We all have those friends that post controversial things on Facebook. We have all entered into debates at restaurants with people who clearly don’t know what they are talking about. How on earth can people consider voting for ‘that guy’ or ‘that position’ in any national votes that happen to be coming up?! Quite frankly – we have all come up against a colleague that is just wrong about everything. Except, are they? If their opinion is so different to yours, does that mean it is just plain dumb, or is there more to it?

One of my more ‘controversial’ friends on Facebook recently posted this blog piece which to be honest, may be the least dumb thing that they have ever posted. In the blog, the writer discusses a game he plays with his friends, ‘controversial opinion’, where you are not allowed to disagree with an opinion – only to ask questions about why they feel that way. He also goes on to discuss the problem of surrounding yourself with people who think the same. When someone comes along who does not agree with this – they must be wrong. But are they? He challenges you to consider this “When you hear someone cite “facts” that don’t support your viewpoint don’t think “that can’t be true!” Instead consider, “Hm, maybe that person is right? I should look into this.”

If you have worked in an industry for a long time, with colleagues who have also worked in the industry for a long time, looking at data that has been collected in the same way for a long time – you would be forgiven for falling into a trap of thinking in the same way.

It’s surprising how often you can find yourself shutting down ideas or thoughts from other people.

It’s surprising how often you can find yourself shutting down ideas or thoughts from other people. In a broader sense, I faced this when I first moved to Singapore from the UK 5 years ago. Having worked in London for a number of years, it was a challenge to enter a new market that questioned all of my firmly held beliefs about consumers, clients and what worked and what didn’t. On a smaller scale, each time we’ve hired someone with previous research experience they come with their own existing ideas of how to run projects; how to undertake analysis; how to make the company stronger. They’ve joined my company, so they should be aligned with my thinking. And then of course there’s debates with friends after work.

But of course, I’m not always right, and my opinion isn’t always fact. In honesty, as I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve relished in listening to others opinions no matter how much they differ to my own. On the one hand, it has helped broaden my thinking – taking on board the different, novel and competing ideas of others; and on the other, it has helped shape my own thinking. Forcing me to re-consider my own beliefs, constantly evolving them.

At the heart of this though is the act of listening and being open to new ideas. Whilst listening has long been praised, the emphasis on being open to the new ideas you’re listening to is sometimes forgotten. This isn’t an easy skill, not only does it involve the act of juggling more than one idea in your mind, it also requires the confidence to acknowledge that someone may have a stronger idea or position. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong; but it does mean you’re not eternally right – and this takes confidence. To accept that not all of your ideas and beliefs are valid; and that you’re willing to amend them based on the latest feedback.

In my time, I’ve come across a lot of people who are very narrow-minded in their thinking. They can be a pain to work for and with, and in my social life I tend not to stay friends with them for long. But again, over time I’ve actually come to feel sorry for them. How sad it must be to have such a fixed view of life, and not be willing to change your mind no matter the evidence. I’ve also noticed how unfounded a lot of their firmly held beliefs can be: ‘yes, but that’s the way it is,’ or ‘that’s the way we always do it,’ are the common answers when pushed. Rarely is the evidence presented, it is more an excuse – a silent admission that their opinion is on shaky ground; but without the confidence to acknowledge it.

So, I’ve come to realise, a different opinion can never be dumb. Only being unwilling to change your opinion is dumb. Not only that, I now seek out different opinions, knowing full well that it will only lead to stronger ideas in the long run – as an ex-GM Chairman once put it: “Gentleman, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here…then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”

So, I challenge you, the next time you’re speaking to someone with a different opinion, take 5 minutes to entertain their point of view. You never know the benefits it could bring!