Strong Opinions, Lightly Held

People TalkingWhat’s the key to turning a difficult conversation into a productive one? Years ago I studied with the people at Action Design–exploring this exact question. How do you have a productive conversation based on honesty, trust and transparency? How can you transform difficult conversations into opportunities for learning and understanding? The phrase “strong opinions, lightly held,” is a reminder for me of how to enter into a conversation that is difficult–or how to respond when a conversation becomes challenging.

“Strong opinions, lightly held” connects to one of the most powerful and practical distinctions I’ve ever learned–between advocacy and inquiry. Advocacy is about speaking up and inquiry is about asking questions–seeking to understand. Inquiry is about curiosity, listening and asking. While the benefits of inquiry are probably the subject of much of the leadership development work you’ve done–perhaps because it’s not all easy be an expert “inquirer”–advocacy is also important. Having a voice, expressing a view and being able to effectively express ideas is critical to effective leadership.

Expressing your view (strong opinions) while knowing that your view is just one view–and being willing to open your view up to inquiry by others (lightly held)–is one of the keys to productive, powerful conversations–and leadership. It’s one of the primary ways that difficult can become productive–and positive. Advocacy and inquiry are a polarity–both are critical, it’s not an either/or. Our work is to leverage the positive aspects of each–to speak up and also be willing to ask, to listen and also be willing to let go.

Living into “strong opinions, lightly held” is the work of a lifetime–a journey, not a destination. In recent years there’s been a host of research about our brains that demonstrates–over and over–that we are wired to crave certainty–to want to believe that we know, that we are right. (See On Being Certain by Robert Burton.) That need for certainty creates in us a false sense of knowing that blinds us to the fact that we might just be wrong. The need for certainty–and its corollary–the need to be right, ultimately get in our way, doing a disservice to the people around us, and preventing our organizations from thriving. It is part of why advocacy, rooted in a sense of knowing, can come so much more easily than inquiry. Inquiry requires that we be comfortable with not being certain that we are right, with being willing to hold open the possibility that we are the ones missing something.

It’s a hard thing to shift. We can begin by noticing when we’re holding a view tightly, when we are not asking questions or have ceased to be curious. We can notice when we are not allowing questions to be asked or making space for others to speak up. We can listen to ourselves when we say (or think) “we know” and check to see if it is really true. We can try on the language of “I believe” vs. “I know” and see what happens.

As we notice and as we make small shifts, we can work to become leaders who are clear rather than leaders who are certain, leaders for whom “strong opinions, lightly held” is an aspiration–one we are always moving towards. We can practice in every conversation. 

Updated, June, 2018.

 

 

 

Fall Reading

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In case you’re wondering where my newer posts are, I’m continuing to write for Actionable Conversations. It’s awesome to have a real, live editor and get feedback on what I write–and know that by the time you read my posts, they are better thought out, better written, and better formatted than what I could do on my own. Appreciating the power of partnership!

Here’s are brief descriptions and links to my last few posts:

Most recently, I wrote about distractions in a post called Taming the Distraction Habit, This is a very personal one–and also–I hope, one that will hit home for many of you. How do we stay focused even when there is so very much (especially in our digital lives) to distract us?

In my post on vertical development, I distinguish between developing our capacity as human beings and our leadership skills. This piece draws on adult development theory as a framework for understanding the trajectory of our growth throughout our lives.

After reading Mastering Civility by Christine Porath, I reached out to the author and wrote about our conversation in a post titled In the Face of Incivility: Thrive. Rarely have I written about something more relevant to our current political reality–which I think has spread into our lives in ways that we all need to pay attention to.

I wrote a couple posts that were focused on what leaders can learn from neuroscience I summarize ten years of reading and thinking about this topic in a post called Your Brain at Work: Managing Change by Managing Your Brain. I conclude that our brains are uniquely unsuited to the lives we lead–and that there is something we can do about it. I also draw on neuroscience research in a post on creating insights–and how we can create environments that are better suited for generating insight and innovation.

Last, but not least, here’s a link to my Actionable Books summary of my favorite book of this year, 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. If you’re looking to dig into something that will help you to grow and expand your leadership, this is on my (very) short list.

 

Creating Good Days

Have a good day vector illustration. Chalkboard decorative banner.

In recent months, I’ve been blogging for Actionable Conversations and continuing to write book summaries for Actionable Books. Instead of writing something new for this site, I’ll just tell you a little bit about my most recent posts–and share them with you.

I’m also thrilled to let you know that, in addition to writing for Actionable, I’ve recently become an Actionable Consultant. This allows me to bring a new offer to my clients (and would-be clients) that is a truly innovative way to develop leaders and increase the quality of learning at work. You can learn more about what Actionable offers here–and if you’re interested in learning more–I’d love to talk with you! I’m a huge fan of what Actionable does and hope you will be too!

Now, to my posts:

One of the most exciting books I’ve recently read is How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb. The book is an encyclopedia of research that gives us insights into how to make each day better for ourselves and the people around us–especially if we are leaders. I share the bigger idea that really struck me while reading the book here, in my blog post. In short (though I hope you read the whole post)–I argue that having good days, consciously, is possibly the most important thing you can to do create a good, meaningful life.

While I have your attention, here’s a link to the other post I wrote recently, about promises, commitments and accountability. I dig into the work of Fernando Flores and explore the power of promises and requests–and the way we frame them–in this post.

And, if you like these, and want more, take a look at my post, A Medley of Resources, which links to more of my posts for Actionable.

Happy reading!