You Don’t Always Have To Have An Opinion
“Your judgement of other people say more about you than the people that you are judging” – Mhar
At times in life, you don’t always have to air your opinion. You don’t always have to want to prove a point. There are times when accepting feedback and keeping your opinion to yourself saves you from today’s problems and tomorrow’s challenges.
Everywhere we go, someone in our life has an opinion of something we are or are not doing. An opinion on why someone is too young to have kids, but too old to be single. An opinion on why going to University is a waste of money or why not going at all will ruin your life. An opinion on whether you should live with your significant ‘other’ while dating or remain completely solo until married. Do you want me to keep going? I could probably sit here all day making a litany of things people will always have an opinion about. You have life experiences and you want to share the ‘wisdom’ you believe you have acquired. I am not saying it’s a terrible thing, but if we don’t ask you for it then maybe you should think a bit more about keeping it to yourself.
You see, your opinions might be backed by your experience, but I might have a completely different experience. Not to mention, if you are more than 20 years older than me then your experience was surely a bit different than mine. Times change and it is a beautiful thing so let our lives adapt. If you are the kind of person that loves to smear your advice all over everyone else then you might need to take a step back and take a detour for a second.
Scott Berkun shared a terrific story along these lines “Back in my early days at Microsoft I worked on strong teams where you were expected to have opinions. If you saw something stupid happening you were obligated to raise your hand, say “I think this is stupid and here’s why.” If you were right, you were applauded no matter how senior the people in the room were. I argued with group managers, VPs, and many other tough, smart people far more senior than I was. If I was wrong, I was dismissed, but not scolded. I might have heard praise for not being afraid. I thrived in this environment and assumed this was how the world worked. But later, in a new job at Microsoft in a group known as MSTE, I discovered a different world. No one spoke their mind in public. Few people worked hard or asked tough questions. Quality of work, and morale, was low. I felt obligated to mention these facts as often and as loudly as possible to leadership. I even expected to be rewarded for telling people how bad things were. Why wouldn’t they want to hear this? I thought. Before I knew it, I was that guy. The guy who always complains.
In my egocentric view, the work around me was well beneath the bar. But I didn’t stop to think the group had its own bar, it’s own culture and it was not my job to set it. And I was far from having enough respect from anyone to be seen as a leader, which would be required to change the culture anyway. It took months of suffering to realize I was in a different culture with different expectations. It blew my mind to realize there were other cultures at all. To achieve the same positive effects my opinionated nature had early in my career, I’d have to adopt a very different approach. I also realized in the past, in other groups, progress happened not simply because I was right and took a stand (as much as my ego wished it to be true). It happened because my boss, or his/her boss, listened to my points and took action, or granted me the power to do so. Having an idea changes nothing unless someone with sufficient power, and genuine interest, does something about it. The idea alone is never enough. Nor is saying it out loud.”
In his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” Marshall Goldsmith explains, “It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) ‘we already knew that’ and (b) ‘we know a better way.’” Most leaders are comfortable with running the show, but do so at the expense of their team’s development. Goldsmith calls it the fallacy of added value, an effect that most of us have experienced time and again. The leader may improve a subordinate’s idea by 5%, but he’s reduced the commitment to executing it by 50% because the leader has essentially made it his own.
Keeping opinions to yourself can be challenging, especially when you have been identified as being a direct and outspoken person. But we as people are a collection of habits. No one is one way all the time, necessarily. You will benefit from reframing your self-image. Instead of "I am direct and blunt", perhaps try saying "I am open and confident." This will free you to pick up habits in addition to the ones you already have that will help you be more adaptive in social situations.
Life wants you to focus on what’s important and not keeping or airing opinions about people, things and events all the time. But you have to know what that is. It is you who is important. Focus on your goals and dreams. Focus on how to make yourself live life to the fullest. And when things get rough, adjust your lenses and see the world beyond yourself. Maybe the world can help you get through it. At times, in life and in business, this might be the most plausible thing to do. Never forget that you must not have an opinion at all times; and this does not reduce you in any way.
(Culled from my book – The Path Less Travelled).