Handling The Opinions Of Others

Almost everyone has an opinion on something. As I teach in my leadership workshops, you will never get a deeper relationship of another person without exploring their ideas and opinions. I always become very encouraged when I see two people who can have different viewpoints and opinions maintain a seriously deep and personal relationship.

Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are just such people. As Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the massive company Berkshire Hathaway, these two gentlemen have differing political viewpoints as daylight and dark. However, you may be hard pressed to find two closer friends and collaborators in the entire world. In Buffett’s widely read annual letter to shareholders, Warren always affectionately refers to Charlie as “my business partner”, when in reality, Berkshire has thousands of shareholder partners. Even though they present to us an ideal partnership model, Munger is hardly a carbon-copy of Buffett. Recently, in a media interview, Munger expressed his preference for something more conservative-oriented juxtaposed against the more liberal-leaning opinions of Buffett. To which, Warren simply remarked, “Charlie doesn’t mince many words does he? I really like that about him.” Warren Buffett found a way to compliment his partner, even in an area they might not be totally aligned or in agreement.

It seems these days, particularly in the area of political polarity, you are either on one side or the other, and you are either friend or enemy. Here’s my opinion on this. It’s sad. Just because someone has a differing opinion, doesn’t make them your enemy. In fact, your leadership ability will not develop to greater potential levels without the ability to listen to differing ideas and opinions without automatic disagreement thoughts permeating your own thinking process. We commonly refer to the opposite of this as having an “open mind”.

An opinion is simply a belief or conclusive thought which may or may not have substantial proof.

Sometimes, a very good debater can put up such a great argument, even the opinions which are substantiated by positive proof or evidence can appear to be fiction. As a leader, or just as a human being, it is up to you to separate an opinion from actual facts, or at least ask questions if you are not sure. Question help clarify a lot of opinions.

While engaging in conversation with another person, if they feel comfortable enough with you to share an opinion, you can then usually do one of five things.

  1. Accept the opinion and remain silent

  2. Vocalize your own opinion

  3. Vocalize your agreement with the opinion

  4. Vocalize your disagreement with the opinion

  5. Ask questions for clarity

Let’s explore each option.

Accept the opinion and remain silent

In one of my previous positions, we used to have a term we would use when someone would not take a stand on an issue. We used to call them “Switzerland”. Ok, Switzerland, are you going to weigh in on this one way or another? Referring to the country’s famous neutrality in previous global affairs, refusing to pick a side. If you accept an opinion and remain silent, you are not in agreement, nor are you expressing disagreement. Sometimes this can be good, if you are merely trying to manage low conflict, but sometimes you can go overboard, especially on things like “do you like the color of this?” There are ways to express a contrast of opinion without being combative, although you wouldn’t think so if you watch any news programming at all these days.

Vocalize your own opinion

Believe it or not, from an etiquette standpoint, it is usually considered rude to offer your opinion unless asked. We seem to have torn this page out of Mrs. Post’s book. Vocalizing your opinion which contradicts the opinion just shared causes tension. Honestly, some people are addicted to tension the same way others are addicted to other things. They feel they must create tension to satisfy an inner or physical need.

Vocalizing your agreement with the opinion

If possible, try to find ways to vocalize agreement with the other person and be sincere. Hardly ever, can a person disagree with everything the other person just said. Finding ways to agree is a great rapport building strategy.

Vocalizing your disagreement with the opinion

Strong disagreement with others is a sure way to lose rapport with them. Side effects will include being defensive, physical tension, mental instability and resentment. Here’s the question. What’s really at stake in the discussion? Is disagreement really necessary? Sometimes, people succumb to an inner need they have rather than truly actively listening and considering the other person’s thought. These can include the need to be right, the need to get someone told, and other potentially toxic behaviors. Perhaps you consider yourself the eternal keeper and guardian of a certain position or ideal. This is usually hardly the case. Consider carefully what you actually hope to accomplish by vocalizing disagreement.

Ask questions for clarity

Examples:

  1. How did they form that opinion?

  2. What facts are there you feel support your thoughts?

  3. Can you please tell me more about that?

  4. Why do you feel that way?

  5. Have you always felt that way?

  6. If not, what changed your mind?

As a leader, you need to form a healthy curiosity about people and their thoughts and feelings. Once you have a better understanding of the other person, only then can you ever hope to be a leader who influences them. Also, you can always choose carefully to accept or disagree with certain aspects of what they are expressing. The old proverb should be adapted by all leaders. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Today, so many are fighting for the opportunity to be understood, it leaves little room for real understanding. It’s a major challenge; all of today’s leaders need to take on. It’s a proven fact that people can have differing viewpoints and live and work together to accomplish results. True leadership results come from realizing your people will have conflicting actions and behaviors from yours which can only be effectively addressed by influence and persuasion.

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