We all have opinions on different topics, from the best pizza place in town to the political party to vote for in the next election. More often than not these opinions are innocuous and don’t impact anything critical. However, there are times when opinions can have an impact on other individuals, projects, or an organization.
In such cases, a certain level of rigor is expected from an individual before they form an opinion. Here’s my checklist that I go through when forming opinions on important topics:
- Do you know if the subject under discussion is in your circle of competence or outside of it?
- Is the opinion intuition-based or fact-based? Is it coming from System 1 (intuitive and fast) or System 2 (thoughtful and slow)?
- If it is intuition-based, can you identify the source of intuition?
- Is this intuition formed on initial impression in a different area (halo effect)?
- If it is fact-based, do you have the data to support it?
- Can this data be biased? Are you only looking at supporting data (confirmation bias)?
- Is there data that contradicts your opinion? What makes it unconvincing?
- What are the arguments against your opinion? Can you describe the arguments against your opinion better than your opponent?
- Can you publicly put your opinion without fear of backlash?
- How can you stress test your opinion?
Going through such a checklist helps you to reduce some of the biases and improves the quality of your decisions. There will still be times when a decision has to be made and you have conflicting opinions with others. Hence it is very important to have a conflict resolution framework. I use the following checklist when I have conflicting opinions on a topic:
- Understand what is at stake: this will determine how far you want to push the discussion. This is extremely important because discussions provide diminishing returns after a certain point. Is it a decision about a comment in the code? Or about your next big investment?
- Have the right mindset: because of cognitive biases you will tend to overestimate the pros of your opinion and underestimate its cons. Acknowledge that you may have blind spots that other people might be seeing and the sole purpose of the discussion is to find the right answer, not to prove yourself right.
- Listen: explain the other person their point of view and demonstrate sincerely that you understand it. Ask them to do the same. This will ensure that both sides understand each other’s point of view.
- Thoughtful disagreement: after understanding different points of view, evaluate the opinions based on their pros and cons and try to reach an agreement. If that doesn’t work:
- Option 1: Try to find a common ground that you agree with and build up from there until you bridge the differences.
- Option 2: Try to find the root cause of disagreement and work to resolve that. A lot of times disagreement is arising because of a different underlying cause.
- Option 3: Find a neutral mediator who is highly skilled on the topic. Both sides should agree to accept their solution regardless of whatever it might be.
It can be hard to reach a conclusion when a discussion is based on subjective opinions. Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree. Disagreements provide little value after a certain point and tend to become personal. At some point you just need to disagree and commit.