How to Have An Opinion


Photo Credit: peterned via Compfight cc

My political opinions generally sway to the left, but more than anything they are based on the facts I know about just a few topics. It’s a big, confusing world out there. So, I sink my efforts into knowing the hell out of a few things and vote accordingly.

This also impacts how I talk about politics. If I don’t know a ton about a topic, I’m less inclined to take a strong opinion about it if it comes up in conversation.

Confidence and Opinions

This post isn’t about politics.

It’s about confidence, expressing opinions, and how we communicate with each other in startups.

Prior to consulting, the companies I worked for were all very different. However, one common theme was that everyone I worked with had strong opinions about how things should be done.

I, on the other hand, had strong opinions about a couple of things I knew really really well. Everything else? I was open to hearing other people’s ideas and testing things as we went along. I liked to listen first and gather information before sharing my point of view.

I childishly assumed everyone took the same approach to expressing opinions that I did. By them expressing strong opinions, I also thought this meant they knew what they were talking about.

But this isn’t always the case.

Other people, especially guys, were just more comfortable expressing opinions even if they weren’t totally sure about the thing they were suggesting.

Here’s the clincher: They weren’t even aware of that uncertainty because of one very important difference between them and me: Confidence.


After years of this, I started consulting. In consulting, among other things, you make a living by coming into a company with a strong point of view about what needs to get done.

I’ve quickly learned how to share opinions, how to communicate when I’m still developing them, and how to rely on past experiences to develop those points of view more quickly.

Here are some tips that may help you do the same:

How to Express an Opinion…

1)…when you think everyone else is going to disagree

Explain where you’re coming from.

This is something you have to get used to as a marketer in early stage tech startups. Usually, no one else besides you comes from a marketing background. So, you’re potentially optimizing for different things than everyone else in the room. Back into your explanations of opinions by explaining where you are coming from. A lot of times, disagreements can be resolved when the source of it is identified and handled.

2) …when you don’t know what to do

Rely on past experiences. 

Gut instinct is strengthened over time. Past experiences inform future decisions. Even if you haven’t been in this specific situation before, it’s probable that the situation reminds you of something you have experienced before. You can share those stories and experiences to explain your points of view.

3) ….when you’re still researching

Tell people you’re collecting information, and tell them what information you’re collecting. 

Listening to others is a great way to research and form a sound opinion, but it isn’t an excuse to stay quiet during a meeting. Make it a point to speak up and share that you are there to listen to other people’s ideas. Be specific about what information you’re hoping to get while you listen. This may help other people address those things during the conversation and help the entire group come to a decision more quickly.

Silence can be read as incompetence, so you have to be proactive about communicating what you’re listening for.

On the other hand, you may be pressed for an opinion before you feel you have enough data to back up that opinion. In that case, try this phrase: “Given what we know so far, I think we should do ____. However, I think we should collect more data/do XYZ before making a final decision.”

4) …when you genuinely don’t care either way

Say so.

Mindless debates are a part of office culture. Some personality types are less inclined to argue for the sake of it. However, not having a point of view can be read as incompetence. So express what side of an issue you lean toward slightly, but also share that you don’t feel too strongly and would be happy to go with someone else’s suggestion. Being prepared to admit that you don’t feel too strongly about something can give you the confidence to share your more subtle points of view and still assert competence.

5) ….when you’re put on the spot

Develop a point of reference. 

Think hard about the underlying thing that drives the points of view you do feel strongly about, and let that guide your opinions. For example, I generally think most ideas we debate in startups can be tested. It’s usually possible to come up with a version of an idea that can be tested on a small scale. I usually suggest something along these lines. Having this point of reference has helped me form opinions and make decisions more quickly.

 Hopefully this all makes sense and helps someone out there. Have a, dare I say it, opinion about this? ;P

Let me know in the comments.

When it Comes to Startup Metrics, Focus on Big Rocks

Lately I’ve been helping clients set up metrics-driven processes for marketing.

This is different for every company, of course, but the more I go through this the more I firmly believe one thing – You have to be careful what metrics you track.

I say this because what you measure determines how you spend your time and how you perceive your progress. These are two very important things for an employee and the company that employee works for.

Little Rocks and Big Rocks

Increasing the open rate on your startup’s newsletter by 20% sounds great. If there are ten people on that list, who cares? [Read more...]

