How To Deal With Opinionated People In The Office
Some offices are teeming with strong, opinionated people: investment banks, C-suites, and VCs to name a few. I’m sure some are just naturally extroverted. But I think a larger majority of this type became that way through training and effort.
Moreover, it was pretty common when I was growing up to hear parents tell their boys on the verge of crying, “Don’t be like a girl!” This attitude not only trains men not to cry, but always sets up a premise that boys are superior to girls.
So I tend to believe that opinionated people act out from being wounded at one time or another – and who hasn’t?
“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
If we can tap into a morsel of compassion for them (and ourselves), then we can begin to deal with them.
Ask yourself to consider why you think this person is strong and opinionated. The more specific you can be with the answer, the more peace you’ll be able to make by separating the attitude from the person.
This is important especially when we consider that it seems, in general, women are more harshly criticized for this type of behavior than men. I’m not saying that the Miranda Pressmans of the world don’t exist. Rather, I think the data shows that employees have stronger reactions to female managers.
“Words like bossy, abrasive, strident, and aggressive are used to describe women’s behaviors when they lead; words like emotional and irrational describe their behaviors when they object. All of these words show up at least twice in the women’s review text I reviewed, some much more often. Abrasive alone is used 17 times to describe 13 different women. Among these words, only aggressive shows up in men’s reviews at all. It shows up three times, twice with an exhortation to be more of it.”
-Kieran Synder, The Abrasiveness Trap
So before we dive in too deep, let’s make sure we check our parental issues at the door.
Get To Know Them
The better you know the person, the better you’ll be able to parse what their motives and what they are trying to accomplish. Communication is inherently imperfect. The more you can accept that, the better you will be at communicating.
This suggestion sounds obvious, but it’s often the one many people overlook. It is easier (maybe preferable?) to compartmentalize someone. Remember that people tend to tell you what THEY want you to hear, which is not necessarily in your best interest.
The more we can understand that they’re doing their job, which has nothing to do with me…is the beginning of a good boundary and respectful back-and-forth. Also, I highly recommend going back over the Enneagram series again to pinpoint this person’s motivations and practice concrete messages that might smooth over the relationship.
Tailor Your Response
Don’t apologize. But choose your words, ideas, and suggestions in a way that they can relate to – now that you know them better.
A classic response, that is not apologizing, is: “I’m sorry you feel that way. That was not my intention.” Then use this as a starting point to uncover what happened and what can be done about it.
Remind your co-worker/boss/critic that you are both on the same side.
Finally, a laid back and open attitude will make people more receptive to your ideas. The big caveat here is to take cues from your boss. I had a wonderful colleague who was very easy going. Yet, our shared boss felt that he was not taking his job seriously.
There’s a difference between being laid back and laaaaaaiiiiid back. When I reflect on their tension today, I wonder if my friend could have practiced mirroring back some of the things that our boss would often repeat to him.
What does that strong, opinionated person always say?
- This is serious.
- We need to move the needle.
- Can this be done faster?
It may be worth incorporating some of these words into your conversations with him or her. You know the key words are already part of their vocabulary in an intense way. So hearing them may be comforting and subtly show them you are listening.
Which will hopefully upend their need to be so strong and opinionated.
Remember this is a marathon – not a sprint. People change gradually, irregularly, and inevitably. Your challenge is to practice the patience required to get the most out of this work experience or until another position becomes available.
Whichever comes first.