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.

Consulting

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.

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