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The opinions expressed by the entrepreneurs' contributors are their own.
The ability to change one's mind when faced with new evidence or information – or even better, the willingness to actively seek conflicting points of view – is an important trait required to be successful in both business and life be. It is crucial for managers who want to ensure that their organization remains innovative and that society works optimally. Too often, however, we can be isolated from information that goes against our existing beliefs.
Breaking this way of thinking should be a priority for anyone interested in improving their critical thinking skills. If you isolate yourself from conflicting viewpoints, you may be depriving yourself of the information needed to make a more informed decision. To this end, here are some strategies that you can use immediately to become more open to conflicting points of view and improve your critical thinking skills.
1. Be ready to question your current view of reality
Take a moment to reflect on some of your deepest beliefs and opinions. Try to be deliberately broad and consider the full range of social, political, and organizational issues that make up your current view of reality. For example, you can think about your beliefs about the nature and source of inequality in society, trade policy that is most conducive to promoting a country's economic interest, or how you can effectively manage in times of crisis.
Related: 16 characteristics of critical thinkers
When you take stock of your own constellation of views and beliefs, what is the likelihood that each will reflect a fully informed opinion? Assuming that truth is known about each of these topics, so the views you represent may be more or less factual, compatible with reality, or conducive to human flowering, what is the likelihood that you will simply do so do the right view to keep each of them?
An honest and humble assessment of this question should open your mind to the possibility of your own fallibility and the value of exposing arguments that run counter to your current perspective. Accordingly, a critical first step to becoming more open to conflicting perspectives requires a sense of humility, which is the willingness to learn from others and the recognition of your own limits and fallibility. Fortunately, this is a quality that can be developed and promoted through practice.
2. Regularly look for counter information
Simply recognizing your own fallibility is necessary, but it is not a sufficient prerequisite to become more open and tolerant of opposing viewpoints. Indeed, it is all too easy to get used to keeping a close eye on information that is consistent with our existing views. Organizational leaders can easily find themselves in isolated information silos, for example, when they are surrounded by sycophants who want to express their opinion, who their leader wants to hear. Likewise, the increasing prevalence of media curated for each individual's idiosyncratic interests and preferences makes it easier than ever for the public not to notice information and evidence that go against existing beliefs. It can be extremely difficult to overcome such tendencies, especially if the beliefs and opinions we represent are deeply rooted or tied to our identity.
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Given the psychological discomfort that can arise when we encounter information that contradicts our current beliefs, the willingness to look for alternative perspectives requires a conscious effort. Therefore, a crucial next step is to identify your dominant or “standard” view and make it a habit to consume information that is somewhat contrary to this reference point. For example, as a leader, you can think about how you view your current organizational processes and procedures, and actively look for sources that are critical to such practices. A good example is the movement for open office spaces. Over the past few decades, many executives have introduced open office concepts in their organizations and believe that such environments encourage teamwork and creativity. However, conventional wisdom about the benefits of open office plans is completely independent of science.
It is important that such advice can (and should) be included in all aspects of your life, not just organizational issues. For example, if you naturally tend to end the political spectrum, it can be helpful to regularly consume information from the media that is contrary to your own political point of view. You may not agree with everything you are exposed to – and you shouldn't – but you will undoubtedly see blind spots in your own thinking and even strengthen your own convictions by not only making the best and most convincing arguments for your position understand, but also this against.
3. Make yourself aware of how you feel at the moment
Even with the best intentions to remain receptive to conflicting viewpoints, implementing this mindset can be extremely challenging. The moment we come across information that is contrary to our own beliefs, we often run the risk of being swept away by intense affective reactions that can thwart a real effort to understand the opposite point of view. For example, we know from research that in morally charged situations we often make quick, instinctive judgments based on emotions. Only later do we justify how we got the evaluation at all. Even more worrying is that this process often takes place below the level of consciousness and we (wrongly) believe that the judgment we made was the result of a rational, thoughtful process. Accordingly, it is important to keep an eye on these processes and regularly monitor how you feel at the moment to ensure that your judgment of the opposing evidence is based on reason and not on unrestrained emotions.
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It makes sense to expose arguments that run counter to your current perspective. To reap the benefits, you need to acknowledge your own fallibility, look for enemy information, and consider your emotions when evaluating the evidence.