We seem to be most opinionated when we are in our mid to late teens and then again in our forties. Opinions are our way of expressing our take on life. At 18 our opinions are often fired against injustice and aimed directly at either ‘the establishment’ or our parents. It is a kind of blind anger coupled with the optimistic belief that somehow everything can be fixed by someone else. By the age of forty our opinions are, more often than not, directed to exposing inefficiencies. Over the decades we seem to gain the inner belief or arrogance (however you like to see it) that we could somehow do things better ourselves, if only we had the chance.
However, over opinionated people (especially managers) who have difficulty in regulating their outbursts are usually very unpopular. They might not know this because they tend not to listen to, or notice the effect they have on, those around them. I believe that many of us simply get into the habit of giving our opinions on almost everything, without even knowing it. Whether our opinions are requested or not we enjoy bashing them out, it makes us feel important and wise but more often than not we simply look foolish and insecure.
The problem in management is that strongly opinionated people become so over powering that none of their subordinates dares to challenge them. They either try to ignore their opinionated manager and do what they believe needs to be done behind their manager’s back, or (even worse) they simply give up bothering.
In my opinion, (deliberate use of the phrase) managers should not share their opinions too widely. They should encourage creative thought and this happens least in the presence of a strongly opinionated person. (That’s why I tend to leave the room when I lay down the challenge to my team to solve a particular problem).
So my message this week is: If you find yourself saying ‘in my opinion’ more than once a day, then you probably have a problem. Instead of broadcasting your opinions you must learn to ask, ‘are you asking for my opinion or my advice?’ The two things are very different. Advice guides the receiver into drawing their own conclusion, while an opinion (especially from a superior in the workplace) sets down the fundamental position or belief of that person. Thus the only way that a subordinate can move forward is either to accept the opinion as fact or dare to try to challenge it. In any case opinions result in personal battles and fierce arguments whereas ‘suggestions’ and ‘ideas’ are open for debate and creative thought, without the need for direct confrontation.
I challenge you to see if you can get through a whole week without saying ‘in my opinion’ even once. For many people it will be far harder than eating a jam donut without licking their lips!
End note: There is only one thing worse than begining a sentence with ‘in my opinion’ and that is with ‘in my humble opinion’. Our opinions are seldom humble and when we consider them to be, we are at our most hypocritical!