Should Early Stage Startups Have Marketing?

This op-ed by Jessica Livingston about why startups should focus on sales, not marketing, has gotten a lot of chatter recently. Given that I’m working with several early stage startups on marketing right now, I figured I should offer my perspective.

My hope is that for founders, this post helps you decide if you should hire a marketer. For marketers, I hope this helps you decide if you should accept a job offer as a first marketing hire, and helps show you what you should focus on. [Read more...]

20 Debates Your Startup Should Stop Having Today

Startups are known for being fast-paced. But anyone who has worked for an early-stage venture knows that isn’t always the case.

When you lack infrastructure as a company, it’s tough to gain momentum and get things done.

It can be unclear who owns decisions in flat organizations.

You’re often doing things for the first time. There aren’t any past practices to rely on for guidance. [Read more...]

Advice for the Class of 2014: Accept That There is No Path. You Might As Well.

It’s graduation season and I keep seeing all kinds of “advice to the class of 2014″  blog posts. I have now been out in the real world for five whole years. Given my five years of real-world experience and that I am now an expert on everything ever, I present to you my thoughts for the class of 2014.

My thoughts can be compiled into one sentence, actually:

You need to accept that there is no “path” to success in your career.

This is difficult to accept. When you realize it, it feels like you were lied to your entire life.

I’ve seen it take some people years to get over. Don’t waste years of your life getting over this. Embrace it. [Read more...]


To catch you up if you missed my post from last week, I’m off into a new career direction of consulting.

I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the messages of support, and somewhat surprised to hear from many others that they struggle with similar “self-branding” issues.

In my last post I promised to share my process with you. I tried a number of different methods to refine my offering, and some worked better than others.

Here’s what I’ve got so far. [Read more...]

The Hardest Thing to Market: Me

No company’s marketing has moved me in the past few years quite the way that Chubbies has.

Chubbies makes short shorts for frat bros, and they are on a crusade to rid the world of cargo shorts one pair of gingham print “Danny Dukes” at a time.

The mission is concise and clear, and in a startup world full of “It’s this for that!” and 200-floor elevator pitches, I appreciate the focus. Maybe Chubbies wants to be this huge lifestyle brand one day. Maybe they have this big, broader vision in mind. It’s possible, in fact, probable, given what I know of founders so far. But that they were able to dodge the shiny objects and channel those dreams into a single focus is an accomplishment to be revered. [Read more...]

How to Get Better Feedback

A few months ago Kristin, Pam, Liz and I started Marketing on the Rocks – a new marketing blog. I’ve been writing there once a month, so you should follow along and read our posts! Below is a snack-size portion of my latest one. Read the complete post here.

Whether it’s just another quick set of eyes on a blog post or a deep conversation about your career direction, getting great advice can be really helpful. It can even be life-changing. At first blush, feedback may seem like something you take as it comes to you. But there are some things you can do to proactively get the help and advice you need to improve your work.

1) Distance Yourself From The Work

Taking ownership and responsibility is much different than taking everything to heart and associating your self-worth with your job. This is essential for startup employees in particular to understand. To join a startup, a certain level of passion or at least personal interest is necessary in order to choose a risky, fledgling business over stable corporate life. But to incorporate people’s feedback into the projects you do at that startup, you need to balance your heart with your head and take an objective approach. A mental distance between you and the work impacts how you ask for feedback and how you receive feedback. [Read more...]

Straight Talk for Susan Patton: Your Words Are Hateful and Destructive

Hi Susan,

Great writers are often avid readers. Since you are a writer, I was wondering if I could send you my copy of Half the Sky, a book I was lucky enough to read last summer.

This book moved me. It told stories of the billions of women in the world facing horrible oppression. Nope, I’m not talking about “leaning in” and still not getting the promotion you want because you’re a woman. [Read more...]

Career and Life Update, the Sequel

As you could tell from my last post, I was in a career transition mode in December. I’m excited to share that I officially joined One Mighty Roar to lead marketing for our Internet of Things platform, Robin.

One Mighty Roar began as a digital marketing agency. Through client work we developed a few different products. One of the products was technology for connected experiences, so now we are rolling those capabilities out into a spin-off Internet of Things platform called Robin. We launch this spring and you can sign up for our beta here, although I think the audience that reads this blog would be more interested in just learning about the Internet of Things and subscribing to our blog. [Read more...]