Not too direct, not too definite

‘I don’t understand…my husband asks for my opinion, but after giving it, he does not consider it. In fact, I feel that he rejects it. He even tells me that I keep on telling him what to do. So why would he want my opinion if he is not going to even consider it?’ My client seemed at her wits end as she struggled to make sense of this frustrating dynamic in her relationship with her husband.

Another client expressed a similar frustration in her relationship with her boss: ‘He wants my input, but as long as it is what he wants to hear.’

Both of my clients found it difficult to understand why their partner had not taken on board the opinion that was asked for. While the reasons for asking for another person’s opinion may be varied (need for reassurance, gaining more information, seeking approval, exploring other options), I would rather like to dedicate this article to examine the interactional and philosophical stance that could be adopted by those who are asked to give an opinion by another person.

On a physiological level, depth in vision occurs when the images in the respective eyes of a person are joined together. You may wish to visit Magic Eye to get a first hand experience of ‘seeing’ an image jump out of a  supposedly incoherent picture. You need to soften and relax your eyes and stare at the picture for the image that lies beneath the surface, to emerge. If you look at the picture with only one eye, you will never be able to see what lies beneath. You need both eyes.

The picture below is an example that is on the website of Magic Eye.

What can you see?

An opinion is a perspective; a view-point. It is not a truth. Acknowledging this will help to set the tone that there is no right or wrong when it comes to opinion. Given this, an opinion should never be definite and complete. Since an opinion is not a truth, it should offer space and room to move. The more definite and certain an opinion, the less space to engage in conversation. Conversational space and maneuverability seems inversely correlated with certainty.

In many relationships, opinions are rejected or clash with each other because they may be conveyed too directly. Being too direct may come across as being confrontational and could cause a defensive reaction from the other person. Given this, it is important to consider the angle of your approach when giving an opinion.

You need to consider the level of your emotional intensity when sharing an opinion. Too much force and/or emotional intensity may cause the receiving party to shut down. When looking at the picture above, you need to soften your eyes for the image below the surface to emerge. It will not surface if you intensify your gaze.

A healthy relationship is able to generate new information. New information is created when a variety of opinions get integrated. Gregory Bateson spoke about the ‘news of difference that makes a difference’. A relationship that creates conversational space will be able to generate new information. The emergence of new images and ideas is dependent on the joining of at least two opinions (much in the same way as when looking at the picture above using both eyes).

There is an art in sharing an opinion with another person. If you want to participate in a creative conversational process that generates new information; soften your approach, the perspective you share should not be too direct or too definite.

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