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Seek diversity of thought, rather than validation

5 strategies that will increase your learning and impact
Blog 101

If you enjoy the feeling of being right, you’re not alone. Most adults are wired that way. We feel safer in the world and more confident when we present as all-knowing. But whether debating a minor detail like whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher, or arguing those big-picture topics like politics or religion, our determination to be right can cloud our judgement and shut us off from the enlightenment that often comes from hearing the other side.

At work, part of our credibility comes from presenting our thoughts. We enjoy it when people say ‘you’re so smart’, ‘thank god you’re here’, with research showing that praise provides a boost to morale and motivation, and positively impacts engagement, productivity and job satisfaction. Validation of who we are often makes us feel successful and it’s energising. No-one wants to be the person in the room who says ‘I have no ideas’.

It’s no surprise then that our brains are wired to look for evidence that makes our views, opinions and ideas right. It’s a way of protecting us. But it’s important to remember that, just because we’re not ‘right’ all the time, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re wrong, with the accompanying sense of failure that inevitably brings. In fact, by accepting that sometimes we don’t have the answers, we open ourselves to all manner of learning opportunities.

Take a moment to consider how much emphasis you put on being right, versus listening to what others have to say. How often do you hear yourself uttering the words ‘I don’t know?’ Do you use language that says ‘I’m keen to hear your thoughts’ or ‘I want to understand more’? If such phrases are missing from your lexicon, it’s time to start exercising your inquisitive muscle and leaning in to the opinions and experiences of others.

After all, seeking diversity of thought is the trait of a well-balanced individual. If you're a parent, it models to your children that you're curious and don’t have to know all the answers. If you're a leader, it’s an essential attribute that you need to model to others. Showing that you don’t have all the answers, or asking for help, is a sign of a secure leader. It’s also an effective management strategy common to high-trust workplaces. According to research undertaken by Paul Zak, neuroscientist and author of Trust factor: the science of creating high performance companies, this is because asking for help stimulates oxytocin production in others, increasing their trust and cooperation. A simple request or sign of distress taps into the natural human impulse to cooperate.

From a development perspective, exposing your vulnerabilities in this way will grow your ability to be an innovative thinker and lifelong learner who's deliberately hungry for information. So, the next time you find yourself attempting to validate your ideas and opinions, stop and use one of the following five strategies to encourage diverse thinking:

  1. Ask great open-ended questions – This encourages people to express their ideas, which you can then listen to and show interest in, demonstrating respect for their contribution.
  2. Seek out conversations with people who have different backgrounds/ experience/ values to you – The role of cognitive diversity in the workplace is only set to increase, with millennials in particular, tending to view it as a necessary element for innovation.
  3. Listen deeply – As the saying goes, most of the time we listen to respond, rather than understand. Do the opposite.
  4. Invite others to robustly challenge you – According to Deloitte’s The six signature traits of inclusive leadership report, highly inclusive leaders have the courage to learn from criticism and different points of view, and to seek contributions from others to overcome their limitations.
  5. Be aware of your own biases – We all like to believe we’re open-minded and fair, but chances are you’re holding onto a set of deeply entrenched world views based on factors such as, your values, experiences, upbringing ... the list goes on. Recognising your biases is the first step to overcoming them.

Let us leave you with this fantastic TED Talk (16:18) from billionaire investor and hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, who talks about the value of surrounding yourself with smart people who'll disagree with you – in turn, creating an ‘idea meritocracy’. Enjoy!

– The Coach Place Global

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