. accept the notion that you might be wrong. The next step will be to listen with, as Stephen Covey suggests, an intent to really understand rather than respond to the other person’s ideas.
Then, as you listen to this new information, ask yourself a few key questions:
- How much do you really know about the topic?
- How trustworthy is the source of the new information?
- Have you considered ideas other than your own in this area?
- What biases do you have that might be influencing your thinking?