Imagine the company you work for is losing money—and fast. If a solution doesn’t present itself soon, you will all be out of a job. You know that there are new, innovative solutions that would reverse the loss, but upper-level executives are resistant to new processes. So resistant, in fact, that they won’t even hear your ideas out.
The executives in this scenario are an example of closed-minded people you might encounter, including family, friends, or professional colleagues. Whether it’s upper-level management resistant to change, a business partner reluctant to take risks, or even a defensive spouse with strong views, dealing with closed-minded people can be a challenge.
Failure to consider new ideas, avoid constructive dialogue, and protect one’s beliefs despite all opposing evidence stunts a person’s growth and hinders others’ ability to connect with them. As a result, studies show that closed-minded people also lead less happy lives.
Discover if someone you know is a closed-minded person by exploring the characteristics of closed-mindedness and strategies for opening the mind to new possibilities.
- Closed-mindedness is a byproduct of deep-seated cognitive biases and beliefs.
- Childhood experiences, social environments, media, and formal education are some sources of core beliefs.
- Open-mindedness is associated with greater life satisfaction and coping abilities.
- Research has linked curiosity with higher levels of positive emotions.
- Open-mindedness can be cultivated by practicing self-awareness, empathy, and seeking diverse perspectives.
What Does It Mean to Be Closed-Minded?
Being closed-minded means having a rigid or inflexible belief system that resists new ideas, perspectives, or information. It’s characterized by an unwillingness to consider alternative viewpoints, a lack of openness to new experiences, and a tendency to adhere strictly to preconceived notions or biases.
While an open-minded person will embrace new viewpoints regardless of existing beliefs, closed-minded people will reject evidence that doesn’t support their beliefs. Closed-minded individuals often also exhibit a reluctance to engage in constructive conversation with others, preferring instead to maintain their established viewpoints, regardless of any evidence that challenges them.
As Paul Sloane, author and business consultant, shares to a TEDx audience: “Everyone thinks they’re open-minded . . . but in fact, we’re all mental prisoners of our beliefs and assumptions. And they construct our mindset. And psychologists tell us we’re not particularly open-minded.”
Where Do a Person’s Beliefs Come From?
“Our core beliefs need to be seen for what they are: deeply held assumptions about reality that our particular life circumstances have conditioned us to accept as absolute truth.”Ezra Bayda
Core beliefs are a person’s deeply held assumptions about life, regardless of their truth. These beliefs can be negative, such as believing “the world is an unforgiving place” or “money is hard to make.” They can also be positive, such as believing “I am supported” and “everything is within reach.”
Many factors contribute to the formation of a person’s core beliefs. These factors can include early childhood experiences, social or environmental factors, cultural influences, and personal interpretations of events.
These are the primary sources of a person’s core beliefs:
- Early Childhood Experiences: The early years of life are crucial in shaping core beliefs. Interactions with parents, caregivers, and family members play a significant role. Children form beliefs about themselves, others, and the world based on how they are treated and the messages they receive during this developmental stage.
- Social Environment: Peers, friends, teachers, and other significant figures in a person’s life contribute to the formation of core beliefs. Social interactions shape their perspectives, values, and attitudes. For example, a person growing up in a supportive and nurturing environment will harbor greater beliefs of their own worthiness and the trustworthiness of others.
- Cultural and Societal Influences: The cultural and societal context in which a person grows up greatly influences their core beliefs. Cultural norms, values, traditions, and societal expectations play a role in shaping perspectives on topics such as family, gender roles, religion, education, and success.
- Personal Interpretations: People assign meaning to situations based on their own cognitive processes, beliefs, and prior experiences, forming new core beliefs. For example, two people facing the same challenging event may interpret it differently, leading to distinct core beliefs.
- Traumatic Experiences: Traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect, or significant losses, can have a profound impact on core beliefs. Trauma can distort perceptions, create negative self-beliefs, and influence one’s worldview. These core beliefs may persist into adulthood unless reevaluated through therapeutic interventions.
- Education and Learning: Formal education and exposure to different ideas and perspectives can broaden one’s mindset and influence core beliefs. Education encourages critical thinking, challenges existing beliefs, and provides new information that may shape a person’s values and perspectives.
- Media and Technology: Media, including television, movies, books, and the internet, can shape core beliefs by providing information, promoting certain values, and shaping societal narratives. Media exposure can contribute to the formation of beliefs about beauty, relationships, success, and societal issues.
The outcome of events experienced or promoted beliefs will form a deep-seated association that a person will, unless challenged, carry with them throughout their lives. Closed-mindedness is a byproduct of these learned and collected beliefs. Closed-mindedness may be a common human tendency, but it’s fortunately not fixed or permanent. Through self-awareness, cognitive flexibility, and a willingness to challenge one’s own beliefs, individuals can cultivate open-mindedness gradually.
To learn more about unconscious bias, read Scale Up to 70% by Beating These 22 Unconscious Biases.
Closed-Mindedness in Interpersonal Relationships
Closed-mindedness can hinder effective communication and understanding between individuals. This is because people who are closed-minded may struggle to empathize with others, dismissing differing opinions without giving them due consideration. This can lead to workplace conflict, strained relationships, and a breakdown in collaboration.
