Dealing With Close-Mindedness

November 27th, 2006 by Steve Pavlina

A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. - Dale Carnegie

How can you intelligently deal with people who are close-minded, totally stubborn in their beliefs and unreceptive to new ideas?  Perhaps you feel certain you’re right and they’re wrong, but you can’t seem to convince them to see things your way.  And maybe you are in fact right, but that doesn’t prevent the other person from resorting to irrational arguments to keep from agreeing with you.  What can you do in such situations?

I’d like you to consider this challenge from an angle you may not have considered.

When you encounter people who are very close-minded, you’ll often find yourself becoming resistant to the other person’s position.  You think the problem lies with the other person, but if you define it that way, you’ll beat your head against the wall in frustration.  The real source of your frustration is your own resistance, not the other person.

The lesson in such situations is to learn unconditional acceptance, which comes about when you begin asking questions like:  Why do I feel such resistance towards close-minded people?  Why do I feel the need to convince them of anything?  Why do I have such a strong need to be right?  What part of me is experiencing this resistance?  Is it possible there’s any shred of truth in the other person’s position?

As you explore these questions, you’ll begin to uncover the part of yourself that is resisting what the other person represents to you.  Then you can consciously decide if you wish to continue holding onto that resistance or let it go.  The more you resist about the world, the more time you’ll spend defending your position.

Resistance comes from your ego.  When your ego takes ownership of your ideas, it treats challenges to your ideas as a personal challenge, hence the need to defend yourself as if being attacked.  But if you keep your ideas separate from your ego, you’ll feel no surge of resistance or defensiveness because there won’t be any attachment.

Running this web site has helped me a great deal in this area.  Every week a few people email me to tell me I’m totally and completely wrong about one thing or another, and some make a strong effort to bait me into an argument.  In the early days of running this site, I sometimes fell into the trap of taking the bait, and it was invariably unproductive.  But I soon learned that I would only fall into arguments when my ego got involved and took the challenge personally, as if someone disagreeing with my ideas was a personal attack on me.

From this I learned that resistance to close-minded people is an issue with my own ego and has nothing to do with the other person.  Resistance is always a lesson in disguise.

Today when I get such emails, I usually just ignore them.  People are free to disagree with the ideas on this website as much as they want, and that has nothing to do with me personally.  Sometimes, however, I reply with the line:  “You could be right.”  I’m able to write those words sincerely, since from the other person’s perspective, I’m sure they are right.  I accept their position and allow them to have it, but I don’t take ownership of it myself.  This keeps my ego out of the way, so I can stay focused on contributing rather than getting sucked into defending my ego’s desire to be right.  Incidentally, I find it equally important to adopt this attitude when receiving emails full of praise.  I let the praise flow to the ideas and try not to take ownership of it personally.  This helps keep my ego from getting too bloated on the positive side, which would only strengthen its need to defend itself.  The more you equate yourself with your position, the more resistance you’ll experience when your position is attacked.

I can’t take credit for “you could be right” – I picked it up from Dr. Wayne Dyer.  He mentioned in one of his audio programs that he used that line to reply to a critical letter.  “You could be right” also keeps you open to hearing any genuinely constructive criticism that could be valid and actionable.  Try using those four words the next time someone attempts to bait you into an argument, and watch what happens.

Now what if you’re in a situation where you deal with close-minded people regularly?  Maybe you work with one, and you need the cooperation of such a person to get your job done?

You can still deal with close-minded people rationally without emotionally resisting their position.  Make an effort to see if you can help them become a little more open-minded without making them wrong.  Benjamin Franklin had a great method for this.  He would introduce an absentee third party into the discussion whenever he had to disagree with someone.  For example, he’d start a sentence with, “How would you respond if someone suggested that…” or “I once heard someone say that…” or “Some might say that…” or “It’s been rumored that…”  Then he’d maintain a posture of curiosity rather than defensiveness.  He’d put himself and the other person on one side of the table and the ideas on the other side.  This would allow him to debate the ideas and be very persuasive while keeping the egos in the room from going to war.  No one will put up much of a fight against a third party that isn’t even present.  It was also harder for anyone to attack Franklin personally because he didn’t claim ownership of the ideas he presented.

I’ve used Franklin’s strategy on many occasions, and it works wonders.  It takes a bit of practice to get used to separating your ego from your ideas, but I think you’ll find the results are worth the effort.  If it can work in negotiating the U.S. Constitution, it can probably work for you.

On the other hand, if even Franklin’s strategy doesn’t help you lower people’s shields, then simply accept them where they are and allow them to be.  In accepting people unconditionally, you then have to decide if you still want to maintain your relationship to them.  In many cases you’ll be able to forgive and release.  In other cases you may decide it’s best to move on, such as by making a job change or letting go of an intimate relationship.  Wanted or unwanted, you’re in for a growth experience either way.

I’ve been through enough of these situations to see that accepting people where they are often brings them around to a more open-minded posture in the long run.  People get trapped in close-mindedness due to fear, especially the fear of being taken advantage of.  Your unconditional acceptance helps reduce some of that fear, which may be enough to convince them to lower their shields and open themselves to new ideas.  But if you attack, attack, attack, you may win an argument now and then, but you’ll only drive the other person deeper into fear, causing them to invest even more energy in defending their position.

You’ll probably notice that when you get into an argument with a close-minded person, you become more rigid and close-minded yourself, at least temporarily.  You might even argue with the other person in your head for days.  But the more you develop the ability to compassionately accept people wherever they are, the more open-minded you become.  The less you resist, the more you can forgive and accept.

Being open-minded doesn’t mean being gullible.  Being open-minded means that you’re receptive to new ideas and willing to consider other perspectives to see if they hold any value.  If they hold no value for you, dump them.  If they strike a chord with you, explore them further.  The more you can openly consider ideas without resisting the people behind them, the faster you can grow as a human being.


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