What does it mean to be open?
To some, it’s being honest about your feelings—sharing thoughts and opinions and speaking your mind. Too often, however, this is a one-way street; while some may freely present their opinions to others, they quickly close up and assume a defensive attitude when it comes to receiving feedback.
Becoming defensive during an exchange tends to trigger a similar response in others, leading to an infinite loop of anger and resentment. But once you can get past defense and retaliation, you’ll be better able to focus on a solution that leaves you both feeling satisfied and accomplished.
Being open-minded has many benefits that just aren’t available when you close yourself off from other’s thoughts and opinions. Opening yourself to other points of view allows you to see the world differently.
Not only does this help nurture empathy and compassion, it makes you more selfless, which can give you a more positive outlook on the world and increase your own happiness as well as others.
Honesty also can increase in happiness—both with others and with yourself. When you’re honest about your own strengths and weaknesses, you know where you have room to grow, and will be more open to accepting help from others when they try to help by providing constructive criticism.
An open mind can also help deal with making mistakes. When you learn to make mistakes without admonishing yourself, you’ll find it easier to take criticism from others. If you’re not expecting perfection from yourself in every way, you stop assuming everyone else is too, and you’re better able to accept their feedback without becoming defensive.
If you feel yourself start to tense up and become defensive, try these tips to help keep an open mind and positive attitude:
- Learn the signs. Are your fists clenched? Have your breathing and heart rate increased? If so, you’re becoming defensive and should de-escalate.
- Check your posture. One of the first things we do when we feel attacked is tense up and cross our arms, creating a physical barrier between us and our critic. Try to keep your arms at your sides and your head up, maintaining eye contact. This helps ensure you stay focused on what the other person is saying.
- Take a moment. Listen intently, and before you respond take a few deep breaths and make sure it’s your turn to speak. Think about what you want to say, and keep your voice calm.
- Look for common ground. Try to see things from their point of view, and say “Yes, and…” instead of “Yes, but…” This validates their thoughts while allowing you to voice your own, without sounding accusatory.
If we all strive to be more open—to new ideas, different ways of life, and other points of view—it can help us all achieve our goals and cultivate a culture of respect and kindness in our everyday lives.
Illustration by Christina Wang / Tremendousness & animation by Darrick Hays / Tremendousness.