Strong Opinions Loosely Held

There is a weird quirk about me when it comes to the people I work with: I prefer to be challenged. But I have a strong and dominating personality. Most don’t understand that I can be argued with. I’m well versed in many topics, have opinions about what works and what doesn’t, and generally have a well thought out perspective. Apparently this is intimidating.

When I work with someone for the first time I always tell them this and every time I am disappointed in that person’s willingness to challenge me. I’ve been told more than once that my ability to hold a strong opinion loosely is not a common trait and thus it takes time to get used to it. I try to be patient.

10 thoughts on “Strong Opinions Loosely Held

  1. Elia, you can tell people something all you like, but that is unlikely to change their behavior. What you are talking about is really their Trust to engage you in discussion, especially when there is strong emotion involved. The behaviors associated with you strong personality involve many non-verbal cues: the pitch, tone, and volume of your voice; the change in your body; the expression on your face; moving into the other persons space; … many more.

    No matter what you have said, the other person will pick up these cues, and the fight/flight response will kick in. Whether or not you mean to, you are likely showing aggression, not “anger”, but an attack nonetheless.

    To engage with someone in this mode, means that the other needs to have both sufficient awareness of their own reaction, and a good story to deal with that reaction and move to a different mood. Your explanation is unlikely to do it unless the other person is also a strong leader type (in which case, they are likely to drop into argument, not engage in discussion… very different.)

    What you need to do is Build Trust. That takes time. More importantly, you can not ask them to “trust you”, this is meaningless. You also can not “take” their trust. (is Trust Earned or Given you may ask…) On a fundamental level, Trust is Given, NOT Earned. The first act is someone extending their trust to you, then you can steward that trust and bring the other to extend more trust… building up trust over time.

    If you want people to engage is deep, and possibly heated, discussion, you need a fair amount of trust, or someone who is confident enough in themselves (that reduces the amount of trust you need.) Otherwise, what you will need to do is steward someone into the deeper discussions. That means figuring out how deeply the person can engage, then offering them a chance to extend trust for something a bit deeper, and taking care of that trust by not overwhelming them. YOU must be the one to control the level of discussion, the level of your reaction, the non-verbal feedback you are giving.

    As time goes on, you can invite more extension of trust, go deeper. This is why it takes time to build relationships or to repair them when they go awry.

    OK, so I really need to start writing this stuff up 🙂

    BTW, as a teaser, you can be certain you will make mistakes. Mistakes can either degrade trust, or they can be used as a way to deepen it.


  2. While the phrase “strong opinion loosely held” is phenomenal, when I read your post it makes me thing that you aren’t getting as much leverage out of this as you could. If people disappoint you by not arguing or pushing back, be a little softer on the front end of the discussion so they know they have a chance to engage. If you are too forceful too early, you’ll shut too many people down. Try being a little less aggressive – see what happens.

  3. what is the reward / pleasure the other person gets from engaging with you? it sounds like it may be all punishment and pain, and is probably why most people don’t like to engage in a discussion with you…

    but you do bring up a good point. please write more about how to discuss, influence, lead, etc., as it is very important to be able to discuss without breaking down into an argument and then stalemate.

  4. I struggle similarly.
    Occasionally, when I remember how much of a dick I can be (not at all suggesting that you’re a dick like me!), I’ll break the ice a little with this pattern:

    me: [ arguing, blathering, getting louder, general dickishness ensuing ]

    other person: [blank look, not engaging, has that “your dickhead look” on their face]

    me: [calming down, smiling ] “BTW, I can be a real dick sometimes – this discussion is helpful – I don’t understand all the different angles of this issue yet”

    other person: [usually a little laugh ..followed by engagement]

    me: [ keep mouth shut longer – this part is important 😉 ]

    • I don’t think I come across this way. I really do care what others think and am more than able to hold multiple opinions in my head at the same time (and even argue multiple sides). Of course you never know!

      • Sorry I didn’t mean to suggest that you come across to folks the same way I do ..just that it sounded like a similar outcome – that being less of the desired engagement and discussion.

        The times we’ve interacted you didn’t come across as dickish in the slightest 🙂

        • I didn’t take it that way. Just being introspective. If I’m looking for input I often will delay expressing my opinion, even though I usually already have one until I hear other’s opinions just to make sure.

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