Nobody needs another opinion

Just before Christmas a colleague asked me why I hadn’t written anything on here for a while. Whilst I was obviously aware that I hadn’t, I was surprised when I looked back and saw that it had been around three months. As someone who had previously written once a week, my writing during the pandemic had started to slow and then eventually, and intentionally stopped.

When people are dying, people are losing their businesses, families are being kept apart, writing about the importance of strong cultures or leadership felt…well a bit glib. And then all the space for debate in the workplace was filled with vacuous debates around hybrid working which, any objective view would tell you, is the least pressing issue for anyone running an organisation.

Frankly, I came to the conclusion that the last thing I or anyone else needed was another opinion.

A bit of time and space and I can’t help thinking that I was entirely wrong, we have never needed a diversity of opinion more. The problem is our ability to convey opinions sensibly and our reluctance to listen to and consider those that are different or challenge our perspective. Immediately jumping into criticism and critique, rather than embracing curiosity and asking questions. I know I am, and I think others are are, prone to falling into that trap.

Our thinking, decision making our choices and our ideas can only be improved by taking into account the widest range of perspectives. Whether that is in our teams, in our businesses, around board tables or in broader societal debates. Listening to different views or perspectives that are held sincerely and expressed respectfully is an undeniable strength, particularly when they challenge our beliefs or long held perspectives. The moment we think, “well they would say that”, we’ve shelved our curiosity.

But in order to consider the widest range of perspectives, we need people to feel confident they can express freely and openly those opinions. We need to value independence and creativity and avoid the trap of slipping into group think and soundbites. We need to be careful in the language that we use ourselves and to others and when we do come across something we find uncomfortable, we need to be willing to ask more and assert less.

Add to this the inevitable social media pile on when someone tries to outline a different opinion particularly about any of the “golden topics” – flexibility, diversity, executive pay, working practices, trust, employee responsibilities to name but a few – and you end up with the type of anodyne debate that serves no-one well and leaves many silently frustrated. And what is perhaps worse, is we give those that shout the loudest the false impression that everyone thinks the same, encouraging them to raise their voices even further.

So as my little self coaching session concludes; I need to take more time to listen to genuinely held and respectfully made views that challenge me, likewise I need to have the courage to express views responsibly that might challenge others and I need to silence the noise of those that don’t want to enter into a genuine conversation but instead want to simply point score.

Let’s see how we go.