The Opinion Reflex: Take Command

Close-up of people communicating while sitting in circle and gesturing

In a recent post I suggested that most of think that we’re better listeners than others are. And, if you asked six people about that, you’d likely get not just six answers, but six –or more – opinions on the subject.

As I see it, we tend to have an Opinion Reflex. Nearly everything we hear prompts us to pull up our position on the subject – based mostly on what we already know, or think, or feel. I suspect that we judge, evaluate and take sides almost automatically, maybe even before we’ve heard the whole story.  The Opinion Reflex is a powerful, overwhelming habit, one that can kill genuine listening, and therefore genuine conversation. I’d love to be a world-class listener all the time – well, a lot of the time! – but whenever that reflex takes over, forget it.

We often don’t wait to be asked for our opinions, and while I don’t suggest that we always need to do so, I do suggest that the Opinion Reflex crowds out listening.   My point:  It’s fine to express a point of view, but do we really want to set that on automatic?  Who do we want to be in charge:  us, or our immediate reactions?

To take command of our own Opinion Reflex, we might remind ourselves of a few things:

  • We don’t learn a thing while spouting off on what we already know.
  • An unsolicited opinion is likely an unheard opinion.
  • An opinion popped off with little thought ads equally little to the conversation.

Finally, we could turn on our curiosity switch before letting the Opinion Reflex kick in.  We could say, “Tell me more . . .”  or “What do you think will come of that?”  “How did you get interested in this topic?”  Steven Covey, the “7 Habits” writer, suggested the habit of seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.  Good advice that can result in better listening.