It has been a really long time (as in never) since I’ve heard someone say, “You know, what we really need around here are more opinions. I just can’t get anyone to tell me what they think about this topic or about how this coworker is doing their job.”
Maybe it’s the mad affair we currently have with data and social media, maybe technology has brought society to a place in which vast information is poised just the other side of a mouse click so we feel a bit more educated and able to speak on various topics, or maybe (and I suspect this is the case), we’ve just grown entitled to saying whatever opinions pop into our heads like they automatically become objective statements.
For whatever reason though, we all seem to be sharing more opinions these days and many employees do so to the detriment of their relationships and careers.
At the request of a reader, I thought I do a little blogging on the topic and share what I think to be valuable information based on my interviewing with and working with thousands of employees through the years.
1) It is great for your career to have opinions on things you have intimate knowledge of ! If you’ve spent time studying a topic and you employ it on a daily basis – go for it. If you live it, breathe it, see it, know it, understand it, and can do it with your eyes shut – by all means, have your opinions and express them freely, especially if you have the data to back up your opinion. You’ll be sought out and valued for what you know on the topic and your opinion might just become policy.
2) If you don’t own the situation or problem, if you glance at it only occasionally, if you are just a casual observer, or if you *think* you know what the other person who owns it should be doing – but have no data to back yourself up, then in most instances, it is career and relationship harming to pretend your opinion has been objectively formed. In these instances, it’s in your best interest to keep your opinions to yourself. Especially, and I mean especially, if no one asked you your opinion to begin with.
No ownership of the issue means no opinion should be shared. (yes, I’m still grinding the point) No pony in the show – no reason to step in the muck.
3) A highly employable skill is knowing immediately which category your opinion falls into and sticking to either plan #1 or #2 above.
When I interview a candidate and I ask them a question and their response is, “You know, I just don’t have enough background in that area to answer your question.” they automatically get a few brownie points for not pretending their subjective opinions are pertinent (or accurate) enough to be shared.
This discernment is a highly employable skill and one that provides a strong diplomatic addition to any team of people.
Listen, I’m highly opinionated (I’m not oblivious that I’m sharing my opinion on this topic.) and I realize that we all find our own opinions mesmerizing, however, I have a professional and personal goal to share opinions only when I’m certain I have subject matter expertise in the area or if the ownership is mine to have. (e.g., I’m much more opinionated about my job, my career, my team, my family, my problems, my kid, than I’ll ever be about yours. )
A good rule of thumb I use when coaching others is to employ 4 qualifying questions before sharing opinions, especially if presenting the opinion as suggested advice to be adopted.
1) Do I own the topic or issue at hand?
2) Does it affect me daily and would the opinion I express result in partnered solutions on a daily basis for myself and the others involved?
3) Have I invested significant study time enough to back my opinion up?
4) Has someone asked me to share my opinion and thoughts and am I prepared with data and supporting reasoning?
If one of the 4 qualifying questions is not answered, then one should typically step back and keep thoughts to themselves until they are matured and refined or tossed out as not valid or necessary. In most instances, there is significant value in not having an opinion on something you don’t own or that you know nothing about.
My personal opinion is that not having an opinion is a really employable skill!