Someone Shares Their Opinion, Now What?
You should always talk to the person you’re sitting next to on an airplane. You should have your camera on when logged into a video meeting. Running is the best form of exercise. Bacon should be not too crunchy, not too chewy. Country music is the best genre of music. An IPA is a terrible beer choice.
These are a few of my personal opinions. Whether you agree or disagree, you might be wondering: Who asked? Great question. Think about the people you work with within your organization, do people share their opinions? Of course, they do. Opinions are one’s own thoughts, feelings, or judgments about someone or something based on life experiences, values, fears, or needs. Let’s first explore why one might share an opinion and then explore how to approach opportunities to share opinions with a more inclusive and empathetic mindset.
Why Share an Opinion?
As a University of Kansas Alumni, I am a loyal supporter of our basketball team. No matter where I’m at, if I see a Jayhawk fan, I am going to smile, say hello, or maybe even say the Jayhawk magic words, “Rock Chalk!” In these moments, I share my opinion with the person wearing the Jayhawk to let them know I too, am a supporter of the Jayhawks. Making a connection with someone is a main driver for why someone may share an opinion. Perhaps you share an experience, a belief, an enjoyment, or a displeasure. When you share a common thread with another person, you instantly feel seen or heard, and ultimately more connected.
In a recent client meeting, we had been discussing what average course duration time works best for their organization. Upon listening to their thoughts and opinions about the potential change from their norm, I decided that I wanted to offer my differing perspective. Another reason humans share their opinions is because they may differ from what has been shared and expand their thinking. There was not one right way of solving the solution during our client meeting, therefore it was valuable to gather different perspectives to make an intentional decision together.
Finally, humans share their opinions when someone has asked them for it. During an activity in our Include course, we ask participants to think about a time they felt included and what that person or group did to make them feel included. Every single time, someone will say, “They asked for my opinion.” Asking someone to share their opinion lets them know their thoughts are valuable, and is a simple way to make someone feel included.
How to Best Prepare to Share Yours
Whether sharing your opinion to make a connection, offer a different perspective, or because someone invited you to share, it’s important to pause and reflect on what impact sharing your opinion will have on the present relationship or situation. Here is a quick guide to help you consider:
Ask yourself these questions: Will sharing my opinion bring me closer to the other person? Will sharing my opinion help the situation? Will sharing my opinion hurt the situation? Does the person need my opinion right now?
- If yes, go ahead and share.
- If you’re unsure or the answer to any of the questions is no, move to Step 2.
Remember that your opinion comes from your own life experiences, values, fears, or needs about someone or something. Ask yourself: Does the person you’re talking to have the same life experiences, values, fears, or needs?
- No. They do not. Move on to Step 3.
Seek to understand by asking open-ended questions.
- Can you tell me more about that?
- Sounds like this is important to you, where do you think that comes from?
- What is your biggest concern or worry?
- What are you most proud of?
Listen. After you’ve asked an open-ended question, listening to their responses is the only next step. Remind yourself that you are seeking to understand where they are coming from – what are their fears, needs, and/or life experiences? Listen so well that you can give them an empathetic response. You can repeat back the facts and the feelings of what you heard to demonstrate your understanding and not share your opinion in response.
Repeat Step 3 and Step 4 until you better understand what informs their opinion(s), or you can give them an empathetic response.
If you’ve been able to give them an empathetic response, this is the moment of truth: Do you share your opinion with them? If you’re still unsure whether or not it will bring you closer or will help the situation, move to Step 5.
Last, but certainly not least, thank them for sharing. If you’ve made it to this step, you chose to not share your opinion at this moment. Instead, you chose to seek to understand.
Not sharing an opinion can feel challenging and uncomfortable when it differs from yours or when it goes against what you believe to be true based on your life experiences or values. Choosing to practice these five steps allows each of us to choose sharing empathy over opinion.