Meeting People I do not Know

Saturday morning, 10:05am and I am sort of lost in Barcelona. The bus line that I was supposed to take is temporally cancelled and there are two people trying to help me to get where I have to get. And that is to meet fifteen people I do not know. And one that I do.

It was an invitation from my former college professor to get together at his place with a bunch of other folks to talk about cultural differences, judgments and how those affect our understanding of the world. And there we were, about fifteen of us sitting around the coffee table, sharing our perception of different life situations. And we really did not know each other. Lost in names and faces, we talked and listened. I wish I would have listened more and talked less. This is my most honest feedback to myself on today’s morning. Anyway, the things we heard and said were pretty obvious. Nothing challenging or that would change the way we act or think.

Walking back home I could not pinpoint right away what the value of this meeting was. And it occurred to me that sometimes it influences us to hear others say obvious things. It creates a sort of normalcy and the ground for trust. And within this ground we see our own opportunities for growth. The opportunity to be less judgmental, to be better listeners.

Another thing that triggered my mind was the idea of being judgmental. Is there a difference between an opinion and a judgment? From what I understand, and I might be wrong, opinion is how we see things from where we stand. We always have an opinion on the things we are aware of. Judgment, in turn, means judging another person for not seeing the things as we do. It means not accepting that others are looking from a different perspective. We have opinion about ideas and things, and we are judgmental about people and how people act (or react). For example, if I say, “This coffee tastes bad,” I am voicing my opinion on the coffee and my tastes. However, if I say, “You have no taste in food. This stuff is really good,” I am being judgmental. This is a very simplistic explanation, but it escalates to many other situations.¬†The bottom line is that we do not judge ideas, we judge people. We also give people advice, which comes right after voicing our judgment.

Opinion is about ideas and thoughts. I think that the more opinions there are, the better. Listening to the opinions of others makes us richer, it challenges us and helps us to grow. There is nothing wrong with being opinionated. I think, passion is an opinion too, a very strong one, that has the ability to sweep others off their feet. Wondering if you can be passionate without being opinionated. Just thinking.

Write What You Think

Last week I had a skype call with Kevin¬†about the customer development interviews. Towards the end of the call Kevin said, “I am sorry I did not give you any advice. All I did, was to voice my opinion”.

Opinion vs. advice. Advice is generally directed towards the listener and it is about the speaker. The person giving the advice will try to place himself in your shoes and give you a hypothetical guidelines on what should be done in the situation. The advice is not about the speaker, he has not been there, and it is not about the listener, he is not the one talking. It is somewhere in between and it is about nobody in particular. Advice is entertaining to listen to, it does not lead us to the painful truth and most of the times it is, well, useless. How many great things have been done by following an advice? Probably not too many. Advice lacks personality.

Opinion. Opinion always belongs to the person talking. Thus, it is personal. It is about the one. It does not require speaker to talk about any hypothetical situation. Opinion is real. A lot of times it is vertical (meaning, it does not spread out all over the place). It is sometimes painful. It is always powerful. The listener is not an active subject. Thus, at the receiving end we learn to listen. Period. We learn to listen. I want to make sure we all get this. Listen. Not talk. And we learn to be open to change our point of view based on what we hear. From this change sprouts our growth. Btw, have you noticed, advice often does the contrary, it closes us up?

We value opinions. They propel the change. The good ones are based on thoughts, not on cliches. The best are powered by passion.

Next time, please, write what you really think, your opinion.

Barcelona, February 26th 2013