Discussions as a platform for learning

I recently noticed an important evolution in my approach to discussions. The change didn’t happen at any single moment in time, but gradually over the course of the last few months.

I used to approach discussions with a predetermined viewpoint and a default assumption that my viewpoint was unlikely to change during the discussion. I saw most discussions as opportunities to convince others of my viewpoint. I saw discussions as a battlefield.

More recently, I’ve started to approach discussions with an open mindset. I still come armed with a viewpoint, but rather than see the discussion as an opportunity to convince others of that viewpoint, I first try to gather as much information as possible about others’ viewpoints. Sometimes others have important information that I don’t have about a specific issue, and sometimes they look at the same information from a different perspective that produces a different conclusion. I try to internalize any new information and test out the assumptions underlying different conclusions from mine to see which conclusion makes more sense. I see discussions as a platform for learning.

If there are still loose strings in my mind following the discussion, I rethink the issues after the discussion has ended. Sometimes this helps me see things from a perspective that I didn’t see during the heat of the discussion. In fact, on several occasions I’ve changed my mind after a discussion ended and shared this change of perspective with the discussion participants.

I think that the change in my approach is the result of two factors. First, I’m simply gaining more experience and maturity as I grow older. Second, I’m realizing that, in order to be effective in my role as an advisor to entrepreneurs, I need to influence them to take the right action. Even if I may believe I know what the right course of action is, this is meaningless if the entrepreneur who’s ultimately responsible for taking this action doesn’t feel the same way. Being open to, and reflecting a sincere appreciation for the perspectives of others is a great way to get others to also listen to your perspective.

Depending on your role and the specific context of what you’re talking about, the degree to which you should see discussions as a platform for learning rather than a battlefield will be different. However, based on where on this spectrum I was starting out and my specific role as an advisor to entrepreneurs, I’ve found that in my case approaching discussions as a platform for learning produces much better outcomes.