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The Art of Blanking Out

When I work with a team to define Shared Values or Guiding Principles, ‘open-mindedness’ shows up in the conversation every time. We all want it. We often feel frustrated or angry in its absence. We believe we’re doing it well, and we’re wishing others were better at it. What makes open-mindedness elusive? I postulate that we’re asking for the wrong thing. Perhaps it’s actually something else we want, not open-mindedness. Stay with me; let’s break this apart.

Definition: Open-minded – ready to entertain new ideas; receptive to new ideas; not closed or shut
Synonyms include: fair-minded, tolerant, objective, impartial, available
i.e.: I’m receptive to hearing your opinion.
i.e.: I’ll tolerate your views.

What I believe we’re wanting when we ask for ‘open-mindedness’ is:
to be listened to
to be heard
to be understood
to not be judged or criticized
to be free to see things in our individual way
to be validated

Working or living with someone who is ‘open-minded’ does not meet the above desires, though it is a good start. What people really want and need from one another is a deeper level of presence and attentiveness. I’ve been wondering how our conversations would shift if we were BLANK-minded?

Definition: Blank – Devoid of thought or impression, Containing no information, Empty, nothing filled in.

Blank-mindedness implies a complete emptying. My mind is not only open to receive YOUR viewpoint, it is also empty of MY viewpoint. Detached from personal biases, opinions, and evaluations. Having no personal agenda or pre-determined outcomes. The level of listening and conversation flowing from a blank mind cultivates fertile ground for shared understanding, growth, innovation, connection and trust.

Blank-mindedness is not an easily accessed state for many of us. And yet, with intention and practice, blanking out becomes easier and easier. A side benefit of being blank-minded is the authenticity and connection that we experience when fully present with another human being. We listen more deeply. We hear and understand more readily. Offering this quality of presence to another creates strong connection and is at the very heart of trust in relationships.

I present the three steps below as a starting place for experimenting with being blank-minded. In a follow-up post, I’ll write about how to shift our listening to a deeper level to further enable the blanking out process.

4 Steps for “Blanking Out” (who knew it could be a good thing?!)

    1. Be present. Going blank is putting your full focus and attention on only the person and conversation right in front of you. Forget what’s come before. Reel in the thoughts of what might happen next. Philosopher Martin Buber said: “In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you”.
    2. Listen without evaluating. Stay attentive to your inner dialogue during conversations. Notice when you find yourself evaluating the other’s words or ideas, such as “He seldom follows through on that” or “That won’t be as easy as she thinks.” This is a form of judgment, which is often based in assumption and can lead us to premature conclusions – essentially the opposite of blank-mindedness.
    3. Call on your curiosity. Curiosity is open, inviting, spacious – unattached to any outcome. Curiosity cannot co-exist where there is judgment and assumptions. One clue that we’ve shifted out of curiosity and into judgment is when we find ourselves “knowing”, as in: “I know where he’s going with this…” “I know how she feels…” “I know the way this is going to turn out…” Release your “I know” thoughts. ‘Blank’ your mind to what you know, and expect to learn something new.
    4. That leads us to the fourth step: Believe. Believe in new possibilities. Believe that there is something new for you to learn or experience in any particular conversation. I heard a scientist once talk about the limitless nature of all there is to discover in one lifetime. We could explore, seek, inquire, observe for an entire lifetime, and not come close to “knowing” a fraction of all there is to know about our world and one another. That’s what makes life a magical adventure. Look for the newness, the magic, around you – even in familiar places – and expect to be surprised.

 Print out my reminder card How to Blank Out 1-18-13   or printable picture for your desk!   Be Present Be Curious Be Authentic
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De Yarrison

De is a certified professional Coach, Teambuilder and Facilitator of positive change. She is an adventurer in the world of relationships, blazing new trails of positive expression, resulting in happier leaders, employees, workplaces (and families).
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This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. I believe in what you’re saying. Maintaining a clean canvas and allow the conversation to paint the picture; no pre-suppositions, no judgement or criticism. What I am hesitant to accept in this, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that to allow ourselves to maintain this blankness, would require an awful lot of trust in others. Our pre-suppositions, judgements, and opinions are formed from previous experiences and are defense mechanisms in an attempt to protect us from the wrongs of the past. How do we discard the past and allow ourselves to trust openly in the present?

    1. Hi David,
      I replied to your comment on LinkedIn and will copy the same response here for others who may not be in our LinkedIn group. Thanks for getting the conversation going!
      Thanks for commenting. I’m sure there’s not just ONE answer to your question, so I’ll present AN answer for your consideration. What you are saying is absolutely true. And sometimes the pre-suppositions, judgments, or opinions that we’re holding about THIS person are being projected from previous experiences with some OTHER person, right? In either case, one answer that has worked for me is to focus my mind and my heart on what I want to create here and now. If I want this interaction, this team, this relationship to include understanding or compassion or humility then I begin by modeling that which I want to create. The real work is with myself; to let go of what was and turn towards what is yet to be. For me, this is a journey, not an activity, requiring a level of faith in our common humanity (i.e.: at the deepest level, we all want the same things) and a commitment to perpetual self-reflection. Your thoughts?
      PS: I recently wrote an article about focusing on what we want to create, rather than on what no longer serves us. You can read that one here:

  2. […] Level 2 is Focused Listening. My awareness and attention is fully focused on the other. I listen not only to their words, but to their tone, expression, body language, energy, mood, emotions. I am detached from my own thoughts, opinions, agenda. How?? You’ll find a few ideas here. […]

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