− The truth is that I am already sick of them, I’m sick of it! exclaimed Silvia when she was entering the office. − What’s wrong with you Silvia? –asked Mara − This is unbelievable, the new version of the application that you all turned in is a disaster! It’s full of errors, nothing works! − It’s impossible! –exclaimed Mara with a tone of fury in her voice- We have been working until the wee hours at night, ensuring the quality of the application! − Sure! Extra hours completely wasted. I don’t remember the password and the application doesn’t even give me the option of recovering it, the first error, I spent like two hours until I could remember it. Once I entered, the traditional options menu is no longer in place, second error. Who thinks of moving the menu from its place? Complete incompetence! Besides that I have to click 10 times to get to the report, third error and counting! Please, resolve this! – Silvia finished saying as she left the room. − Oh, what an insufferable woman! I can’t wait for her to retire, she never values anything that we do - Mara said completely disappointed with Silvia.
We just presented an argument between Silvia, Marketing director, and Mara, IT project leader. It seems that Silvia is not pleased with the way that a new version of a specific system was set up. She attributes this to all of the errors committed by Mara’s team, and, apparently, also doesn’t value their invested efforts. By definition, another typical useless interaction, that doesn’t resolve the problems, but rather aggravates them: it doesn’t help things to improve, it deteriorates the interpersonal relationships and increases the level of tension and stress for the individuals. Sadly, these kinds of situations, are commonplace in many organizations and teams in the workplace.
How many times have you expressed your opinion about something or someone without being aware that it was your own opinion? How many times did you feel hurt, insulted, or under appreciated by an opinion expressed by someone else? How many relationships are hurt by a badly expressed opinion? Since a long time ago, human beings have discovered the power and danger of their own opinions; even so, these kinds of harmful situations continue happening in innumerable organizations, as a result, producing the typical situations referred to as communication problems, day by day causing suffering to those involved.
With the term statement, I will be referring to all statements that basically do not generate any kind of argument or difference among points of view, for example, someone’s name, the color green, the number four, the units of measurement, a chair, the names of the days of the week, etc. They are not arguable nor can we modify them ourselves; for this reason, any other member of our society can ascertain them. We can value them as true or false. Typical examples of statements are: “today is Friday”, “My name is Martin”, “Mariano arrived 10 minutes after the agreed hour”, “it’s raining”, etc. Statements are based on a social consensus in order to reach an agreement about how to identify the different things that surround us.
On the other hand, an opinion is a value judgement, they are statements regarding the internal experience of each one of us. In contrast to statements, opinions can be modified, I can’t say that they can be true or false, they tell me about the way in which the person is viewing the world. When a person has an opinion, they declare what their position is in regards to what surrounds them. Examples of opinions are: “this office is ugly”, “Alberto is a very burdensome client”, “that mistake that he made is a very stupid mistake”, etc. What is most interesting to me in this issue of opinions, is that the opinions that I keep to myself about my friends, my neighbours, my work, my boss, my family, my companion, increase or reduce the opportunities of action that I have when facing the events in my life. We will look at that now.
Risk comes from not being able to differentiate between a statement and an opinion. This situation can lead us to some of the following situations, provoking a counterproductive effect for the team and the organization.
- Lack of identity: This occurs when we are unable to differentiate between outside opinions and statements, in relation to ourselves. So, all opinions that another person ex-presses automatically turn into a fact. The danger of this situation is that, I will do, in this case, anything possible to please others, even if it’s against my beliefs or values.
- Intolerance: we could say that this is the extreme opposite of lack of identity. “I am right, and the rest are wrong”, who doesn’t see things as I see them, is wrong, in these conditions we can generate a climate of intolerance and confrontation within the team.
- Frustration: emerges when we are unable to differentiate the opinions with foundation from the ones with no foundation: our own or those of others. “Things never end up as I want them to”. “We live repeating the same ways of working again and again, hoping for different results”. As nothing changes, we get frustrated. We constantly miss the opportunity to analyze ourselves and redesign ourselves. It would seem that “luck” is never on our side.
Now let’s imagine a conversation with a co-worker in which we don’t have the same opinion. Are we aware that they are simply opinions? By receiving negative commentary about a task completed by us, are we able to differentiate between statements and opinions? The golden rule is as Fernando Flores tells us, “opinions speak more of the person who expresses them than of the object of the opinion”.