When you hear that someone is open-minded, what comes to mind? You may think of someone who is very aware of different cultures, races, ethnicities and beliefs. Someone who is willing to try new things, so they get a holistic view of the world.
When we think of someone who is open-minded, we tend to picture a person who diverges from their “norm” to experiment with other peoples’ versions of normal. While this may be true, it’s not exactly what we’re talking about here.
When you’re open-minded, you’re willing to consider new ideas without judgement (Those last two words are key). Instead of putting up blinders, you take down all barriers in an effort to learn more.
Many of you may be reading this and think, “Oh Julia, I’m open-minded don’t you worry. In fact, I might be the most open-minded person you know.” While that might be true (and if it is you rock), maybe you just think you’re open-minded.
How can you know if you actually are? Let me lay out a little process of being open-minded, and you can see how you fit into it. If you check off every step of this, then congrats! If not, then hopefully this helps you get there.
First things first, you have to understand what the other point of view is, and the only way to begin that understanding is to ask a ton of questions (Think like a little kid trying to make sense of the world). But it doesn’t stop there.
Not only should you ask questions, but you have to be willing to learn, understand and grow from what you’re hearing. It’s not an in-one-ear-out-the-other type of deal. The questions you ask and get answers to should make you think and ask even more questions.
Probably the hardest part of all this is to sit there, ask questions and listen without judgement. Whether or not you like to admit it, we all judge each other, so you have to keep catching yourself when this happens and reminding yourself to be judgement-free.
Put yourself in his shoes
Once you have a (somewhat) solid understanding of what this person is talking about, you can investigate why he feels the way he does. That’s right, it’s time to empathize.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase “a day in your shoes” or something along those lines. Essentially, we’re talking about not only looking at something from someone else’s point of view, but really trying to feel what he feels.
Why is he passionate about what he’s saying to you? Is he emotionally invested in it? Did he go through something that made him feel this way? These are all questions that you could ask the person to really understand what he is feeling.
Okay, now you have a pretty good understanding of what this person is thinking and saying and why he feels that way, so now it’s time to talk about it.
But first, you need to remind yourself of a few things:
- This is not a time for arguing, it’s a time for understanding. You can challenge what the person is saying, but do it in a way that calls for explanation, not defense. (For example: Instead of saying “I can’t believe you see it that way,” say “Wow, that’s different. Why do you see it that way?”)
- Both of you need to speak. Don’t let one person monopolize the entire conversation. This is very much a time for both people to voice and respect one another’s views.
- When in doubt, look for ways to put yourself in the other person’s situation to understand his views. And, if you feel differently try to get him to empathize with you by explaining why you feel the way you do.
- Going off of that, this is very much a back-and-forth dialogue. It’s an opportunity for both of you to come together and understand one another, while keeping an open mind.
This conversation is meant to allow meanings to flow and new understandings to emerge—between both people.
Think about it
No one expects you to walk away from this conversation and have a completely different viewpoint, especially if it’s drastically different from your original beliefs. However, that doesn’t mean that can’t happen.
Probably the most important step of this process is to reflect on everything.
Whether you’re sitting on your couch, driving in your car, taking a shower or lying in bed, you need to think back on the conversation you had to see how you feel about it. Did the other person open a whole new world for you? (Cue the Aladdin song.) Do you feel differently than you did before? If so, is there something you can do about it? Can you initiate change?
Or, maybe your views didn’t change. Maybe you still hold strong to your original beliefs, but now you have a better understanding of why someone might disagree with you. You’re more open to others’ thoughts and you’re aware that people have reasons and feelings as to why they don’t believe what you do.
What’s important here is that you were open to understanding another person’s point of view. This doesn’t mean you have to change your views, but if that ends up happening, then that’s okay! Just have the discussion and understand one another, and you’ll be well on your way to making this world a better, more open-minded place.