How willing are we to voice our own opinion when it differs from that of others?
Let’s say, for example, you’re lunching with your friends, classmates or work colleagues and a question comes up about a popular topic. You listen while collecting your own thoughts on the matter. It has become clear that your viewpoint is distinctly different from those that have contributed to the conversation so far. Do you speak up or keep quiet?
In the above scenario, if you choose to keep your opinion to yourself, watch out for those that assume your silence constitutes agreement. You might be surprised to find your name linked right next to those who hold the opposing viewpoint the next time that topic comes up. I’ve had this happen to me… more than once.
I happen to enjoy a good debate, but I’ve learned the hard way to be very cautious about initiating one. I’ve found, more often than not, that most people don’t want to hear anything that contradicts their viewpoint. What’s more, when challenged they might perceive it as a personal attack. I’ve been in the room with some very smart people, people much smarter than me. Watch out, they’re the worst. It can get ugly.
Some people believe you are just being argumentative and they want no part of it.
Many years ago now, I can still recall an instance when I was sitting at a dinner table with about 7 other friends. One of my friends talked about how a colleague just didn’t get what had been asked (by my friend who was in charge) of them to do. My friend went on to explain what they had expected the colleague to come back with. What the colleague came back with was completely different. Note I said “different” – not “wrong”. It’s also important to note that this discussion was about an artistic project. My friend and I talked back and forth and it was clear that we too, disagreed. My friend and I were fine with that. We both place a high value on looking at things from a different perspective. We were engaged in what I would call, a healthy debate. After a few minutes of back and forth rebuttal, I suddenly sensed something was not quite right.
I realized that the other dinner guests had not engaged in the conversation. I looked around the table at each one of them and 6 pairs of eyes were cast downward. Oh-Oh! It was now clear to me that they were very uncomfortable with the discussion my friend and I were having. I was embarrassed, pissed at myself and surprised all at the same time. Sitting around this table were some of the most intelligent, passionate, and accomplished people I have ever known. They are also the most kind, generous, down-to-earth and loving friends anyone could ever have the good fortune to have.
I felt TERRIBLE having been partly, maybe even completely responsible for their discomfort. I swore to myself that I would never open my big mouth again…at least not in their presence. Later, after I got home I thought some more about it.
Does this mean that from now on, when I’m with these friends, I’m just going to have to sit silently while someone else gets to express their side of things? Hey, I’m not trying to prove anyone wrong or change someone’s mind — I just want to have the same freedom to express my own viewpoint without everyone running for the hills.
Maybe it’s my delivery style. Maybe I need to be more sensitive and diplomatic. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t name-call or raise my voice but maybe it’s coming across that way. The friend I told you about and with whom I debated at the dinner party is much like me. We don’t take it personally. Still, we have to be aware of those around us who are very sensitive. After all, these are our people and we love them!
I will likely always wrestle with when to speak-up and when to shut-up but I hope that going forward I can learn to get my point across without causing anyone undue discomfort. Either that or I’m going to have to run for office.