I believe that one should carry strong opinions about the subjects that matter most. For the entrepreneurs I work with, that includes product, brand, and company. I have an equal belief that it is vital to make room for the opinions of another and when those opinions differ, don’t view them as a threat or attack, but an opportunity.
When different thinking is allowed to rub up against one’s own, in an open and accepting manner, it causes creative abrasion. That abrasion can either polish that thinking or help unearth its flaws. In either case, it can be a real benefit.
The challenge is in the balancing act between the tightness or lightness in which one holds their beliefs. Entrepreneurs usually have little trouble finding others willing to provide their thoughts whether solicited or not. The difficulty lies in how to react to the feedback.
Let’s consider the possible reaction on a continuum. On one side, there is reluctance and defensiveness and the other acceptance and passivity. For obvious reasons, neither polar extreme is ideal. Yet, both are quite common. I find far too many founders who aggressively defend their view or meekly acquiesce to that of another.
I spent a lot of my corporate career working for someone who constantly challenged my thinking. The majority of my early years were spent camped out on the defensive side of the reaction continuum, digging in my heels. Over time, I loosened my grip. I began to recognize that within every one of those challenges was a kernel of truth. At times that kernel was microscopic and at others, it was large and obvious if I truly looked.
I slowly adopted a new approach. It’s a strategy that I still employ today. When confronted with advice, feedback, or opinion that differs from my own the very first thing I try to do is really listen. That sounds easy, but trust me it is not. It’s human nature to receive contrarian feedback while simultaneously preparing your defense. Resist that urge, and just hear what is being said. Don’t feel compelled to respond in that moment. Just absorb it and allow it to ruminate.
The next step is to look for that kernel of truth. It’s not always easy to see or for that matter accept. Make an earnest effort to find it, it’s always there. Once you’ve found it, use it. Uncover and unlock the wisdom it holds.
The last step in the approach is to let the rest go. That may be the hardest thing of all. We often tether our sense of self to our opinion or belief. When we’re challenged, we see it as a personal attack. When we do that, we bring forward emotion. Don’t feed and energize that emotion. Rather, just let it go.
Being overly rigid in your beliefs is what creates blind spots. Yet, if you don’t hold them with enough conviction you risk being too easily influenced and become impressionable. In my experience, a critical component of success is finding the balance between the tightness and the lightness in which an opinion is held. I encourage those that I work with to seek out the thinking of others and to hear it, use it, and then let it go. I’d encourage you to do the same.