Should You Keep Your Opinion to Yourself?

Posted on | December 14, 2009 | No Comments

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Recently I read a blog post by Seth Godin, whose work I really enjoy. One of his best tips was, “The first rule of great feedback is this: No one cares about your opinion.” He went on to say that he prefers to hear analysis—facts, not opinion—when receiving feedback.

Godin’s distinction was helpful, but here is where I differ: Facts alone are not enough. People’s reactions to the facts influence how they respond. Their opinions will also influence their responses. You simply cannot ignore reactions or opinions.

When I am working with my clients on how to have productive conversations, I often find it important to make explicit what is fact and what is a reaction or opinion. They are both important.

Facts and data give you concrete, maybe verifiable information. People’s reactions to that data are of equal importance. When making decisions, you need both components. Let’s take a simple example:

I am meeting a friend. I am late. That’s a fact. My friend is mad. She has an opinion that my being late is disrespectful. That’s important!! In her feedback she could have said, “You’re late.” Fine and true. But if she says instead, “You’re late and I am upset about that,” then I have important information, which will influence me. If I want to stay her friend, I need to understand her thought processes and reactions. I have to make a decision about being mindful of time when I meet her in the future. I note, too, that this scenario would be different if I were meeting someone who didn’t care about timeliness.

In a work environment, this dynamic plays out all the time. If you deliver facts that people don’t like, don’t believe or don’t trust, they won’t make good decisions. Here’s an example:

A client of mine is looking at her company’s turnover rate. She gathers the facts and analyzes them. She then shares the information with the executive group. The group reviews the data and then reacts. They have opinions about the information. Some say the information is upsetting, some say it is insufficient data, and some find it reassuring. Now, the group has data and a sense of the reactions around the room (which is, in fact, more data).

What are the implications?? This group has to look at the “fact” that there is no consensus about the information. They cannot move forward with a decision until they resolve the differences of opinions. Having a deeper conversation about the group’s reactions led to a better understanding of the situation and the implications for the organization.

My partner, Tom Kornbluh, and I have developed a conversation model that we have found very useful with our clients. The model allows groups to explore both the facts and their reactions to them—but in a very conscious process. Methodically walking people through the steps help them stay on course—because mixing the two topics is very confusing and impedes progress. Using the model, discussions are more thorough and more efficient.

The PowerfulWork Conversation model is as follows:

• Set-up: explain the topic, the desired outcome and any decision-making process
• Data gathering: Provide or collect the needed data
• Individual reactions: Invite people to share their reactions
• Group implications: Discuss the implications of the data and the reactions
• Brainstorm options: What are the possible options or next steps available
• Conclusions: Select the desired conclusion or next step
• Summaries: Summarize the conversation and agreements made

Feel free to go to our website to download our free conversation templates. Give it a try!

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