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  • Writer's pictureJen

It wasn't what you said, it was the way you said it

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

Have you ever heard those words? Change the way you frame your point of view and change your life.

Opinions are like...faults, everyone's got them

You do not have an opinion on this subject My dad

Opinions can be big things in families. Something about sharing DNA comes with the assumption of a free pass to Have Your Say. My mum’s side of my family were forever That Upset about things that had happened (that… didn’t involve them in any way?), and many a statement would start “well, if you ask me” (when... nobody had?) There was a time when my grandmother tried to rope me into having An Opinion about a week my mum was taking out of town to study. My dad quickly cured me with a Very Serious Talk, something that has happened maybe three times in my life.

You do not have an opinion about this,” was his opener. “I do not have an opinion. Your grandmother does not have an opinion. Your mother is the only person who gets to have an opinion. You do not get an opinion unless you're asked. Do you understand me?”

I understood him. I may have only been 11 years old, but I could tell that it wasn’t something we were going to debate. 30+ years later, I still try my hardest to live by those words, because they are gold. Like, unfortunately, probably all women, every now and again I get hollered at on the street by passing gentlemen with opinions about the size of my chest, or what I'm wearing, or how much better it would be if I smiled. On those occasions, I try to feel sorry for them for never having been sat down for a Very Serious Talk by Dave Hogan. It might have changed their lives had they been taught that there's no requirement to share every thought in your head with the world, especially when nobody has offered you the opportunity.

But it feels like it’s a perspective that’s out of fashion. Living in the 21st century seems to be all about opinions; social media comments and blog posts (yes, like this one) and, god help us, US elections. Everything is opinion heaped upon opinion: you’re wrong, I’m right; you’re naïve, I’m wise; you shouldn’t vote for him, she looks photoshopped, he’s had hair plugs, she looks pregnant, she shouldn’t share so much about her life, she's so stand-offish she never shares anything…

Enough. Please. We’re drowning in a sea of opinions and judgments and perspectives that nobody has even asked for.

What about when you do get to have an opinion?

Putting the comments made with wanton abandon on social media to one side for a moment (phew), maybe you are a person who deals with actual real-life human beings face to face, or as face to face as we get these days? Maybe you find yourself in situations where you are exchanging views; you know, situations like “conversations” and “relationships” and “friendships” and “meetings?” Those things that no matter how well-intentioned can be so fraught with misunderstandings and misconceptions?

I wrote before here about how powerful words are. I am no psychologist, but I believe that a very simple choice of words is powerful enough to transform how well your point of view lands. In fact I’m pretty sure that consistently choosing the most effective way to frame a point of view can change your life. The secret is in appreciating how the choice of words feels to be on the other side of.

Let me first issue this disclaimer. If it sounds like I’m making it out to be easy, it’s really not. I get my framing wrong (ALERT: “WRONG” IS A JUDGMENT WORD) at least 100 times a day. But isn’t life all about trying until you get it right (ALERT: “RIGHT” IS A JUDGMENT WORD) more often than not?


First the number one golden rule: ask

Graphic by Sabrina Brugman @sasa_elebea on Instagram

There are exceptions to every rule, and of course there are times when being proactive with an opinion is a good thing. Nobody ever asked for an intervention to be staged. If you see a friend/colleague you care about driving their life/career off a cliff, not saying anything until you’re asked isn’t always the best course of action. But in most situations, and even in the latter one, asking if it’s OK to share a perspective is at the minimum polite, but even more, treats a person as a valued equal. Asking permission shows humility. There’s not a lot of humility in the opinion world.

What has most got my own hackles up in the past is someone sweeping in on their high horse and doling out advice when they didn’t know what I was living through. It automatically made me defensive. However, being asked first is a sign of partnership and connection; wiping your feet on the welcome mat and asking if you should take your shoes off, rather than barging through the door and trampling on the metaphorical brand new white carpet in your muddy boots. If you will.


Option 1 - Make a judgement

What it sounds like

You’re wrong

You handled that well

That’s a dumb idea

That was the perfect way to do it

You never follow up

What’s at the heart of it

Judgment implies that life is absolute: there is good and bad, right and wrong. Humanity has indeed decided that there are some things that can be clearly put in one of those categories: murder is bad, being kind to animals is good. However the other 99.9999% of life doesn’t have such tidy universal definitions, even if in our own heads it seems that way. We have a tendency to under-appreciate the difference between what we believe to be right and what is a universal truth, and issue our perspectives accordingly. But even more importantly, not even realizing that what we, more than likely, intend to be a helpful comment comes off as a moral assessment.