As Andrea Mathews, LPC, explains in Psychology Today, “The open-minded person is willing to explore his own mind and even find that he’s been wrong about something and self-correct. The closed-minded person is unwilling to do this. Being wrong is simply not safe . . . for this reason, trying to talk to the closed-minded person out of a closed mind is not likely to succeed.”
A Closed-Minded Person vs. an Open-Minded Person
“If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails.”Rolf Dobelli
Spotting a closed-minded person can be relatively easy, but the extent to which they differ from an open-minded person may be less known. While a closed-minded person struggles to understand and consider things outside of their internal belief system, an open-minded person embraces that contrast. Open-minded people possess certain qualities and attitudes that allow them to approach new ideas, perspectives, and experiences, unhindered by rigid limiting beliefs.
Qualities of an Open-Minded Person
- They’re Willing to Consider Alternative Viewpoints: An open-minded person is willing to consider and explore alternative viewpoints, even if they differ from their own. They are receptive to new ideas and actively seek diverse perspectives to broaden their understanding.
- They Embrace Critical Thinking: Open-minded individuals engage in critical thinking, objectively evaluating information and considering evidence from different sources. They are open to questioning their own beliefs and adjusting them based on compelling evidence.
- Intellectual Curiosity Comes Naturally: Open-mindedness is accompanied by intellectual curiosity. Open-minded individuals have a genuine desire to learn, explore, and expand their knowledge. They are open to new experiences and actively seek opportunities for personal and intellectual growth.
- They’re Flexible and Adaptable: Open-minded people demonstrate flexibility and adaptability in their thinking. They are more willing to adjust their beliefs and opinions based on new information or compelling arguments. They embrace change and are open to revising their perspectives as needed.
- They Appreciate Diverse Perspectives: Open-minded individuals appreciate and respect diverse perspectives, recognizing that different viewpoints can enrich their understanding of the world. They actively seek out and value diverse cultural, social, and intellectual experiences.
5 Signs of a Closed-Minded Person
“Some of it’s a technical problem. People don’t like it when you force them to think at high resolution.”Jordan Peterson
It can be difficult to know if someone is truly closed-minded or if they are just stubborn. To help tell the difference, here are five telltale signs to compare against.
1. They’re Resistant to New Ideas
A closed-minded person is resistant to new ideas or information that challenge their existing beliefs. They’re less willing to explore alternative viewpoints and may dismiss them without thoughtful consideration.
Example: You present your manager with a new workflow platform to better connect remote employees, but without even reviewing it, they say it won’t work.
Solution: Before presenting new ideas to someone who is closed-minded, ask them to keep an open mind and have strong evidence prepared to support your idea.
2. They Have a Limited Perspective
Closed-minded individuals tend to rely on a narrow set of beliefs or information. They may be less receptive to diverse perspectives, experiences, or cultural differences.
Example: It’s difficult for your parents to understand and support your decision to become a digital nomad solopreneur because they both went to college and work traditional jobs.
Solution: Share examples, evidence, and insights about the new information, like how many solopreneurs there are and examples of some successful ones.
3. Confirmation Bias Dictates Their Decisions
Closed-minded people selectively seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs and dismiss or ignore contradictory evidence. They may engage in motivated reasoning to justify their preconceived notions.
Example: Your colleague was raised in a strict and structured religious environment. Because of this, their input in casual, social dialogue tends to live in a vacuum, and they’re resistant when you share your thoughts outside of that vacuum.
Solution: Use behavioral psychology to close the gap between their biased beliefs and yours. This can be done by first finding common ground and identifying a related belief that you both share, which will help inch them closer to understanding your point of view.
4. They Lack Curiosity
Closed-minded people generally exhibit a lack of curiosity and a reluctance to learn or explore new ideas. They may prefer sticking to familiar concepts and avoid venturing into unfamiliar territory.
Example: A new restaurant just opened downtown. It’s getting rave reviews and generating a lot of buzz in the community. You want to check it out, but your friend refuses to go with you because they don’t like that particular cuisine.
Solution: Ask them what kinds of foods and flavors they do like and highlight a few particular menu items that have them, along with some items that they’ve never tried.
5. Accepting Feedback Is Difficult
Closed-minded people often don’t know how to handle criticism. In fact, they may act defensively when their ideas or beliefs are challenged.
Example: You gently mention to your spouse that they tend to be forgetful with house chores. Instead of acknowledging this, they become angry and deflect, accusing you of being the forgetful one.
Solution: Rather than becoming upset by this person’s response, calmly present evidence supporting your statement and allow the person to respond uninterruptedly. Listen carefully both to what they say and don’t say
How to Deal With Closed-Minded People
“The hallmark of successful people is that they are always stretching themselves to learn new things.”Carol S. Dweck
Embracing challenges, accepting mistakes, and considering new ideas are all part of what psychologist and author Carol Dweck calls having a growth mindset. In fact, Dweck says that not only are these factors necessary for personal advancement, but they impact one’s mental health and relationships.
