O4 Dynamic Alert
Medically Approved

How to open your mind to different points of view

Three young adult men looking at a phone

We all have biases, even if we don’t realize it. Here’s why considering other people’s perspectives can build empathy and respect.

Let’s start at the beginning: Who are you? What drives you? What makes you the way you are? What traditions are important to you? How are you similar to most of the people around you? 

The answers to all those questions will vary from person to person. And, for each of us, the answers will speak to our deeply rooted beliefs, values, customs and way of life. Our culture influences and shapes our perspective, perception and behavior.  

For example, if you answered “Who are you?” with your name, would you: 

  • Give a formal name or a nickname? 
  • Start with your given name or surname? 
  • Change your answer depending on the context? Such as, if you’re at home, among close friends, at work with familiar colleagues or meeting someone for the first time.  

It’s a simple example to demonstrate how culture influences and shapes our approach and perspective. It’s also a way to show there are no wrong answers, only answers that feel right to you and your lived experience. 

Illustration of of a person's profile that highlights the brain area
Looking for a mental health provider?

Work with a therapist through one of Refresh Mental Health’s centers, now offering virtual care and services at more than 300 places nationwide.

Understanding ourselves 

Next, consider how you are different from the people around you. What do you believe they could learn from your differences? 

Again, the answers will vary from person to person. Some differences may be more obvious, such as appearance, gender, size, native language, roles or something else. And some may be more subtle or harder to see.  

But the exercise is, again, a simple way of showing that everyone brings their own perspectives and experiences into the world from which others can learn.  

When we begin to understand who we are and why, it can help us identify our blind spots. One major blind spot for most everyone is bias. Few people like to think they are biased, but everyone is.  

At the most basic level, bias helps us survive and even thrive. Our brains organize the information received from the senses to make sense of the world. The values we place on the different categories are learned — and usually lead us to favor what’s familiar.  

In certain cases and to varying degrees, bias also can lead us to disregard, mistrust or mistreat what isn’t familiar.  

Uncovering your blind spots 

Thankfully, just as we learned our biases, we can retrain our brain to sort out the negative ones. A first step is to learn to see our blind spots. Here are 7 ways to get started. 

#1: Admit you have biases 

Then try to uncover what they may be. Think about how you react to certain situations, people or types of information. Do you have an immediate impulse that steers you away from some people, places and things, and toward others? Why? 

#2: Challenge yourself 

Ask yourself why you believe what you believe, think what you think and act how you act. Are your beliefs, thoughts and behaviors serving yourself, but potentially underestimating, limiting or harming someone else?  

For example, consider how you interact with and describe people, places and situations. Are you being fair? Can you believe, think and act in ways that show more kindness and compassion? Can you patiently listen to another person or consider another way of doing something? 

#3: Expand your sense of empathy 

Listen to understand other people’s views and feelings without judgment. Think about any given situation from another person’s perspective. How would it feel to be them? Would you want to trade places — why or why not?  

Get health and wellness tips you can trust delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our Optum newsletter today.

#4: Assess your body language

Is it saying what you want it to? Are you showing respect for others around you? For example, consider the different perspectives on personal space, touch, expressions, gestures and eye contact. What’s appropriate, respectful and comfortable varies culturally and from person to person. 

#5: Seek new experiences 

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Regularly look for opportunities to interact with people who are different from you. For example, you could: 

  • Join an employee resource group at your organization 
  • Visit a part of town you’ve never been to 
  • Try recipes from other regions 
  • Read opinion editorials by authors who don’t share your views 
  • Watch foreign movies 
  • Listen to podcasts and music from different places 
  • Invite a neighbor or co-worker you don’t know to lunch 

#6: Keep learning 

Take the time to educate yourself about the current views and perspectives, as well as the histories, cultures and heritages different from your own. As you do, also think about the hardships, setbacks and other experiences others are facing today and historically. This can help you better understand where they’re coming from and gain some insight into why.  

#7: Keep trying 

Uncovering your blind spots doesn’t happen overnight. It takes honest self-examination, time and practice to unlearn what is deeply ingrained in our thought patterns, behaviors and actions. It also takes a willingness to compromise and to even laugh at yourself once in a while.  

Want to learn more? Find ideas at Optumwellbeing.com.

Sources

  1. Counselling Directory. 4 Tips for Avoiding Challenges in Cross-Cultural Relationships. Published May 31, 2022. 
  2. University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Cultural Differences in International Business. Published August 22, 2023. 
  3. Destinations International. What is Cultural Competency and Why it Matters for Your Business. Published April 24, 2023.  
  4. Harvard Business Review. Are You Aware of Your Biases? Published February 4, 2022. 
  5. Learnovate. Blind Spot – How Culture Impacts Communication. Accessed March 17, 2024. 
  6. Mindful. The Power and Pitfalls of the Human Need for Bias. Published July 7, 2023. 
  7. PennState Extension. What is Cultural Competence and How to Develop It? Updated May 1, 2023. 

© 2024 Optum, Inc. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce, transmit or modify any information or content on this website in any form or by any means without the express written permission of Optum. 

The information featured in this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other web sites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites. 

Stock photo. Posed by model.