Encouraging others to be open-minded

The benefits of having an open, growth mindset cannot be underestimated. Studies have proven time and time again that the most successful teams are those where all members of the team are open to new ideas, new improved ways of doing things and are willing to adapt and change. 

In my last article I explored the human tendency to stick to a particular set of beliefs and opinions and a natural resistance to change them. Left to our own devices, we tend to slip into a mindset that defends and holds tighter to our convictions when we engage and communicate with others about a specific topic; especially if our beliefs are challenged. Having people with differing beliefs coupled with closed-mindsets can lead to friction in the workplace as well as missed opportunities to explore new ideas and new approaches. We simply stick to our old views and opinions and outdated ways of doing things.  

Collectively, this way of being can lead to organisations being stuck in their ways and unable to adapt and evolve. Teams experience friction and interactions and conversations become a battle of wills rather than an exercise in truth finding, learning and genuine collaboration. 

Leaders who want to cultivate a culture that embraces growth and curiosity, need to consistently and constantly push against this natural human tendency of resistance to change and encourage their team to stay open and willing to listen and change. In order to change someone else’s mind, you have to help them find their own internal motivation to change. 

Referencing Adam Grant’s book Think Again, the best way to do this is to talk the talk and walk the walk by adopting the ‘scientist’ mindset. The scientist embraces the qualities of curiosity, experimentation, exploration and truth-seeking. 

Grant references an experiment by a high-school history teacher who wanted to teach in a way that had more depth and meaning than simply dictating historical facts and getting them to regurgitate them word for word in tests and exams. Instead, she assigned a task to her students to rewrite textbook chapters that failed to cover important historical events in sufficient enough depth. The students could choose a particular historical event or topic of interest to them and review it with an inquisitive mindset. They then rewrote the topic themselves to more fully immerse themselves in their learning with curiosity and truth-seeking. 

How to get your team to be scientists

Those well-versed in the art of persuasion have one thing in common; they seek out the common ground and points of agreement. They then ask questions to get the other person thinking deeper, present a limited number of stronger points, and introduce complexity into the topic to move the person’s thinking away from two-dimensional thinking into much more complex realms of thinking about a topic. 

Most people have what psychologists refer to as binary bias; “a basic human tendency to seek clarity and closure by simplifying a complex continuum into two categories.” Clever leaders can be aware of this bias and persuade their team to move away from this tendency but illustrating that there are more than two distinct possibilities.  If you are able to pose thought-provoking questions about a topic that opens their minds to the fact that the subject is not as black and white as they originally thought, but instead has many layers of complexity, they may question the accuracy of their own convictions and gently be guided to seek out more knowledge on the issue at hand. The seeds of doubt that are planted can lead to thought-provoking curiosity about the subject. 

An example of binary bias is climate change; people generally fall into the category of alarmists or deniers. However, there are many layers or categories in between the two, including dismissive, doubtful, disengaged, concerned, cautious. Recognising this can move people from conviction and disagreement to engaged, healthy debate.  To summarise, Adam Grant says “we don’t have to believe everything we think or internalize everything we feel. It’s an invitation to let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility over foolish consistency. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom”. 

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