In business, figuring out good opinions from bad opinions takes practice

By JJ Rosen October 15, 2023
different opinions

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

In a world with the constant chatter of social media, blogging, and 24-hour news, entitlement to an opinion is ironically the one thing that most people can agree on.

And by and large, this is good. Whether it’s politics, sports, books, food, or you-name-it, opinions are what make the world go round.  We each can form our own judgments whether we share them or not.

I’ve always been one to seek out other perspectives, especially when it comes to making big decisions.  Because every person’s point of view is subjective, I feel that checking myself against the input of others is almost always a good idea.

But recently, I’ve been experiencing a severe case of what I’ve self-diagnosed as “opinion-overload.”

Between reading business books, listening to business podcasts, posing questions to ChatGPT, reading blogs and vetting ideas with peers, I have exposed myself to so many opinions that it’s become hard to keep track of them.

But the sheer volume isn’t the only challenge.

I have learned over the years that when it comes to opinions, some are more valuable than others.  And sometimes it’s hard to separate the good from the bad.

I guess you could say that I’ve come to the opinion that not all opinions are valid.

This may seem obvious to some.  But at work, where opinions are often presented as facts, filtering valid input from biased and even ignorant viewpoints isn’t so easy.

But over the years I’ve found it’s critical, especially for those in leadership positions, to be good at both seeking opinions and sifting through them to figure out which ones are worth listening to.  The business landscape is littered with failed companies whose management listened to the wrong advice.

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So, how can you tell a valid opinion from one that is misguided?

It’s taken me a few years (decades really) to figure out, but I’ve found a few tips and tricks that have helped:

  • Value those who share an experience over those that give advice. Regardless of the source, an opinion formed in response to real life makes it more valuable to me.  If you “bring the receipts” from your own lived experience, I’m just more comfortable trusting your insight.
  • Take unsolicited opinions with grain of salt.  Unsolicited opinions aren’t all bad.  But sometimes they are more about the giver wanting to be heard than the receiver’s needs.
  • Consider the source.  We’re all guilty of sometimes sharing thoughts on topics that we have no expertise in. I like to hear from colleagues who aren’t afraid to simply say, “I don’t know” when they are unsure.  This makes the opinions they do share much more credible.
  • Vet for bias.  Bias is unavoidable.  The key is just being aware of it so you can decide for yourself the feedback you take to heart.
  • Triple check for consensus.  On important matters, I try to always seek out three sources separately (so no group-think) to help filter good ideas from bad ones.

Not all opinions are created equal.  Vetting for those that are well-informed and grounded in evidence is not easy but essential to keep a company from going in the wrong direction.

But that’s just my opinion.

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