Cultivate Receptivity to Attract New Ideas, Connections, and Opportunities

Receptivity is our willingness to relax our boundaries and remain open and responsive to new ideas and experiences.

Receptivity is related to one of the five broad factors of personality, openness to experience.

Open people tend to think in broad and deep (rather than narrow and shallow) ways, and they tend to have permeable boundaries when it comes to consciousness and experience. Openness encourages diversity of thought, feeling, and action. Open people are likely to enjoy rich experiences, have broad interests, and be receptive to new ideas, information, and perspectives.[1]

Open people also demonstrate intellectual curiosity across a broad range of domains, show high levels of creativity, and have good critical thinking skills.

For our purpose, the property of receptivity is the willingness to relax our boundaries and remain open and responsive to new experiences, ideas, information, and perspectives.

The property of receptivity is also a core serendipity strategy.

Stimulating serendipity involves exploring new ideas, making valuable new connections, and seeking new opportunities. Receptivity is an essential characteristic for serendipity stimulation.

Spiritual teacher and writer Vernon Howard said, “Do not resist a new idea. Be quietly receptive. Go along with it, even unwillingly at first. Sooner or later, it will reveal itself as your ally.”

Some people are more naturally receptive than others, but receptivity is a skill that can be further developed regardless of your current level of openness.

Let’s examine some techniques for improving this essential serendipity stimulating skill.

Challenge your biases

Before we can expect to be fully receptive to new information and ideas, we must mitigate any unconscious cognitive biases that might be impacting our perception and our thinking.

In my free 20-page guide I discuss cognitive biases, and I explain that they are often in conflict with our conscious values, that we are generally unaware of them, and that none of us are invulnerable to them.

I also explain that one of the best ways to challenge our biases is by simply learning about them. Below are some of the biases that could significantly impede our receptivity.

Authority bias

Authority bias causes us to place more value on – and be more influenced by – information that comes from a figure of authority.

Evaluate new ideas or information based on the strength of the information rather than on just the perceived reliability of the source. Arguments or opinions shouldn’t escape our normal scrutiny just because we hold the source in high regard.

If we are more receptive to information from authority figures, we run the risk of being less receptive to otherwise valuable information simply because it came from a less familiar source.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias causes us to favor new information that supports conclusions we have already drawn or opinions we have already formed.

It can also cause us to interpret ambiguous information as supporting our position, and can cause us to discount or distrust new information that challenges our own beliefs.

Obviously, all these things could seriously interfere with our capacity to objectively evaluate new information, which is an important ability for being receptive.

Dunning-Kruger effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when people overestimate their knowledge or ability in a particular domain.

When we are ignorant of our own ignorance, we may assume that we are far more knowledgeable about something than we really are. This assumption can cause us to resist or discount new information, compromising our receptivity.

Framing effect

The framing effect is one of the strongest decision-making biases.[2] This bias causes us to make choices based on how the choices are presented to us (e.g., positively or negatively) rather than on the objective merits of the choice.

The framing effect could cause us to be either more or less receptive to the same information depending on whether it is introduced to us with a positive or negative spin.

Illusory truth effect

The illusory truth effect causes us to believe information is valid simply because it has been repeated to us many times.

This effect is the primary reason conspiracy theories, fake news, and propaganda campaigns can be so effective.

It’s why beliefs like “people only use 10 percent of their brains” persist even after having long been proven false.

The illusory truth effect can be a tricky bias when it comes to receptivity, because the best way to fight it is to be more selective about where we get information. But this could in turn make us less receptive to new information.

So, maybe the best way to fight it is to simply be aware of it, and to learn to question ourselves if we start believing or repeating information for no better reason than we’ve heard it several times before.

Reactive devaluation

Reactive devaluation occurs when we discount or reject an idea simply because we believe it to have come from an antagonistic source.

This bias will make us less receptive to ideas or information that come from an adversary, even though the information could be quite valuable to us.

Semmelweis reflex

The Semmelweis reflex is a cognitive bias that causes people to immediately reject new ideas because they contradict a well-established paradigm or protocol.

