"I Can't Hear You"Shortly after I posted about molding rookie employees' attitudes, I was reading a blog maintained by a lapsed lawyer. He was lamenting that despite his best efforts, he was finding it impossible to make headway in persuading certain closed-minded people that the US could improve on its approach to the Mideast.
As an ex-litigator, this man was, I imagine, instinctively thinking in terms of the courtroom model, in which each side presents its arguments, and if yours is the more persuasive case, you win. The people on the other side don't have the option of saying "I can't hear you" and walking off, with their minds firmly closed and insisting that the arguments must continue until the issue is resolved in their favor.
The blogger's frustration got me to thinking some more about the issue of how to cope with closed minds. Obviously, this is too large a topic to tackle in a blog posting, so let me narrow it down to the business setting (i.e., no wading into political and religious issues).
Suppose you find yourself dealing with someone perhaps in a business meeting or at a training session who has a set view on a question that needs to be discussed without preconceptions. What can you try in an effort to get the resistant person to cooperate? Here are some possibilities:
- Appeal to the person's curiosity. E.g., cite an intriguing fact that doesn't entirely jibe with her bias. Ask her what she thinks about it, what experience she has had with it.
- Ask a question that creates cognitive dissonance. Your aim is to stimulate thinking and active participation before the person has a chance to realize that her defenses are down. Ideally, the person arrives at new insights and, at a broader level, develops greater self-awareness concerning her beliefs and thought processes.
- Make it clear that it's safe for the person to express ideas that don't entirely match what she has argued in the past. For example, sometimes a person's closed-mindedness is a result of some kind of trauma; creating a supportive environment can enable freer and more calmly reasoned thinking.
- Play up the WIIFM factor. Enumerate the ways in which approaching the material under discussion with an open mind will benefit each participant personally. Talk about job, career, and other benefits. In fact, as far as possible, elicit insights on What's In It For Me from the participants themselves.
- Get assumptions out in the open. Ask participants to work in small groups to identify the assumptions they're bringing to the discussion. Then work with the whole group to determine which of these assumptions should be suspended in order to facilitate unfettered thinking.