A 2022 study on college students, published in Frontiers in Psychology, supports this, concluding that “individuals with a growth mindset demonstrated better life perception ability than those with a fixed mindset,” and that “the growth mindset group may have more positive coping strategies, and therefore might have better mental health.”
Except, not everyone is open-minded in this way, and dealing with a closed-minded person can be challenging. Fortunately, you can follow a few tips to make a closed-minded interaction more effective.
Here are some strategies for dealing with a closed-minded person:
1. Remain Calm Despite Resistance
Remaining calm and composed is important when interacting with a closed-minded individual. Getting emotional or confrontational may escalate the situation and make it harder to find common ground.
Cultivating self-awareness, a critical component of emotional intelligence, can be a good way of ensuring one’s composure if a conversation with a closed-minded person isn’t going as hoped.
Things to remember when interacting with a closed-minded person:
- You’re allowed to disagree.
- Some conversations aren’t worth pursuing further.
- It’s better to maintain neutrality by avoiding “you” statements.
- It’s okay to honor your boundaries and uphold your standards.
For a practical tool to aid self-awareness, read Using the Emotion Wheel to Enhance Emotional Intelligence.
2. Be Curious and Try to Understand Their Perspective
As Todd B. Kashdan says in Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, “When we are open to new possibilites, we find them. Be open and skeptical of everything.”
Engaging in conversations with people from different backgrounds and with different viewpoints is a tremendous way to expand both your perspective and someone else’s. According to the Hult International Business School, the presence of diverse perspectives inspires creativity, drives innovation, improves marketing efforts, and helps teams and individuals be more productive.
A person can facilitate new perspectives by trying to understand why the person holds their beliefs or opinions. Do this by asking them questions, listening carefully, and embracing what they say. This can help open an opportunity for more effective dialogue.
How to better understand their perspective:
- Ask open-ended questions like, “Why do you believe that?”
- Be open and adaptable if what they are saying has merit.
- Invite feedback from them.
- Be willing to implement any sound ideas.
For more tips on improving communication, read How to Practice Effective Interpersonal Communication.
3. Bridge the Gap by Finding Common Ground
Identifying common ground can be a starting point for building a bridge between differing perspectives and leveling the playing field. If you’re engaging with a closed-minded person, look for areas of agreement or shared values. Doing so could reveal more shared beliefs than previously thought.
Tips for finding common ground:
- Practice active listening.
- Tell the person you want to find common ground.
- Let them know how you feel about the conflict.
- Ask them if they would also like to find common ground.
- Recognize and accept each other’s different perspectives.
- Ask open-ended questions on topics of mutual interest without judgment.
4. Cultivate Empathy by Sharing Personal Experiences
As author Brené Brown says, “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” Sharing personal stories or experiences that relate to the other person can be a powerful way to cultivate empathy and convey your point of view. It humanizes the discussion and helps the closed-minded person disarm and relate to you on an emotional level. This, in turn, fuels more open-minded dialogue.
Tips for communicating with greater empathy:
- Harness the power of vulnerability by sharing your personal experiences.
- Acknowledge the challenge, conflict, or concern being discussed.
- Validate how the closed-minded person feels about the challenge.
- Communicate your thoughts and stories simply, clearly, and with transparency.
Closed Minds Have Closed Vision
“You begin to fly when you let go of self-limiting beliefs and allow your mind and aspirations to rise to greater heights.”Brian Tracy
When Spanx CEO and founder Sara Blakely imagined appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, she knew how powerful the mind is. She kept visualizing this event, knowing that it would be the moment that would change her business and life. With this belief and vision, Blakely didn’t stop until it became a reality. This proves that learning how to manifest something requires a distinct vision and an open mind that considers new pathways, opportunities, and places to pivot.
Resources for nurturing vision:
- Browse vision board ideas for putting your vision down on paper.
- Read Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant.
- Read Wise Mind, Open Mind by Ronald Alexander.
Continue embracing new possibilities and achieving transformation by reading 8 Visualization Strategies That Make Your Goals a Reality.
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- Antinori, Anna. “Seeing It Both Ways: Openness to Experience and Binocular Rivalry Suppression.” Journal of Research in Personality, vol. 68, June 2017, pp. 15–22, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656617300338.
- “Are You Open-Minded? Three Ways to Break Thinking Patterns | Paul Sloane | TEDxUniversityofBrighton.” YouTube, 19 Apr. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vgl3v8rjj8.
- Andrea Mathews, LPC. “The Closed Mind.” Psychology Today, 1 May 2023, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/201907/the-closed-mind.
- Serrano-Ripoll, Maria. “The Influence of Growth Mindset on the Mental Health and Life Events of College Students.” Frontiers, 24 Nov. 2021, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.821206/full.
- Reynolds, Katie. “13 Benefits and Challenges of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace | Hult International Business School.” Hult International Business School, 17 Jan. 2019, https://www.hult.edu/blog/benefits-challenges-cultural-diversity-workplace/.
- Kashdan, Todd B. “Curiosity and Exploration: Facilitating Positive Subjective Experiences and Personal Growth Opportunities.” Journal of Personality Assessment, vol. 82, no. 3, 2004, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327752jpa8203_05#.Vbu4EWTF8m8.