In a world where everyone has an opinion, who should we listen to? Marketers bombard us with products and services that we must have in order to live a happy and productive life. Our social media feed barrages us with advice on how to feel. News pundits tell us how we should think. Employers, colleagues, and customers tell us how to perform. Spouses, family, friends—yeah, they all have opinions, too.
Of course, not all opinions are bad, and we should be open to soliciting and receiving feedback. We should be coachable. But as your personal and professional networks grow, so will your need to develop an opinion filter. In order to remain focused, clear-headed, authentic, and (above all) sane, here are a few strategies for determining which opinions to let through your filter.
Vague Feedback isn’t Feedback
Opinions without specifics are not actionable, and should be ignored. For an opinion to be actionable, it should spell out the “why”—why they liked or didn’t liked what you said, did, or created. For example, I recently received a comment from someone that they “loved” an interview I did. While the vibe of the comment was positive and appreciated, it didn’t tell me why they loved the interview. If the why isn’t included, then it’s impractical (if not impossible) to do what needs to be done to further reinforce or to outright change a person’s opinion. If someone cannot tell you precisely why they like or don’t like something, ignore it.
Always Consider the Messenger
It’s true in business and in life: if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one. In business, we’re responsible for communicating with and delivering solutions to our target customers. If that’s your focus and you consistently stay on message, there’s a good chance that you’re going to alienate a few people.
I recall a presentation that I delivered on the problems that GoSmallBiz helps solve, and how we solve them. The audience was a mix of new and established businesses, some small and others large. I made the decision to tailor my message to the newer and smaller businesses in the room. After all, our target customer is the sole proprietor to businesses with up to 10 employees. Do we serve larger companies? Sure! But they’re not our target customer. At the end of my presentation, I received several comments about the perceived limitations of our service. When I dug a little further into the comments, it became clear the feedback originated from several of the larger, more established and sophisticated businesses—businesses that are not in our target audience. Instead of debating their feedback or taking it back to the team for discussion, I ignored it. Always consider the messenger of the opinion. If they do not represent the audience you cater to, does their opinion really matter?
Disregard the Lone Wolf
It’s easy for us to become fixated on a critique, especially one that comes from an influential person or from someone who voiced their opinion very publicly or passionately—or both. It’s not that one person isn’t important, but one person’s opinion is not a trend, and trends are what decisions should be based on. For example, our customer support team keeps a log of all customer interactions. We evaluate those interactions regularly, looking for trends. Those trends dictate the decisions we make—things like marketing messages, product development, customer communications, and staffing, to name just a few. If someone is passionate about a particular issue, but they’re the only one, we politely acknowledge their opinion, let them know that it’s been documented, and we move on, opting instead to focus our attention on reinforcing or changing opinions that are shared by many, not just one.
Scroll through any business review, social media page, or the comments section of an online article, and chances are you’ll find a troll or two. Their comments are at best snarky, or at their worst viciously personal. As hard as it is to do, take the high road. Ignore them. Is it possible that genuine feedback can be hidden within a troll’s snarky or mean remarks? I suppose so. But if it’s a trend worth paying attention to, it will surface again through other channels in more respectful feedback.
The Opinion Maker’s Authority
Just because someone has an opinion doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. The German scientist and satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg said, “Don’t judge a man by his opinions, but what his opinions have made of him.” Be careful who you take advice from. If your colleague is on top of the sales leaderboard week in and week out, and tells you how to improve your close rates, you may want to listen. A sales rep who made the leaderboard once three years ago, and only because everyone else was on vacation, not so much. Opinions and advice from people you trust are invaluable. But when it comes to everyone else, make sure your opinion filter is working.