I was recently in a coffee shop in a country town and found myself sitting next to a group of bikers who had stopped for a break after riding from their hometown, out for a country ride on what was a beautiful day.
Although I wasn’t eavesdropping I heard a substantial amount of their conversation as they discussed all things two wheeled, along with concepts and parts of motorbikes that I had never heard of. The conversation fluctuated from passion, to enthusiasm to pragmatism.
It did strike me though, that although they were all enthusiasts, some members of the group were so much more articulate as to why they had chosen x over y, or why they ride the way they do. Needless to say to a certain degree they dominated the conversation. Others sat back sipping their beverages and listened intently.
Now, I know you are probably thinking that in a social environment, that guy or gal who wants to tell you every detail about a recent purchase or event can send a group of close friends clambering for the door, when we are in a work situation this attention to detail can be and often is a valuable resource.
Having an informed and relevant opinion can mean the difference between being heard and being overlooked. It can also be the difference between healthy debate and steamrollering of ideas.
In the workplace or on a board everyone wants to be heard and their point of view considered but for many, the lack of effort or ability to develop an informed and valid opinion, can mean they are overlooked rather than have their ideas considered and recorded.
If you are one of these people who struggle to have your opinions heard by peers, trying different techniques could help you stand out from the crowd. Here are a few of my favourites.
Discuss ideas openly. Verbalising your thoughts is a great way to practice and hone your opinions. Talking and explaining concepts forces us to order and streamline the message we are trying to get across. Cross examination or challenges of our ideas help to test the validity and coherence of our logic.
Avoid taking a position based on emotion. I think this way “just because that’s how I feel” generally doesn’t cut it in the workplace. It is easy to build up these emotional positions in our job over time through experiencing different aspects of the working environment. If you feel strongly about something but you’re not sure why, then see it as a trigger to dig a little deeper or talk it out (see 1 above) with a colleague or superior. Writing and journaling are excellent techniques to help coalesce ideas and thoughts.
Ask others about their opinions. By asking simple questions of those ‘in the know’, you may discover that your opinion is unique, needs a little work or that what you were thinking is universal.
Come prepared for meetings or discussions. Don’t just turn up to meeting and hope to wing it. Ask the meeting convener what will be discussed, what decisions are to be made and most importantly what information is available for reading before the meeting. Carrying out analysis or researching further will put you ahead of the game and help you form a considered opinion.
Consume information from multiple sources. I see so many people reading the same newspaper every day, listening to the same radio personality or watching the same news channel at night. You may not realise it but over time you start to think like they do because they often have a particular style of barrow to push. Break free from the mundane and look around for other sources of information such as libraries, professional journals, discussion groups or ethnic TV and radio stations. Trust me, your mind will be broadened.
Talk to others outside your own environment. As with 5 above having the same conversations with the same people all the time makes your brain lazy and can reinforce ingrained thinking. It can also make you think that this is how everyone thinks and give you a false sense of righteousness on a particular subject.
Broaden your mind with meetup or networking groups, or frequent live debates and discussions.
Challenge yourself. If you have a strong opinion on something, test it. Ask yourself ‘how did I get here?’, ‘what facts do I know?’ and most importantly what others think and why. If you have had a long-held opinion on something, turn it on its head and try to prove yourself wrong.
You will be surprised how quickly you can become more effective and a stronger part of organisational leadership by practicing some of the techniques above.