Dave Conrad: Keep an open mind for possibilities

Dear Dave:Some people I work with are negative and closed-minded. It doesn't matter what idea is brought up, everyone seems to start coming up with reasons why it won't work, instead of discussing why it might. This is preventing people from bringing up ideas. What are your thoughts? —P

Dear P:"The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend" — Henri Bergson

We know that, keeping an open mind is — in practice — a tough thing to practice. It means you are open to everyone and everything that comes your way, allowing yourself to embrace different possibilities, opportunities, people, views, suggestions, and interests.

Close-minded people essentially become negative and become shut off from the world of opportunities and possibilities. Their attitude makes them unwilling to try or accept anything else -- this limits one's growth and experiencing new learning and discoveries.

Open-minded thinkers are receptive to new ideas and willing to consider other perspectives to see if they hold any value. They then can reject the bad ideas and embrace the good ones. Simply, the more you can openly consider ideas and listen to the people presenting them, the better you can think and make good, objective decisions.


Keeping an open mind also means to try and look at various approaches and ideas from different angles, and to assess what impact they may have, good or bad. It doesn't mean to believe or accept everything, but to listen, observe, and interpret, so you can comprehend every situation you encounter.

I tell my Rochester MBA students to be unbiased and broad-minded. Here are several ways you can model to your fellow employees the practice and importance of maintaining an open mind:

• Comprehension – In meetings, try to understand, empathize, and make sense of someone else's situation, opinion or stance. Learn to see things from his or her point of view. Keep in mind the history, education, experiences, and life circumstances of the other person.

• Right or wrong – Even if you believe you are absolutely right, keep an open mind that you might be wrong after all. It is easy to become so polarized in our thinking that we shut out potentially advantageous views, simply because they were not ours.

• Information — Be open to and process all information. Be interested in new, old, conflicting, and even strange insights – and don't shoot the messenger. Get the news and stay current on the facts by reading credible literature and news sources. Talk to people you would not normally talk to gain additional perspectives.

• Ask great questions — Try asking sincere, open-ended questions (designed to encourage a full meaningful answer) to draw out what people are thinking, know and firmly believe. Gain accurate insight by asking questions that probe and obtain what information is needed for everyone to fully understand the problems or challenges.

• Be more alert — Listen to what people are really saying, or not saying, and pay more attention to what's going on around you. Ask yourself questions like: What dynamics are at work in various situations and why are they happening at this particular time? Why is someone saying what they are saying? What events have led up to a certain situation or condition?

Finally, try to deal with close-minded people rationally and calmly without emotionally coming unglued. Make an effort to see if you can help them become a little more open-minded without insulting them. I think every close-minded person can learn to be more objective and analytical.

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