Every Monday, for going on three years, I sit down and reach out to someone who is doing something I admire requesting a chance to speak with them.
I try not to prepare too many talking points and prefer to see where the conversation takes us. One question, however, I do try to ask each person is their definition of the word “cool” as it provides insights as to what they value.
Whether it’s a 19-year-old entrepreneur in India or a recovered heroin addict pursuing his Ph.D. in neuroscience and mindfulness in Ireland, the overwhelming majority of the people define cool as someone who possesses that sweet mix of kindness and curiosity.
In short, the people they think are cool are open-minded and hungry to learn about the world and the people in it.
Due to seeing the same heartbreaking events play out again, and again, and again, I’ve been thinking a lot about the traits and behaviors of open-minded people.
I’ve been thinking about how I’ve felt being on the receiving end of the actions of someone who is open-minded.
Below are the 6 traits that I’ve come up with.
1. They acknowledge each person they meet
A few years ago, my friend, banker turned mindfulness coach, Justin Caffrey, found himself in the same hotel lobby as Bill Clinton.
Having heard rumors of Clinton’s positive effect on people, instead of running up to try and shake his hand, Justin decided to sit back and observe the former presidents’ actions.
For ten minutes, he watched in amazement as Clinton went down the line of people eager to speak with him. It didn’t matter if it was a fellow guest or a young person working in the hotel, Clinton gave each of them the same level of interest and attention.
When asked by entrepreneur, Richard Reed, for the one thing that most attributed to his success, Clinton pointed to this decision to acknowledge each person he comes into contact with:
“I’ve come to believe that one of the most important things is to see people. The person who opens the door for you. The person who pours your coffee. Acknowledge them. Show them respect.
The traditional greeting of the Zulu people of South Africa is ‘Sawubona’. It means ‘I see you.’ I try and do that.”
A childhood friend who worked closely with Clinton confirmed this and told me every night before going to bed he would jot down notes about the people he met.
No matter your views of the former president, you can’t knock this practice.
Open-minded people actively work to give each person they come across their presence. They look them in the eye. They say hello. They show a genuine interest. They thank them for the valuable contribution.
In short, open-minded people choose to let other people know that they are seen.
2. They choose to read about those who have lived a different experience
I told my dad about a book I was reading thinking it would start a conversation. Instead, he replied,
“That’s the third time you’ve said that person’s name. Do yourself a favor and go read the opposite. Pick up a few biographies from people who are different than you. It will do you some good.”
At first, I was taken back. But he was right. I had allowed comfort to become my favorite blanket.
Picking up a book from someone who shares the same worldview as you is easy. From time to time it’s fine to do that. Security feels good. But the world is a big place. True value is awarded to people who take the time to learn what is truly valuable to all of the people around them.
Open-minded people stretch themselves. They sit with the stories of others. They try to breathe in their air. They listen. If it stings a little, they may flinch, but they don’t run.
In short, open-minded people understand the value of learning how to sit comfortably with all sides.
3. They give people room to show themselves
A few years ago, I blew the first impression with a man whose work I greatly admire. Months later, however, to my surprise, he checked in on me to let me know that my work showed promise. A few months later, he went so far to tell me that something I’d made was great.
When speaking to this man recently, I asked him why he had given me a second chance:
“In order to make an impact, people need to get clear in three things — certainty in their vision, confidence in their actions, and values. It was clear you were confused about the first two parts of this equation, but it was clear to me that we shared similar values.
And when someone has shared values, they are worth being given a 2nd, 10th, 100th chance.”
Open-minded people realize not everyone is going to get it right on the first try. They give people space. They are patient. They know that everyone was sent into their lives to teach them something and sometimes that may involve a little wait.
In short, open-minded people work hard to fight their urge to judge.
4. They give “out-on-a-limb” recommendations
A year into my first sales job, I was asked by the corporate trainer and managing director to sit in on the candidate-selection process and do the initial screenings. I’ll never forget the comments they made when reviewing profiles:
“She may not work out, but it is our duty to give people a chance. Something tells me she’s a fighter.”
“I know he has a criminal record, but it is clear he has put in the work. The guy clearly has talent and maybe we can work with him to put it to good use.”
“I don’t care about his education, I connected with him immediately. He may surprise you.”
Over the last two decades, I’ve lived across three continents and I’ve worked across seven different sectors. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during this time is that talent is everywhere and it pays to be the type of person who looks where others don’t.
Open-minded people look at people for what they are capable of doing and not only what they’ve done. They know that not everyone has the same starting point. Experience has taught them that people are capable of incredible things if given a chance.
In short, open-minded people take the time to see people for their potential.
5. They make a conscious effort to surround themselves with diverse groups of friends
One of my closest childhood friends has since gone on to do some amazing things with his career. He’s started his first business in a van on the side of a road in Afganistan and has since gone on to build a sell multiple companies.
Knowing his strong communication skills, when I asked him for his best piece of career advice, I was expecting him to tell me about the importance of learning how to sell. Instead, however, he shared with me the following words:
“Prior to joining the military, my mentor pulled me aside and told me to prioritize making diverse groups of friends.
Professionally, she stressed the importance of holding an advisory board of mixed backgrounds to not only learn how others see the world, but to also open my eyes to what I may be missing.
For personal reasons, she told me it makes life much more fun and the more you learn about people from different backgrounds the more curious you’ll become.”
According to my friend, success has nothing to do with being the smartest person in the room. Nor does it have to do with being the smartest of the fastest. Success is waking up each day and putting yourself in a position to meet a new someone and learn a new something.
Open-minded people are intellectually curious and humble. They’re proactive in making new friends. They do not allow themselves to get too comfortable in the same social circle.
In short, open-minded people see each person they meet as a learning opportunity.
6. They open themselves up to uncomfortable conversations
Author and entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss, has graced us with a million nuggets of wisdom. When it comes to our growth, however, none are more important than the words,
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by how many uncomfortable conversations they are willing to have.”
Ask people what you could be doing better. Be open to their suggestions. If you find yourself in disagreement, silence the urge to say, “I’m right,” and choose to say the words, “I could be wrong here, but I’d like to explain…” Then listen.
One of the greatest skills you can hone is learning how to partake in thoughtful disagreements.
Open-minded people may be set in their values, but they aren’t set in their ways. They seek out challenging conversations. They observe. They listen.
In short, open-minded people don’t care about being right. They only care about getting things right.
A lot of people are asking what they can do right now. A problem that has existed for hundreds of years is not going to be solved overnight. The beauty of the suggestions above, however, is they are all things we can choose today.
We can all choose to stop to talk to the people we walk by every day on our commute.
We can all choose to give people some space before rushing to judgment.
We can all choose to read and engage in conversations with people who have lived a different experience.
We can all choose to refer people who are doing what they can with what they have to people in our network when opportunities arise.
My wife, Laia, said it best, “Sometimes the best way to heal is by making the choice to grow.”
Be good to people.