It’s easy to surround yourself with like-minded people who might not be exactly like you, but are close enough to not push the boundaries or rock your boat. It used to be even easier to maintain these so-called bubbles, before the era of mobility and technology we live in.

I was born in Boca Raton, Florida as a first-generation American to two Cuban parents. In the early 1990s, my dad’s job moved us from Boca Raton to Raleigh, North Carolina. The world was still a place where people could create and live within their comfort zones. When we first arrived in Raleigh, we went to the grocery store and my parents made conversation with the cashier. They mentioned that we had just moved up from the Miami region, and the cashier’s immediate response was that we must be relieved to move away from all those no-good, dirty Cubans.

We clearly were intruding on a comfort zone. The cashier’s closed-minded view made my parents second guess their move.  I wonder if the cashier’s demeanor or opinion would have changed if he had known my family was Cuban or was he so set in his ways that he would have silently judged us to be dirty Cubans.

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Luckily, things are changing. While we’re still dealing with a lot of animosity and strife, today’s technology makes it possible to work and interact with people halfway around the world –  with individuals whose cultures, traditions, and values can vary widely from our own. It can be difficult to engage with people who think differently, but if you have an open mind and embrace understanding others for who they are, differences and similarities alike, you’ll find value in expanding your worldview.

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So, what does it mean to be open-minded? Does it mean that you’re indecisive and unable to formulate thoughts and opinions on your own? Absolutely not! Being open-minded means you’re willing to acknowledge that you don’t know everything and that *gasp* you might be wrong. It means viewing differences in thoughts, cultures, genders, and lifestyles as opportunities rather than dismissing them as incorrect or “other.”

Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  While I agree with the overall sentiment, I think it’s actually the mark of an open mind. One can be educated yet fail at truly listening to others with views contrary to one’s personal beliefs. 

At Sustrana, we strive every day to live our core values. Even with the best intentions, it takes conscious effort. That’s why we took it upon ourselves to have our first-ever Diversity and Inclusion training that focused on implicit bias – our subtle and often hidden perceptions that influence our behaviors, decisions, and general way of life. This training was eye-opening and valuable because it demonstrated that everyone has implicit biases. And it’s only with an awareness of that fact that you can take steps to address bias.

Just being aware of implicit bias helps you turn off biased filters. But a key way to work on actually minimizing implicit bias is to work towards having an open mind. It requires some curiosity, because appreciating that everyone has different experiences and ways of thinking makes a curious person interested in what those differences are. This leads to asking questions.

The goal is to hear what people are saying without jumping to your own thoughts and opinions. With an open mind, you become a more accurate and comprehensive listener. You’re willing to gather information from all relevant sources to make a well-informed decision. This can benefit all relationships, not just those with coworkers and clients.

When consulting with clients, my role is to help them solve their problems. Sometimes that can get the better of me. When I find myself half-listening because I’m racing ahead to plan how I think we should address an issue, I stop and refocus my listening to them. If I’m not fully open to what they are saying, I could miss valuable information to inform the direction that’s best for the client.

Just as being open-minded leads to better and less judgmental listening, it also leads to innovation and more productive work time. When sustainability teams are diverse and open-minded, better decision-making happens. Sustainability-related issues are often complex and multi-dimensional. They are most effectively solved when people with different ways of thinking come together. To get the most value from a diverse group, however, everyone has to be open to listening and finding the pearls of wisdom in varied experiences and views. It’s not enough to be diverse; you have to be open-minded about the things that make the group diverse.

It’s great when diverse, open-minded people come together to work on sustainability issues. But what really matters is that all voices and points of view are heard and synthesized.  When this happens, the solutions that emerge are more likely to have identified and included consideration of unintended consequences, to have foreseen more risks, and to have provided for better ways to address those factors.

At its heart, sustainability is all about open-mindedness. To truly be a sustainable organization and find value from sustainability, an organization has to be willing and able to see and understand where it fits in within society, the planet, and our economic systems. That’s a lot to take in, but it’s worth the effort!

 

This is the third in a series of blogs about Core Values:

  1. Core Values: How Differences Helped Define a Sustainability Culture
  2. Listening Deeply: How to be a Better Sustainability Professional, Sales Person, and Parent
  3. An Open Mind: the Super Powers of Diversity and Inclusion
  4. Cultivating Authenticity
  5. The Power of Positives: Creating a Community of Impact