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Henley Leadership Group Blog

When Encountering Closed Minds, Open Yours For A Better Outcome


If you’re a leader or aspire to be one, it’s important to focus on developing qualities like curiosity and open-mindedness,  now more than ever.

My husband always has a dozen unanswered questions rattling around in his mind that cause him to research, dig deeper and find new ways to solve an old problem. I'm not as naturally curious and open-minded. It’s something I have to consciously work at. If you’re a leader or aspire to be one, it’s important for you to focus on developing these qualities as well, perhaps now more than ever.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review about open-mindedness, Shane Snow notes, “Changing our methods and minds is hard, but it’s important in an era where threats of disruption are always on the horizon. In popular culture, we might call this kind of cognitive flexibility, ‘open-mindedness.’ And with growing divisions in society, the survival of our businesses and communities may very well depend on our leaders having that flexibility — from Congress to the C-Suite.”

If you aren’t a natural at this, let me suggest four ways you can cultivate an open mind. 

1. Invite Outsiders In

There are many ways to solve a big challenge. It gets a lot more interesting and fun when you seek perspectives from those with some distance and ignorance about the issue at hand. They will have less emotional attachment investment or angst than you do and, as a result, will be likely more access to creativity and innovation. 

2. W.A.I.T 

Judgments, answers, ideas, suggestions and advice all flood into the mind seemingly unbidden — often from the tiniest bit of anxiety sparked in the gap between problem and solution, between issue and resolution. You don't have to consciously activate your busy, monkey mind. It gets rolling automatically the moment your eyes flutter open in the morning. 

Perhaps what an open mind really requires is the willingness to stay quiet when you feel compelled to speak. To let silence fill the gap rather than half-baked advice that alleviates your own personal anxiety. Have you ever wondered why you feel so compelled to offer help, ideas or support? 

Before you do, remember the acronym W.A.I.T. = Why am I talking?

Ask yourself “Why am I talking?” and then listen for the response that arises inside you. Is it that you’re uncomfortable with awkward silences? Do you have a suggestion or thought you’re afraid you'll forget if you don't say it right away? 

3. Be Willing to Be Wrong

Another way to open your mind is to be willing to be completely wrong about your point of view. Admittedly, this becomes more challenging if you have an impassioned opinion or the challenge involves a perceived moral dilemma. But if your mind is open, you can take in multiple truths for consideration and increase the likelihood of a better outcome. I love Byron Katie's four questions for these kinds of challenges and opening my mind.

4. Ask Good Questions

The fourth way I keep my mind open is through powerful questions. If you aren’t a trained coach who relies on big questions, a quick Internet search will produce long lists of powerful questions for you to choose from. Peter Block’s questions from his book on Community are fantastic. Pick two or three of those for a challenge and you are guaranteed a reflective and insightful exploration. 

Surround yourself with curious people, question your own assumptions, W.A.I.T. and keep a list of potent questions handy. It’s a simple but effective toolkit to keep on hand to help keep your mind open.

Previously published on Forbes