This bias is an absolute killer of creative or divergent thinking, and therefore of receptivity.

We can’t be receptive to new ideas if we are prepared to reject them outright simply because they run counter to the status quo.

Subjective validation

Subjective validation causes us to consider information to be more accurate if it appears to be personally meaningful or significant.

This bias is why people often seem to find some applicable truth in the vaguely personal statements of astrologers, palm and tarot readers, psychics, mediums, and various popular personality tests.

We want to be receptive – but also remain objective – so at times we will need to detach ourselves from the perceived personal relevancy of new ideas or information.

Relax your boundaries

Healthy personal boundaries can make us feel safe and empowered. They help others understand how we expect to be treated in personal relationships.

For the sake of receptivity, we don’t need to relax all our boundaries. Just those that may be too rigid, or those that we may have erected arbitrarily.

Our boundaries should not be so rigid that they cut us off from certain people, making it difficult to establish meaningful and valuable connections. We can maintain healthy boundaries and remain open and receptive.

We may also need to relax professional or disciplinary boundaries that make it difficult to consider ideas and information from outside our primary domain of knowledge and expertise.

The more permeable our social, cultural, personal, intellectual, and disciplinary boundaries are, the more open we will be to diverse ideas and opinions, and the easier it will be to make new connections.

Suspend judgment

We are all probably more judgmental than we care to admit.

When we jump to negative conclusions about somebody – and we all do it almost every day – we run the risk of closing ourselves off from what this person might have to offer that is valuable.

Now, for the sake of receptivity, we don’t necessarily have to get to the psychological root of why we make snap judgments. We just need to learn some techniques that will allow us to at least suspend our judgment so that we don’t close ourselves off to new ideas.

Here are some strategies that can help us mitigate our more judgmental instincts:

Observe without evaluating

The Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti is credited with saying, “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”

The next time you are tempted to think critical thoughts about, say, someone’s appearance, just try soaking in the details of their appearance without judging.

What does that tattoo mean? Does their hair style have a name? What brand of shoes are they wearing?

Focus on the details and not on your opinion, or on your knee-jerk reaction to what you see.

Imagine vocalizing your thoughts

How would the other person react if you were to vocalize your critical thoughts?

Probably not well. If your initial thoughts are so offensive that you wouldn’t say them out loud, there’s a good chance that you’re letting your judgmental impulses run away with you.

How would you react if someone leveled similar criticisms on you? How would you explain yourself?

Imagine what other people are thinking about you

What kind of judgments are people rushing to based on your appearance? Your actions? Your reputation?

We all have different values and norms and priorities.

If you think you can justify your choices, then maybe other people can justify theirs, too.

Issue a counter judgment

For every negative thought you’re having about someone, find either a positive thought or a plausible explanation.

Maybe their annoying pen-clicking or foot-tapping is because they’re nervous about a big meeting or presentation, or because they had one too many cups of coffee. They probably aren’t aware that they’re doing it, or that it is annoying you. It’s almost certain that they aren’t doing it intentionally just to get under your skin.

Rather than groaning at the bad karaoke singer with the vocal range of a belt sander, admire them for having the courage (liquid or otherwise) to get up in front of others and risk scorn and ridicule in the spirit of fun.

Remember that good people can make bad choices

Good people sometimes make bad choices. Smart people sometimes do stupid things. Nice people sometimes act mean.

Most of us don’t always live up to our own standards. And it’s certain that others don’t always live up to their own standards, much less yours.

Think of the bad choices you’ve made, the stupid things you’ve done, the times you’ve been an asshole.

Before judging someone else, remember that occasional transgressions happen to everyone, and are not a sign of poor character.

Abandon expectations

Receptivity is about possibilities, about seeing where the process leads us. Expectations are tied to outcome, and can cloud our vision and prevent us from seeing new or unexpected opportunities.

If we expect new people we meet to neatly fit our image of them, to automatically like us, or even to agree with us, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

If we expect any new process or sequence of events to go precisely as we planned or imagined, or for the outcome to be exactly what we wanted, or for it to even turn out well at all, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, expect something in between.

