by Michael Cloud

You made a compelling libertarian case. Your evidence and arguments were on the mark. You dissolved and dismantled the other person’s concerns and objections to liberty. But it made no difference to the other person. Because none of it got through.


He had a closed mind. And as long as he has a closed mind, he is unreachable and unteachable.

It wasn’t the first time you discussed libertarianism with a closed-minded person. It wasn’t the only time. This has happened to every libertarian many, many times. And it will keep happening – until and unless we find ways to open closed minds.

What is a Closed Mind?

A closed mind filters out and blocks off new or different ideas, information, and beliefs. A person can be generally or specifically closed-minded. A few people have fixed and final opinions on pretty much everything. Most of us are closed-minded only in specific areas. Only on specific beliefs, ideas, and matters. We may be unwilling to listen to and even-handedly consider ideas different from our own in matters of religion, morality, sex, or politics.

Closed minds use hostility, prejudice, indifference, and inattention to keep new or different ideas from gaining a foothold. Closed minds stand in the way of learning and change.

What is an Open Mind?

An open mind is receptive to new or different ideas, information, and beliefs. It welcomes and invites the new or different. It is willing to impartially consider new possibilities. An open mind is willing, able, and eager to hear out and intelligently evaluate other people’s beliefs, information, and ideas.

Only an open mind can learn and grow. Only an open mind can profit from other people’s learning, experience, and insights. Only an open mind can be reached and persuaded.

How to Ask People to Be Open-Minded

Often, the easiest way to get what you want is to ask for it.

How do you ask people to be open-minded?

Consider a conversation I had.

John began telling me his opinion on a provocative issue.

“John, I really want to discuss this issue with you, but I have a problem,” I said.

“What problem?” asked John.

“Sometimes, when I talk with people about controversial issues like this one, I mentally put my guard up, I don’t listen to them with my full attention, and I even find myself rehearsing what I’m going to say when they finish talking,” I said. “Have you ever had someone do that to you?”

“Yeah, I have,” John said.

“How did it feel to you?” I asked.

“Frustrating,” he answered. “I felt dismissed. Ignored. It really made me mad.”

“How did you react?” I asked.

“I gave them a dose of their own medicine,” he said. “I ignored what they were saying. I thought up answers to their points while they were talking to me.”

“How did you feel when the conversations ended?” I asked.

“Dissatisfied. Incomplete. A bad taste in my mouth,” he said.

“Me, too,” I said. “I don’t want that to happen to us during this conversation. I want to make sure that I give you my full attention, that I listen to you with an open mind. Is that okay with you?”

“Absolutely,” John answered.

“John, would you do the same thing for me?” I asked. “Will you give me your undivided attention when I’m talking? Will you listen to me with an open mind?”

“You’ve got a deal,” he answered.

“Great! This is going to be fun,” I said. “John, tell me what you think about the issue.”

We launched into a lively, thought-provoking, free-wheeling conversation on an emotionally-charged political matter. At the end of our discussion, we both felt heard. Respected. Emotionally and intellectually satisfied.

The Key Elements

It’s not just what we ask for: it’s how we ask.


  • As soon as someone brings up a controversial issue, courteously call a Time Out. Say, “I really want to discuss this issue with you, but I have a problem.” Or, “I want to talk about (issue) with you, but before we get into it, I have a problem I need to discuss with you.”
  • Confess your listening sins to the other person. Tell him how you sometimes close your mind, block and resist what other person’s saying, listen with divided attention, and rehearse your rebuttals and comebacks while the other person is talking.
  • Ask him whether anyone has ever done it to him. Ask him how he felt. How he responded. And how he felt when the “conversation” ended. *Do NOT ask him whether he has ever done it to another person. Ask whether another person has done it to him.
  • Tell him that you want to make sure that you don’t do it to him. Tell him that you want to give him your 100% undivided attention. That you want to listen to him with a receptive, open mind.
  • Ask him for permission. “Is that okay with you?” Or, “Are you alright with this?”
  • Ask him to reciprocate. “John, could I ask you for a favor? Will you do the same thing for me?” Or, “John, would you be willing to treat me the same way? Will you listen to me with an open mind and your undivided attention?” * Do NOT tell him that you need him to do this. Do NOT make a statement about what you want. ASK him for what you want.
  • Wait for his agreement to listen with an open mind and full attention. Wait for his promise to welcome your words, to fully listen to you.
  • Jump into a fully engaged, totally involved conversation. Speak and listen with your whole being.
  • At the end of the conversation, acknowledge and thank the person for his incredible speaking and listening.


What You Can Expect

This approach is based on key components of social psychology. Vulnerability. Empathy. Reciprocation. Commitment and Consistency. (See Influence by Robert Cialdini.)

Most of the people you use this with will be open-minded and attentive. Receptive. Willing, able, and eager to give you a full and fair-minded hearing.

This will NOT guarantee that you change their minds. If your arguments and evidence are weak or flawed, you will fail. If you are a poor communicator, you will come up short.

Nor does it guarantee that the greatest libertarian communicators will always succeed. Even liberty’s finest will have a healthy number of failures.

But if you have done your libertarian reading, if you’ve done your libertarian thinking, if you’ve learned and rehearsed the best libertarian communication approaches – you will ignite the hearts and minds of person after person with the flames of freedom.

Suggested Reading:
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Permission Marketing by Seth Godin
Leadership & the Art of Conversation by Kim Krisco
Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion by Michael Cloud

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