Sometime this week, someone is bound to bring you an opportunity (or a problem) and ask you for your ideas, advice, or even mentoring. In an era when information and knowledge are both great assets to the work we do AND how we get our work done, it’s important to pause long enough to ask, “Where do our opinions come from?”
Nearly 2,000 years ago, student of Stoicism (and Emperor of Rome!) Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Treat with utmost respect your power of forming opinions, for this power alone guards you against making assumptions.” Note that he did not discourage us from FORMING opinions; he warned us to respect our power TO form opinions.
What Opinions and Assumptions Do You Bring?
How do our opinions form? And if we respect our power to FORM opinions, what could we do? Over the next seven days, be hyper-vigilant about the kinds of questions people ask you, the types of problems they bring. Listen intently as they share their concern or opportunity. Lean in and identify the assumptions they may have already made and the opinions they have formed; and check yourself for the assumptions you make as you listen! Ask questions to get them to share more with you and wonder along with them how to bring presence to the conversation.
Our assumptions and opinions come from our nature, our nurture, our choices, and the chances we have been given. Think about this: If I lived in, say, Santa Barbara, CA, for 23 years and suddenly up and moved to Montgomery, AL, what opinions and assumptions would I bring along with me? (This is not a hypothetical question. In 2019, my wife—published author, executive coach, and expert speaker on belongingness and women’s leadership issues—and I did just that!) If you have been to either one of those two places, California and Alabama, you probably could imagine I had some preconceived notions, unconscious assumptions, and a lot of learning to do!
Forming New Opinions
There are three things I know I’ve done to guard myself from living in my assumptions so that I can (respectfully) form new—and up-to-date—opinions.
1. Read about it. I have had several unique careers over the last 30 years: high school teacher, time management consultant, executive coach, published author, and now I teach at a university in the Deep South of the United States. Every time I take on something new or am offered a new problem or opportunity in an area of my work-life I did not have experience in, I have turned to books, articles, journals, and blog posts. I am surer than ever that my current views, opinions, and assumptions are based on what I know. If I can read more, I can know more. The challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to go find something to read in line with what you are learning.
2. Talk to someone who knows more. Speaking of knowing more, another tactic I have practiced in forming and reforming assumptions and opinions is I talk with someone about their assumptions and opinions, about their nature/nurture choices, and chances that have gotten them from where they were to where they are. Whether I was building a lesson plan (I taught history and Spanish in the 1990s), writing a book (I published two books with John Wiley and Sons within four years), or earning my doctoral degree (I just finished that program, graduating from the University of Southern California in 2022), I have found that if I talk with someone who has experience I don’t have, I learn more. Today, go to your LinkedIn network and reach out to someone asking if they will meet you for a coffee, a walk, or a chat via video.
3. Share what I’m learning in real time. Personally, it is not enough for me just to know something, I need to do something with it. About once a month, I send a note out to friends with an invite to a “share-and-discuss” event. All I do is provide the topic, a calendar invite, and a link to my Zoom channel. Then we meet and talk. For the first 10 to 15 minutes, I share what I have been learning (or grappling with) and then we spend 45 minutes talking it through. I figure I’m one introduction away…if I let them know what I am thinking about, they might be able to help me. And if I let them know what I am thinking about, they might even know someone to introduce myself to.
I want to continue forming and reforming opinions and assumptions. But I will not stop once I have done so. I will continue getting better, learning more, and opening my mind to what else is out there. How about you?