Why Meeting People With An Open Mind Is Life Changing

It’s not optimal to ‘close your mind off’ from meeting new people just because you have a social circle. There’s a logic to continue meeting people with an open mind no matter the size of your social circle or the existing friends you have.

We don’t pay attention to this phenomenon but most people’s social circles are comprised of people that they met within the first few weeks and months in a new place.

Most people’s hometown social circles are people they’ve known for a long time rather than folks they’ve met in the last year or two.

Most students’ friendships circles are people they met in their freshman year.

Most social circles for expats are people they’ve met earlier on since their relocation.

You get the picture.

It’s understandable why this happens. Human beings are innately social creatures and thrive in new environments by finding likeminded others as soon as possible.

But when we find those new people and develop enough of a connection to consider them as friends, we inadvertently close a ‘mental shutter’ that implicitly reduces the space for others to enter our lives to the same degree.

Think about it—how many times have you been out with friends and met someone cool on the periphery of your hangout but they never stayed in touch with you or your group afterwards?

The reason isn’t that they weren’t compatible. It’s that we have in-group biases that make us subconsciously treat others as outsiders making it harder for them to ‘become one of us’. Yet if you were friendless and met that same person, you would get on like a house on fire and wouldn’t hesitate to make them part of your social life.

This ‘mental shutter’ is related to Dunbar’s Number—the idea that we only have a fixed cognitive capacity to maintain meaningful social connections and those connections in turn vary in concentric circles of bonding intensity ranging from your most intimate group to loose acquaintances you recognise.

You might wonder why we have such a cognitive device in the first place. From an evolutionary perspective, this mental shutter provides strength in forming an in-group mentality which reinforces investment towards a collective, otherwise known as ‘tribalism’. We evolved in groups of dozens, not thousands or millions as some of the biggest modern cities are. Focusing on a set capacity of people was the best way to survive in our ancestral past.

Meeting People With An Open Mind Tribalism

But in this era, such a shutter can also lead to sub-optimal socialisation. Just because someone ‘wins’ the temporal battle by becoming your friend early doesn’t mean that they are out and out the best person for you to be friends with and that you should give them your entire focus over someone else.

That someone else could plausibly be an invaluable person in your life but you don’t see it because now you’ve formed the foundation of a social circle (speaking for people who’ve entered new environments), you have less motivation to fill the need for socialising so many people lacking social circles crave.

We see the logic of this unfold when playing the dating game. If you’re single, you’re forced to meet new people for romance and intimacy before forming a mental shutter to other prospects once you’ve settled with someone in a monogamous relationship like most humans choose.

Regardless of what Hollywood tells you, dating is a numbers game. You meet lots of different people and date around until you find your best match. And ‘best match’ is the operative word—you don’t settle for ‘good enough’ (at least you shouldn’t and if you are, read my advice on dating) once some minimal threshold of datability is crossed, you continue until you find the best person. After all, they might be the person you spend the rest of your life with and a parent of your children.

But most people don’t apply this same logic to their social circles. We settle for the people we come across sooner in new environments as long as their personality is ‘good enough’ for friendship. We operate on ancient biological hardwiring for modern social paradigms and the juxtaposition between the two shows that behaving in this more ‘archaic manner’ isn’t the most conducive for this day and age.

Now that modern social paradigms differ enormously in size and scope than our ancestral past, we risk holding ourselves back by operating in this same way. The average new person out there is not likely to attack us with spears or steal our food if we stray a tiny bit away from the territorial area of our main social circle. They instead could be a valuable person in our lives once we open the shutter and see them as the human being they are.

Meeting People With An Open Mind Valuable

How to hold an open mind when meeting people

So to override our innate instincts in closing ourselves off from others when we think we have enough people in our lives, the next question is: how do we hold an open mind when meeting new people?

Don’t turn off when meeting people, ‘turn on’

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” ― Bill Nye

I heard this adage many years ago and it stuck with me ever since.

When meeting new people for the first time, don’t ‘turn off’ assuming they have nothing for you, ‘turn on’.

Turning on means giving that person your full attention open to the possibility that they may have something of worth you can learn. Turning on means igniting curiosity and real listening.

Hold an open mind when meeting someone for the first time no matter how unremarkable their first impression was. Look at it this way—have you always nailed your first impressions? Do you want others to always judge you on them? Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Skip the small talk

We’re all familiar with small talk. It’s particularly common among new people as a means of testing the waters in a conversation with someone they’re talking to for the first time.

The reality is that exchanging pleasantries and making trivial statements don’t charge a conversation with any depth. Without emotional depth, you’re never going to develop curiosity, build mutual trust and understand where a person is truly coming from.

Emotional depth doesn’t have to mean an earnest attitude of sharing your deepest secrets. In essence, emotional depth means anything that moves beyond the surface level dynamic of small talk. It can be as simple as having fun or asking a question that gets a person thinking deeper about a topic.

The card game Big Talk is an example of how to facilitate more meaningful conversations. It uses open-ended questions such as “What do you want to do before you die?” or “What is your next great adventure?” to move beyond the genericness of small talk and into the realm of emotional depth.

Of course you can’t always ask such deep questions to everybody right away. But if you feel the questions between you and someone new are becoming stale, using similar open-ended questions could be the pathway towards a more meaningful interaction.

Meeting People With An Open Mind Dating

Value pluralism

Value pluralism is actually a concept from philosophy stating that there are values which may be equally correct and fundamental yet in conflict with one another.

Value pluralism helps us understand that when we meet someone who shares different values from us, it doesn’t make them necessarily wrong nor does it mean we are objectively right.

The most open-minded people tend to be the most value plural. They accept that not everybody will share their beliefs, values or outlook on the world but that’s ok. They’re still a human being with a unique upbringing and set of life circumstances qualitatively different from anybody else who has ever existed. Their perspective is as valuable as anybody else’s.

If you reflect on this, you’ll realise that even the people you’re already closest to don’t share all the same values and beliefs you do. They might share important ones but your closeness of bond with them is proof that any inevitable differences we all have as unique people aren’t dealbreakers for getting to know one another.

Hold the same attitude in mind when you meet new people and you might have someone valuable enter your life.


Much of our social lives follow a certain pattern. When we’re in new environments, everyone we meet is new and after a while we befriend or become more trustworthy with some of those people over others forming the basis of a social circle for that environment.

Yet once we’ve formed such social circles, we risk becoming exclusionary to further new people we encounter even if those people may have value to add to our lives as the people we first met did. This phenomenon stems from our ancestral hardwiring programmed for tribal ages, something which is less conducive to an optimal social life in modern times.

Instead, we can continue meeting people with an open mind.

Resist the urge to box new people you encounter into just another ‘outsider’, ‘turn on’ and see what they bring. Create emotional depth in conversations with new people instead of indulging in stagnant small talk that goes nowhere. Operate from a standpoint of value pluralism by acknowledging that everyone we meet differs from us in some way but that this doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker in getting to know them.

Be careful not to ostracise someone from your social circle just because you’ve known the people in it for longer. Of course the current members have more trust with each other but excluding someone who could be cool and valuable might be detrimental in the long run.

Apart from our immediate family members, everyone in our lives started out as a new person at some point in our relationship with them. Never forget the logic that a new person out there could change your life too.