I’ve been writing a strategic communication series over the past month, with last week’s blog focusing on why you shouldn’t give your opinion at work. Does this mean you should never say what you think? No, it doesn’t – you get paid for your ideas, insights and thoughts. I’m suggesting you pay attention to how you do it. I call this speaking with a point of view. It is a way to offer your thoughts, but with added advantages.
I provided the definition of an opinion as ‘a view or judgement formed not necessarily based on fact or knowledge’ (oxforddictionaries.com). This is precisely why providing an opinion can sound subjective, inflexible and even emotional. So why then does speaking with a point of view make you sound more strategic?
A point of view, by contrast is defined as ‘a position or perspective from which something is considered or evaluated’ (merriam-webster.com). There is a slight, but very important distinction here. Great leaders speak in a way that feels informed, objective and open-minded. They do this by linking what they say to a broader context and they help people connect the dots between what they are saying and why others should listen. And they do it in a way that comes across with confidence, but not arrogance. The whole point of speaking with a point of view is to present an informed idea, an idea that is based on insights and experience.
Consider this example. You are a people manager sitting with your colleagues in a talent review discussion. The name of a person is raised who sits on your colleague’s team. As soon as you hear the name Jack, you have an immediate reaction. In your opinion, this person has not been delivering quality results nor belongs on the list of key talent. Your colleague has given their summary and now it’s your turn to provide your thoughts on Jack. How do you respond?
In my experience of sitting through countless meetings like this, it tends to go one of two ways. Some people are quite comfortable giving their opinion and without little thought say something like… “Well, personally I don’t think he’s cutting it anymore. What I’ve witnessed lately is…” While it’s an honest and direct response, it is more about you than it is about Jack. It also does not provide fertile ground for a continued objective discussion about talent. Another common response I hear is when a person avoids giving an honest answer altogether. Often times people are hesitant to give their opinion because they don’t want to rock the boat, raise a sticky issue or upset their colleague. They may say something like…”Yeah, I think he’s doing an okay job. I’m not as close to his work as you are though.” This response too is not helpful because it doesn’t get real issues on the table.
Let’s try responding with a point of view instead. The first thing to do is to reframe what you tell yourself when someone says, ‘”what do you think?” or “what’s your opinion on this?” Acknowledge the feelings the topic invokes and tell yourself this is an opportunity to provide your helpful thinking on a topic by providing an informed, objective perspective, versus a gut reaction.
Once you are in the right frame of mind, then you can apply this 4 step point of view framework:
Reflect: First give yourself the nano-second it takes to arrange a thoughtful and objective response in your head. If needed, use a throw-away phrase to give your brain the time it needs to process, such as: “I’ve been thinking about this a bit differently…” or “that’s a great question, in my experience I have observed some patterns contrary to that…” or “I have some additional data on this person that may provide a different perspective…”
Connect: Then provide a brief connection to a broader context. Link to the goals, strategy or evolving situation. The goal is to provide a brief lens of the perspective, positioning or criteria for which your comments are provided through. Useful phrases may be: “Given what we’re trying to achieve with this project, we need staff who…” or “as our business has evolved considerably we need advanced capability outside of the technical skillsets…” or “when I look across the various units at this level, I see a different story emerging…”
Make Choices: This is where you want to select your language carefully. That doesn’t mean soft-pedaling, it means using objective language and a tone that contributes to a productive discussion. It could sound like: “From the perspective of IT that you describe, Jack certainly has the technical strengths and track record of large complex implementations. The areas that may be standing in his way for advancement are the skills of influence, collaboration and stakeholder management. From the perspective of the finance team members who work on the project team alongside him, the relationship management skills are causing significant delays…”
Ask and Listen: Now it’s time to invite others into the conversation to get their perspectives. Questions like “how are others experiencing this?” or “how does this perspective land with you?” or “what other aspects do we see as critical for this decision?”
There will be countless times a day when you are required to provide your perspective on things. You will be asked tough questions that will raise emotional reactions in yourself. Take a moment to pause, reflect, connect and make choices about how you provide your perspective. In doing so, you have the opportunity to give a response that sounds informed, connected and strategic. You will find people will want to listen to you and rely on your point of view more often.