And while most expectations will go unfulfilled, unspoken expectations are almost guaranteed not to be realized.

Expecting that other people will know what we are thinking, what we need, or what we want is folly. It can also prevent us from initiating the very type of clear communication needed to establish beneficial connections with people.

We need to let go of expectations, focus on our process, be sensitive to changing circumstances, and remain ever open to possibility.

Ask open-ended questions

The value of open-ended questions in research is that they do not constrain the respondent’s answer. This gives the respondent a greater opportunity to be heard, allows them to provide more complete and accurate information, and allows them to express several points. All of this means that researchers can gain much deeper understanding and insights using open-ended questions than closed-ended questions.[3]

But the benefits of asking open-ended questions apply to normal conversation, too.

To begin with, open-ended questions are good conversation starters because they can’t be answered in one or two words. Open-ended questions elicit longer responses, and require the respondent to think, reflect, and offer their real feelings and opinions.

Open-ended questions allow us to find out more about the person, their problems, their desires, their aspirations. This can help us to show empathy, build trust and rapport, and establish a positive relationship.

Another benefit of asking open-ended questions is that they give control of the conversation to the other person, which allows us to use another critical receptivity skill, active listening.

Become an active listener

Many of us are surprisingly bad listeners.

We hear what people say, but too often we focus only on the content – rather than the complete meaning – of their message. If we want to be more receptive, we need to improve our listening skills.

Active listening allows us to more fully understand the speaker’s message and respond to their feelings.

Although psychologist Carl Rogers originally developed (and later refined with Richard Farson) active listening largely as a therapeutic technique designed to help bring about change in patients, we can use active listening strategies in any situation where we want to be fully and positively engaged in a conversation.

Below are some of the active listening strategies suggested by Rogers and Farson:

  • Listen for total meaning. The speaker’s message has two components – the content, and the underlying feeling or attitude. Listen to understand the complete message that is being communicated.
  • Respond to feelings. Sometimes the content is less important to the speaker than the feelings they are revealing. Remain sensitive to the total meaning, and respond particularly to the feeling component where appropriate.
  • Note all cues. A lot of communication is nonverbal. Pay attention to the speaker’s cadence, inflection, tone, body language, facial expressions, hand and eye movements, and breathing.
  • Provide feedback. Paraphrase the speaker and restate their message in order to confirm understanding. Ask follow-up questions if needed.

Also, it’s important to remain neutral during this process. Try not to offer decisions, evaluations, or judgments. Positive or negative, judgment can impede free and open expression.

Similarly, try not to offer advice or encouragement. These can be perceived as attempts to motivate the speaker in a certain direction, rather than as support.[4]

But you can still filter the noise

Receptivity is the willingness to accept new ideas, information, and opinions from a variety of sources in the hopes of making valuable connections and discovering new opportunities.

Receptivity does not, however, require us to attend to all of life’s noise and distractions.

It’s still okay to focus on what’s meaningful to you, to move toward your purpose and vision, and to concentrate on connecting with people who operate within domains of knowledge and experience that are relevant to your goals.

Receptivity and selectivity are not mutually exclusive.

As we become more keenly aware of exactly what it takes to achieve our vision, we will also become more adept at recognizing where, when, and with whom we should present higher levels of receptivity.


1. Stephen J. Dollinger, “Openness to Experience,” in Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, ed. Norbert M. Seel (Boston: Springer, 2012): 2522.

2. Ayanna K. Thomas and Peter R. Millar, “Reducing the Framing Effect in Older and Younger Adults by Encouraging Analytic Processing,” The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 67, no. 2 (September 2011): 139.

3. Mattias Schonlau, Hyukjin Gweon, and Marika Wenemark, “Automatic Classification of Open-Ended Questions: Check-All-That-Apply Questions,” Social Science Computer Review (August 2019): 2.

4. Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson, Active Listening, (Chicago: University of Chicago Industrial Relations Center, 1957), 6-9.

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