Strong Enough to Change Your Mind?

Somewhere in our finger-pointing, judgmental, “either you’re with me or you’re against me” culture, changing your mind in the face of new information has come to be viewed as “waffling,” or lacking in a strength of convictions, when actually . . . it’s just smart. It takes confidence and integrity to sincerely consider perspectives that are different from your own, to acknowledge the credibility of someone advocating for a view that is counter to what you have experienced. And yet, that is what the best leaders do.

I was recently in a meeting where a group of high-performing individuals, all with different roles and perspectives, assessed the same set of information. I assumed their conclusions might differ slightly, but on the whole would be fairly similar to my own. I assumed incorrectly. And as I listened to their rationales, there were some areas where I changed my mind. In others, while I still advocated for my initial perspective, I at least had an appreciation for how someone might see the situation differently.

Now granted, in this instance I was working with individuals who all had the same end goal. There is less risk in considering alternative points of view when there is a common understanding of what constitutes “success.” But what about those situations where what you are advocating for appears diametrically opposed to what someone else sees as the “right” solution? Ah yes, that takes much thicker skin. In such cases you are likely to be pummeled from both sides — those who want you to wholly “come over” to their perspective, and those who feel you are abandoning a shared understanding of the situation. In many cases, a willingness to sit in that discomfort is what leads to a path forward.

You see, we shout about the what of a situation, but it takes someone willing to listen sincerely and non-judgmentally, to peel back the rhetoric, to find the “why” of each position. And once you understand the why of each “side” (which are usually not the same) you can begin to craft a path forward that takes each perspective into account. The goal here is progress, not perfection, for there are as many definitions of perfection as there are people seeking it.

And for the cynics out there, yes, there are occasions where someone’s position appears to fly directly in the face of some of your deeply held values and beliefs. I’m not suggesting that you compromise your values. I am suggesting, however, that if you take the time to truly try to understand someone’s rationale there is a strong likelihood that you will find some measure of common ground, or at the very least a better understanding of how a smart, respected individual might advocate for a position that is different from your own.

Leading through conflict is not for the faint of heart. Where some would dig their heels in, leaders must be willing consider alternate paths forward. The question is . . . are you strong enough to change your mind?

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