Memorial Day weekend I was invited to join a group of friends for the Indy 500. The seats were fantastic. I welcomed a social event after a year of covid caution.  Score for me, something I wanted to do!  It certainly wasn’t the first time or the last time for me to attend the race as an Indianapolis resident.  I knew what I was getting into.

In the week before the race three different people asked me about my plans for the weekend. To my surprise, they all felt compelled to share a negative opinion about the race – “Yucking my yum” [as the kids would say].

Were their opinions helpful? No.  Were they kind? No. Were they asked for?  No.  I was clearly excited about the event, what prompted them to share these negative, unsolicited, opinions?

Later that week, I was amused to observe my own impulse to share my unsolicited opinions with my daughter.  I notice that emotional investment makes it more challenging to withhold my opinions than when I am working objectively with clients.

So, what prompts us to offer these gratuitous opinions? I believe it is that we:

  • Want to ‘save’ the person from what we view as a bad choice and certain disaster  
  • Have lack of interest, skill, or knowledge to understand, celebrate, or empathize with others
  • Hear a problem expressed and assume that is a request for our opinion

When we offer our unsolicited opinion often what is heard is “you aren’t smart enough” or “you don’t know what you are doing” or “I have better experiences than you.”  Resistance builds.

Most often unsolicited opinions create a wall
causing the other person to dig in more and/or withdraw from the relationship.

On the receiving end of opinions, consider,

  • You have agency in how you respond, you can be curious or offended
  • Assume positive intent, most of the time people just want to help or create connection
  • Is it possible the opinion has valuable information?
  • Have you expressed doubt or fear that is prompting an opinion? Be careful, find someone to be a sounding board you trust to help you process and whose opinion you want and value.

As a communication coach, I am very conscious of how even my uninvited opinion can backfire. So, how can you voice an opinion so it’s actually helpful and well received?

  • Contrary to what most people do, the best way to be heard and influence others is through asking open-ended questions.  Spiral Impact® teaches to change your statements into questions/acknowledgements, or both.  When a person comes to their own conclusions, they are more likely to follow through with appropriate action.  It’s much easier to change direction when it’s your idea, instead of being told you are wrong.
  • Give up the belief that what is right for you is right for others.  We are complicated human beings who can’t possibly know what is right for other people. It’s hard enough to know what’s right for ourselves!
  • Clarify your intent and ask permission.   This can be as simple as, “I’d like to support you with what I understand your goals or desires to be (state them).  I have some thoughts, opinions. Would you like to hear?”
  • Keep in mind, when you offer your opinion and someone actually relies on your advice, you then have some ownership in the outcome.  What if it backfires?  ,

All in all, next time you are tempted to voice your opinion ask yourself, is it:

Asked for?
Part of your job?
Otherwise, maybe just keep it to yourself!

Practice your agency –
if you receive an unsolicited opinion, try taking a breath and just say ‘thank you’ or smile.

Let’s roll!!

Karen Valencic

Copyright 2021