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Opinions and Perspectives - A Key to Opening Channels

How often have you started to share something you’ve been thinking only to have the person you are speaking with begin to contradict you? It’s rare for any quality communication to take place after this happens. It’s more likely that you’ll end up arguing, or going silent and keeping your thoughts to yourself. Either way, if there was a purpose to your sharing it probably got lost in the interaction and you walked away feeling frustrated and not heard, because you weren’t. Chances are that you weren’t listening either.

This matters because, unless we live in a cave somewhere by ourselves, we create our lives through communication. Whether our relationships at work and at home are productive and joyful or destructive and a hassle depend on the quality of the conversations in which we engage. When we consistently feel that we are not being heard chances are we are not listening to ourselves, and are stuck in our opinions.

There is a way to clear communication where we are both heard and are able to hear others, where real conversation and connection occur. It has to do with shifting out of opinions and listening to and recognizing perspectives, our own and those of others.

For clarity I offer a few distinctions between how I am using the concepts of opinion and perspective in this post. I have pulled and integrated these definitions/distinctions from print and electronic sources. They are too changed to warrant a quoted source yet remain accurate to the spirit of the definitions.

Perspective is how you perceive, see, interpret, and experience life from the vantage point of you. By definition, it is acknowledged as limited, one of  infinite possibilities of vantage points. A perspective is completely accurate for what you’ve lived and been exposed to through the filter of you at any given moment, and will subtly or grossly shift as your experience shifts. It is neither right nor wrong.

Having a perspective is acknowledging a relationship between you and everything else that must shift as you shift. While there can be no rational argument about perspectives, there can be inquiry into their usefulness and one can choose to open up to the perspectives of others, thereby broadening his/her view of reality.

Per•spec•tive

Noun: 1. A vista or outlook from a specific vantage point, physical or psychological.

2. The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to the whole.

3. The ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance.

Opinion, on the other hand, is a subjective belief, and is the result of emotion or interpretation of facts. An opinion is often supported by argument, although people may draw opposing opinions from the same set of facts. Opinions rarely change without new arguments being presented and even then, may remain stagnant. Opinions are neither right nor wrong; they are merely a figment of what someone believes to be so and will most often defend vigorously.  It is often reasoned that one opinion is better supported by the facts than another by analyzing the supporting arguments. In casual use, the term opinion may be the result of a person's perspective, understanding, particular feelings, beliefs and desires. Opinions often refer to unsubstantiated information, in contrast to knowledge and fact-based beliefs.

O•pin•ion

Noun: 1. A belief or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or  knowledge.

2. The beliefs or views of a large number or majority of people about a particular thing.

3. A belief or judgment that rests on ground insufficient to produce complete certainty.

Here’s an example of a communication where opinion rules on one side:

The telephone rings.

Landlord: Hello.

Tenant: We have to cancel the floor refinishing job. I have a conflict on my calendar for that weekend.

Landlord: I feel angry about canceling this job. I presented you with dates and you choose the one we scheduled. I understand that you feel there’s a conflict. I’ve invested a considerable amount of time and effort setting up this job. There are numerous people involved. How can you resolve the conflict so you can do what you need and the refinishing can occur?

Tenant: This is a very important meeting I’ve set up (opinion). It will impact me economically (opinion). You don’t understand (opinion) because you make money differently from how I make money (opinion). Look, we’ve had many run ins in the past (opinion) and…

Landlord: (interrupting) I am asking you a question in the present regarding an upcoming situation in the future. How can it work that you have your meeting and we can go ahead with the refinishing job as planned? If you consider this question and you can’t we’ll take the next step. I have to go now. Please get back to me. I’ll be available later this afternoon.

Tenant: Don’t you hang up on me (opinion). My life and time is just as important as yours is (opinion). Don’t you realize how important…

Landlord: (interrupting) I have a meeting in ten minutes. It takes me five to get there. I am hanging up the phone to make the meeting. Please let me know what you’ve come up with later. Bye. (over the tenant talking)

Imagine what it would look like if both parties were opining. The reason this dialogue did not become an argument is because the landlord recognized that he was hearing the tenant’s perspective, which were her opinions about the situation, and very real for her. The landlord felt no need to challenge or argue with the tenant’s opinions since they were secondary to the objective, which was seeing if it was possible to keep the schedule that was set up AND have the tenant be able to attend a meeting that was obviously important to her.

When you can listen to others and hear that what they are saying is very real from their perspective, which is the only perspective they have at that moment, and stay clear that your perspective is the same, it is much easier to open to hearing what is being said without the need to argue or challenge. Once you are able to do this your own perspective shifts a bit. It gets broader. It now encompasses another person’s perspective without agreement or disagreement. At that point you can acknowledge what’s important to them, share what’s important to you, and enter into a very new world of communication. This new world of communication will be calmer, clearer, and more effective at creating what you want and need while respecting their desire to create what they want or need.

“Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn't listening.” – Emma Thompson

“Bad human communication leaves us less room to grow.” – Rowan D. Williams

“… communication is two-sided - vital and profound communication makes demands also on those who are to receive it... demands in the sense of concentration, of genuine effort to receive what is being communicated”. – Roger Sessions

Sounds unrealistic? It is, if you don't retrain your approach to  communication.  Look into books on effective communication, speak with someone whom you respect for his/her communication skills, hire a coach and set listening and being open to perspectives instead of opining as your objective....and experience how much more effective, happy and peaceful you will be!

Written by Lisa Brick

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