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How Differing Opinions Can Help You and Your Business

Knowing that we should welcome conflicting opinions is different from actually doing so. Here are five steps to help when you are faced with differing perspectives.
10/15/2014 05:28pm ET | Updated December 15, 2014
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"You can't do clear observation if you ain't in the field.
You can't be a pure observer if you're now in the field."
-- Toba Beta

Generally we like to be right; it reinforces what we believe to be true. We may feel uncomfortable or even threatened when others disagree with us or present a diametrical point of view. However if we knew all the answers, our worldview, business strategy and personal development will be limited by what we know and there's little potential for growth or improvement. Ask the leaders of Polaroid how they feel about their strategy to being the best and only instant photo company now. Conditions change and what we thought worked, or even was a winning strategy at one time may not be valid any more.

Early in my career, as the Director of Design and Development for Britannia Jeans, I had periodic differences of opinion with one of the Merchandise Managers. He and I would disagree every season on how well the colors matched on the different fabrics in the line. Finally one day I decided to ask more questions instead of trying to make him see how closely matched the colors were. What he told me changed our relationship forever. He admitted that he was colorblind and his arguing was his way to ensure that the best color matching was done since he couldn't see them! I learned a big lesson; ask more questions even if you think you're right, what you learn may resolve the conflict.

Opinions are made to be changed -- or how is truth to be got at? -- Lord Byron

There is a sense of security in holding onto our perspective, but we could miss a major shift in the collective intelligence when we hang on too tight to what we believe. This applies to both our personal life and business life. It's amazing, an old saying goes, how smart our parents got between our teenage years and when we are in our twenties.

Knowing that we should welcome conflicting opinions is different from actually doing so. Here are five steps to help when you are faced with differing perspectives.

  1. Acknowledge that there may be more than one way to view the situation. By recognizing that there could be other valid perspective(s) enables you to be open to learning from other viewpoints.
  2. Define what your goals are. Instead of being focused on your particular position, ask what is the ultimate outcome you are looking for. In relationships, is it harmony and happiness or being right? In business is it a specific product or is it an answer to your customers' needs? For example, in the case of Polaroid the goal could have been to provide the customers with the means to make photo images that they can enjoy quickly.
  3. Use your defined purpose/goal as your guide for the direction to take. With your objective in mind your direction and behavior will be well focused.
  4. Seek and listen to other opinions. Investigating other interpretations will help you discern whether you are on the right course for what you want. Use the collected intelligence to help formulate how to move forward.
  5. Commit to the defined course. Move forward with confidence, and check frequently to adjust strategy and action as needed.
So in summary, be receptive and alert to the changing dynamics in business and life, doing so will make you ready to embrace the differing opinions that will lead you to more success and happiness.



"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." -- C.G. Jung