Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stopped by the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas last week to share his advice for those who are thinking about starting their own business.
Bezos imparted some great tips, but one statement in particular drew my attention–because it’s insightful and gives major food for thought:
“People who are right a lot listen a lot, and they change their mind a lot. People who are right a lot change their mind without a lot of new data. They wake up and reanalyze things and change their mind. If you don’t change your mind frequently, you’re going to be wrong a lot. People who are right a lot want to disconfirm their fundamental biases.”
There’s a lot to learn from Bezos’s advice, but I’d like to focus on just one sentence:
People who are right a lot listen a lot, and they change their mind a lot.
Think about that for a second. Bezos built one of the most successful companies in the world with unparalleled drive and relentless focus. But as important as those qualities are, they are useless unless they are coupled with one more thing:
The ability to admit when you’re wrong.
Why changing your mind is a sign of strength
This isn’t the first time Bezos has shared this particular piece of advice.
My Inc. colleague Jessica Stillman reported on an interview with Bezos a few years ago. Asked how he surrounds himself with smart people, Bezos described a different view of “smart” than what many would expect:
“The smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.”
This is admittedly a very difficult task. As emotional creatures, we get attached to our ideas and opinions. That’s not always bad–you need that passion and enthusiasm to motivate yourself, and to persuade others. The problem is that once you’re convinced something is true, it can be difficult to let go or to see the other side.
But the fact is, we’re all imperfect. We have a limited perspective, complete with blind spots and inherent (unconscious) biases.
Simply put: We’re wrong.
But what if you could detach yourself emotionally from your ideas, just long enough to listen objectively to another person? Do that, and you’ll increase your ability to course correct–and even change direction–when necessary.
Cultivating this ability makes you more than just a better business person. It also makes you a better romantic partner. A better parent. A better friend.
So, the next time you encounter an idea or opinion that is vastly different from your own, resist the urge to immediately dismiss it.
Instead, force yourself to listen carefully. Then, ask yourself:
- Looking at the situation through the other person’s eyes, why does their opinion seem right to them?
- Why do I feel so strongly about my own opinion? What is it based on?
- Has anything changed in the last days, months, or years that would affect my thoughts on this subject?
- Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?
By taking the time to answer these questions, you may find that you’re holding on to an outdated or incomplete understanding. You might see what benefits could result from a different course.
And you just may conclude that you’re simply wrong this time, and change your mind.
But even if you don’t change your mind, you’ll accomplish a lot.
By demonstrating the willingness to look at the situation with a fresh pair of eyes, you display humility. Instead of showing a know-it-all attitude, which drives others away, you cultivate a learn-it-all attitude, which earns you the respect of your peers. This will encourage them to do the same when considering your thoughts and opinions.
That’s more than just smart–it’s emotionally intelligent.
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A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.