Judgment is definitive and sounds like a fact, unarguable. By its nature it's often rooted in casting up the past, or can be one of those generalizations that sparks one of those “oh yeah? Like when?” responses that make for one of those conversations.

What it feels like to be on the other end of

Judged (well durrrrhhh)



When it works

Generally speaking, making others feel judged isn't normally associated with a good outcome. But I may shock you by not saying NEVER. Judgment can be a positive thing when, well, it’s a positive thing. If a statement sounds definitive and unarguable, that that can make a huge psychological impact on the other person signaling how strongly you believe it. For example, imagine being on the other end of:

You look beautiful

This presentation is fantastic

You did a great job at that meeting


Option 2 – Give an opinion

What it sounds like

I think you could have done that better

I’d say that there are more suitable choices to speak at the conference

I believe that was the best presentation of the day

What’s at the heart of it

Opinion is a family member of judgment, maybe a first cousin, because it’s friendlier and easier to be around given that it’s less rigid and definitive. Opinion comes from I, me (or maybe we), which means that it’s not a fact, it’s a point of view. Not being a fact makes it less final and absolute and it means it’s something that can be discussed instead of being decreed.

What it feels like to be on the other end of



The door could be open to conversation

Recognition that there’s an alternative perspective

When it works

When someone has asked you what you think

When you have something to say that they might not have considered

When you follow it with

- What do you think?

- Do you agree?

- How does that resonate with you?


Option 3 – Offer feedback

What it sounds like

I notice that you get frustrated in meetings when people don’t get to the point quickly. This can make it seem like you don’t have patience for your colleagues.

Whenever I ask you for help, I know that I can rely on you to step in. It means that I feel confident knowing you’re on a project.

What’s at the heart of it

Feedback should always be about growth. Which is why, let’s be honest, even seeing the word can make you squirm. If we throw aside our judging trousers for a moment, the ones that belong only in option 1, there is no good or bad feedback, because this is not the domain of good or bad. It is the domain of the following construct that is designed to help you realize what it’s like to be around you (which as we discussed last week, isn’t possible for you to know alone).

The magic formula:

A personal observation about something the person does PLUS an observation of its impact on the people around them

What it feels like to be on the other end of

Well… growth isn’t comfortable is it? But it feels like it comes from a place of construction, not tearing down. And it’s not absolute. It’s a perspective and an explanation. When you have it, it’s up to you what to do with it. And it's normally the start of a conversation instead of a monolog.

When it works

Is giving and receiving feedback still a thing you get trained on? Back in the day it was. What they always told you was that feedback is true for the person who gives it, so it’s not a thing you argue with on the receiving end. It also comes with all the distorted perspectives of someone who only meets you under certain circumstances, and definitely has their own world view of what’s good and bad, effective and ineffective. In other words, it’s true but not the truth. Accept it, and indeed give it, with that mindset and figure out what to do with it, and it’s powerful. The golden rules as the feedback giver:

Make an observation, not a judgment or an inference. In the first example above just saying “you don’t have patience for your colleagues” is helpful to nobody, could come completely from left field, and sounds distinctly like the start of an argument

Include the second half of the equation, the so-what? Without the relevance of why you’ve given the feedback, it’s harder to know what to do with it. It’s also the real value of the whole exercise. For example, I know that I can be impatient, but how does it feel to be on the other side of it? That’s not something I can answer for myself.


Bonus secret option 4 – Ask and listen instead

Picture by Sabrina Brugman @sasa_elebea on Instagram

There is always a secret option, and this subject is no exception.Sometimes (very often indeed) people don’t want to be told anything. They want to tell you what they think. They want the chance to get something off their chest. They want to vent and explain and expound and expand upon. They want someone to listen to their point of view because they’re tired of either not being asked for one, or not feeling like it’s listened to. Being the person who gives them that opportunity might just achieve a lot more than choosing a way to land your own point.


Jen is an executive coach and accidental blogger.. She finds it hard to decide which she loves more. She takes clients directly here or visit

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