How to deal with closed minded people

How do you respond to someone who has already formed an opinion before hearing you out? How do make someone listen when they seem to have their index fingers in both ears, humming to tune of “The sun will come out/ Tommorrow” (Annie)?

Firstly, let’s understand three reasons why people shut off and choose to be closed minded, with a question at the end of each.

1. Beliefs. A belief is a truth to someone. Whether true or false, our minds accept them as real. Beliefs shape the way we see things. We accept or reject new information because we reference existing paradigms in our minds. Existing paradigms are not necessary a bad thing; they are of value in helping us make sense of our world. A good friend of mine is fond of saying: “If you can’t change your mind, are you sure you have one?”

2. Habits. Most people have developed unconscious tendencies of repeatedly responding in a certain way. Over time, we lack the self awareness to even realise what we are doing. This is like a blind spot – everyone else knows, except me. I have often heard it said that up to 99% of the things we do are done out of habit. Does that imply 1% is done by virtue of conscious thinking?

3. Fears. Certainty is preferable to most than doubt. Certainty is safe and comforting. Doubt makes us feel insecure and fearful. Beliefs, coupled with habits and fears, can turn out to well become delusions – a form of madness that is clear,  concrete, unwavering and obvious to believing/ opinionated. Why depart the comfort of surety for the discomfort and fear of uncertainty?

These are deeply rooted reasons. Often sensitive, burny and sacred.

Secondly, let’s look at a few thoughts about being open or closed minded:

  • “None so blind as he who will not see” (taught in a few religious scriptures)
  • “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” – Sun Tzu
  • “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – 5th habit, Stephen Covey
  • “We see things as we are, not as they are” – Ayn Rand
  • “A man convinced against his will is still of the same opinion”
  • “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.” – Carl Sagan (also shared by Richard Dawkins)

Lastly, how do we deal with closed minded people?

Isn’t this a tough one? Does it deal with our ‘approach’ and ‘role plays’ as some form of technique? How are we dealing with a mutual, respectful exchange of beliefs? I think it’s more the latter.

We cannot expect respect, if we do not show respect. We cannot expect understanding, if we do not show understanding. We cannot expect to convince others, if we are not open to being convinced ourselves. Convinced by what? Reason, facts, evidence, proof, arguments, logic etc.

Often our pride gets in the way. It’s hard to be humble, when ego reigns above logic, when sentiment is preferred to reality. We fear we may have a new enemy. Said, Winston Churchill:You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

My suggestion would be:

  1. Take an interest in the person. Be genuinely interested in the other.
  2. Seek to understand their point of view post.
  3. Restate the message. “If I understand you correctly, what you believe is….”
  4. Ask good questions, follow up with more and again – restate the message.
  5. Thank the person, appreciate their point of view. Use their name.
  6. Realise that people ‘don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care’
  7. If you wish to share your views, which should be easy now that you have sought to understand the other person’s, start with suggestions, probabilities and ‘what if’s’ for the person to consider.
  8. If you share facts, use “I” statements e.g. “I believe that… because…” If you state points as facts (even though they are facts), you leave no room for alternates, but more attack and defense.
  9. Be willing to let go of the subject, and that the person can very well choose to believe as they wish. The objective was always seeking to understand and be understoof, not winning (unless a debate).
  10. Be logical, calm and honest. Pause if you need to gather your thoughts. Be natural.

Have I changed your mind? No? What! Okay, let me seek to understand your why…;-) <your comments below would be appreciated to learn from>

Anil Salick

Anil Salick

Strategist, Facilitator, Coach, Writer. Shares about inspiration, leadership, critical thinking, fun, sports and current events.