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Engage Others with Civility and Tact

"Open-mindedness in Conversation"


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		  "Open-mindedness in Conversation"  

 It's hard to keep an open mind during heated conversation, isn't it? People get identified with certain ideas and assert them fervently. They offer “Yes, but . . .” responses to those with different or opposing views. They don't really consider evidence against their own views.  Why Are People Closed-minded?   

Once a belief has been established, it is hard to change. Often our beliefs are set early in life as a result of our up-bringing and limited  exposure to other belief systems. For that reason, the majority of people share the religious faith and political beliefs of their  parents. The adage says, “The way the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”   

Beliefs are maintained by selective exposure to information. Media research demonstrates that individuals privatize themselves by paying most attention to those media that support their beliefs and much less to media that offer contrary ideas. As well, birds of a feather DO flock together, so we surround ourselves with people of like mind in our clubs, churches, and workplace.   

Once polarized in our beliefs and opinions, we tend to ignore or dismiss contrary evidence so as “not to be confused by the facts.”   

Benefits of Open-Mindedness   

Being open-minded carries certain benefits, among them the ability to be less swayed by specific events and to be less susceptible to  manipulation and suggestion. Open-minded people are more thoughtful and not so easily roused to anger because they can actually  consider alternative views without upset.   

(Think of how beneficial open-mindedness would be for you when your Uncle Dick goes on a political rant with you during a holiday  get-together! You could hear him out with civility and not ruin your day.)   

How to Increase Your Open-Mindedness   

Here are two exercises attributed to Catherine Freeman, a therapist and coach:   

1. Take a position opposite to your own on a  controversial topic such as abortion or gun control.  Generate at least 3 reasons to support this opposite  position, the more the better. (This method is  similar to what college debaters are required to do:  to argue both sides of proposition with reasoned  argument.)   

2. Recall a time someone wronged you and  come up with some reasons why they may have  done that inadvertently without intent to harm.  (Also, The “Work” of Byron Katie has a simple,  clear steps of 4 questions that is profoundly  helpful in getting un-stuck from judgements.  (Details at   

To an in-law firmly convinced of his  rightness on a number of political issues, I  say “I agree that we disagree.” I don't try  to change him, and he offers himself as a  model close-minded person. I can usually  listen to his views without becoming upset,  and once in a while I'll change my thinking.  My intention is not that he change, but only  that he be thoughtful when we talk. For me,  that is a more attainable goal than change.  


Loren Ekroth ©2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

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