I recently wrote about how to ask more powerful questions to position your strategic capability, in the Do You Ask Strategic Questions blog. But if you want to be perceived as strategic you can’t just go around asking questions all the time can you? You have to offer up your own thoughts and ideas on things too. Where most people go wrong however, is spouting off their opinions instead of offering a more thoughtful point of view. What is the difference between an opinion and a point of view? If you believe it’s just semantics, think again.
Consider people you work with. Think of someone who offers a lot of opinions. How would you describe their impact? I’ll bet that if the person’s ideas are generally deemed as ‘right’ or valuable, you tend to put up with any ego that might come with it. But if you consider their ideas out to lunch, forget it. You likely aren’t as open to listening. Most ‘opinionated’ people get a bad rap because they are seen as subjective, inflexible, and even judgmental. It tends to sound like this: “Well, I think we should do this because…” or “I feel this is the wrong way to proceed…” They may even throw in a “but what do I know, it’s just my personal opinion.”
An opinion by definition is: a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Well that’s not a good way to get buy-in at work is it? To effectively influence and be seen as strategic we need to provide insights that are informed.
When I teach this concept to high potential leaders I show a short video clip of Al Gore being interviewed on climate change, technology and the future. In just two minutes it shows a stark contrast between speaking with a point of view and an opinion. Gore starts off speaking objectively about the opportunity before us and the important choices we have to create a brighter future. The outcome is engaging and even inspirational. He sounds like the foremost authority on the topic. And then in a split second his words change, his tone change, and his demeanor change. At this point Gore begins talking about his disappointment in how big money has impacted ability to make change. He uses words like ‘hacked, twisted, perverted’, and even refers to his own rant. Every time I show this video, the reaction is the same around the world. In the moment where it feels like he’s no longer being objective, and is giving his own personal opinion, we want to stop listening. Even when we agree with him. We don’t want someone else to tell us what to believe or feel. We want to be told objectively and to decide for ourselves.
Let’s take this back to the workplace. If your default is to always provide your opinion, many things can go wrong. First, the context provided is very narrow (yours) and it leaves the listener to connect the importance of what you’re saying to the business goals and stakeholder needs. It also feels subjective and unchanging. In a world where collaboration has become one of the most important leadership competencies, it’s important for leaders to come across as being open to others’ thoughts, ideas and ways of working. Even if you are one of those technical experts whose opinion is called upon and valued, you have the opportunity to position yourself more strategically. And this will be critical if you aspire to more senior leadership roles.
Next week I’ll provide some tangible frameworks for how to speak with a point of view. For now, pay attention to how you offer up ideas and how others offer up theirs. What makes you more open to listening, and others more open to listening to you?