Other People’s Opinions (Do They Matter?)

I remember in High School there was an extremely beautiful girl who I liked a lot.  Even back then I wasn’t scared of rejection, which in itself is a huge problem for many people, so when I asked her out and she looked like she was going to say yes but did not, I wasn’t too concerned. It was what she said next that really made me think.

Samantha was her name and she said, “I really like you, but you’re too odd, my parents would never let me go out with someone like you.  They wouldn’t like you.”

I was hella cool in those days, so I just shrugged and pretended like I wasn’t bothered.  But I was.

Why wouldn’t her parents like me?  What was wrong with me?

I feel grateful now that I was surrounded by supportive and positive people and my own self-esteem was extremely healthy otherwise I may well have let that really impact me.  As it was, I had to convince myself that it didn’t matter, because, “Who cares what her stupid parents think?”

I know now that her words were hollow.  Maybe her parents would have liked me (probably not, whoever is brave enough to date my daughter in 16 years had better have thick skin) and even if they didn’t, who cares?  That’s precisely the stance I take now; it has been a tough lesson to learn, but it’s extremely liberating.

There’s a bit of an issue with this whole paradigm though, isn’t there?  It’s easy enough to say, “if ya’ll don’t like me, go fuck yourselves, I don’t care,” and be genuinely unconcerned about the feelings of other people towards you.  It becomes less pragmatic when those people employ you, or otherwise have some huge influence on your life.  That said, I’m still comfortable enough with the life I’ve made for myself to say that, which isn’t to say that it’s the right thing for everyone.  And that’s the key; I’ve made a life for myself in which the negative feelings of others can’t harm me.

Other people’s opinions are important

A sense of self-awareness is built upon what we know about our impact upon others.  You can be an enlightened figure who believes opinions and feelings are ephemeral and abstract, neither caring about the opinions of others or believing one’s own actions can effect other people, but that is absolutely not helpful.

In many areas of life knowing what other people think of you is extremely helpful.

If you were seeking a mate, not caring what people think of you will mean that you’ll be seeking for a long time.  Even the most apparently disaffected person secretly cares about how cool they look. I often laugh when people say, “I genuinely don’t care about getting a good job or fitting in with society.”  That is virtually never true.  It’s a cool mask though when you’re a teenager.  As an adult, it’s a wee bit sad.

What other people think of us is extremely important as it gives us a yardstick to measure how well we are showing up.  In my line of work, if people didn’t like me I’d go broke.  From my one on one clients to my corporate clients, if people didn’t like me it would make my job a lot harder.  Nobody trusts someone they dislike to give them advice if they even hire them in the first place.  If people didn’t like me they wouldn’t pay attention to me or listen intently or believe me.  I make it my business to be likable.

It won’t be the same for every single profession, but I bet you could come up with a list of ways that the positive opinions of others is advantageous to you:

  • People feel comfortable talking to me
  • People want to work with people they like
  • They’ll believe I have their best interest at heart (I do)
  • It’s easier to build trust and they’ll open up quicker
  • They’ll find it easier to recommend me

There will be many other reasons why other people’s feelings really do matter.  It’s my recommendation that you ask people for feedback about you.  This might not be a natural thing to do, but it can be extremely effective.  I’ve mentioned previously that knowing exactly where you are is vital if you’re to make the best progress.  Often the only way to identify your faults is if other people tell you.  You can tailor the feedback to find out specifics easily and could even use something like Survey Monkey if you wanted feedback from a group of people you interact with on email. People love giving their opinion so you’ll have no shortage of material to work with, especially if you’ve never done anything like it before.

 

When Other People’s Opinions Are Unhelpful

While it’s certainly nicer to be liked and often extremely beneficial, when opinion is against you there are certain points worth remembering:

  • Other people’s opinions shouldn’t stop you from doing anything
  • Other people’s opinions are exactly that, opinions, they’re not necessarily the truth
  • The less you care about someone, the less their opinion should matter to you

In the UK we are a nation of queuers.  People will form an orderly line at the drop of a bowler hat and woe betide anyone who tries to cut in line. Where this is very evident is at roadworks.  One lane will be closed and it will be cordoned off.  There will be warning signs from 800 meters away and a sign every 200 meters and then further signs saying Merge in Turn, meaning that at the point that both lanes converge into one, both lanes should take turns in joining the single remaining lane.  This simple process shouldn’t be one of contention you would think, but think again!  What you’ll see, every single time, is a line of cars in the left lane and the right lane completely empty.  If, you’re like me, when other people’s opinions don’t stop me doing anything and those of strangers don’t matter to me, you’ll just drive all the way up the right and merge in turn.  The shouted abuse, hand gestures and sounded horns notwithstanding.

The pressure of social expectations are one of the situations in which I want you to question the wisdom of caring about what other people think.

How many times have you heard or thought:

  • I’d really like to take that last piece of cake but I’m worried that everyone will think that I’m greedy
  • I can’t wear this item of clothing for it might be too revealing
  • Shh, don’t speak so loud, someone might hear

If you’re not doing something because someone MIGHT think you’re greedy, that your clothing is too revealing or not like what you’ve got to say, then I suggest that you’re concerned about something that might not even exist.  Hardly anybody really cares how greedy you are, or if you show a little too much flesh or that you have contentious opinions and if they do, tough luck.  You know when to be appropriate, don’t you?  You’re not shoveling the last few pieces of wedding cake into a bag or wearing a bikini to work or calling your boss a moron are you?  Worrying that someone MIGHT react in a certain way and allowing that mere possibility to make your decisions for you is an approach you should rethink.

Imagine if you made up your mind to be a guitarist in a rock band.  You’ve deferred this for years due to work, kids etc., but now you’re in a place where you have some free time you’re going to follow your dreams.  The only problem is that everyone tells you what a stupid idea it is.  Your wife thinks it’s ridiculous.  Your friends think that you’re going through a third-life crisis.  Your guitar teacher thinks that you could with more lessons before going pro.  You don’t agree with any of them, but you really respect their opinions and you got bummed out a bit so you’re not going to become a guitar player any more.

What a tragedy.  Those opinions are just opinions.  They’re not a real thing, they’re just a thought people have had, quite possibly without any real research or time devoted to it, just a thought they had in the moment.  A thought they are using to manipulate you to do something they think you should do.  How many famous musicians have actually been crap instrumentalists but have managed to become successful anyway?  Remember John Lennon’s famous dig at Ringo saying that he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles?  You think Ringo gave a shit what anyone thought about his drumming abilities?  How many publishers, literal experts, told JK Rowling that Harry Potter wasn’t good enough?  Imagine if either of them had let the opinions, expert opinions, of others sway them?  The Beatles and JK Rowling have been some of our biggest names in music and literature in the last half century.   Zig Ziglar once said to, “Never let yourself be defined by someone else’s opinion of you.”

In this life, you get to define yourself.

define yourself
 

How To Ride The Storm of Negative Opinions

If you’ve read my book, Pull Yourself Together: The Non-Nonsense Guide To Assuming Control of Your Life, you’ll know that I advocate removing negative influences from your life entirely.  People who are going to bat you down at every available opportunity are not worth your time and unless you are absolutely bulletproof, could be causing you real harm.

That’s not the only thing I recommend.  It’s my firm opinion that coming from a place of positivity is always the best strategy and this situation is no different. When you hear or read some negative about yourself, consider the following things:

  • Do I honestly care about the person who wrote that?
  • Can I be directly impacted by this person’s opinion?
  • Do I believe any of it?

If you don’t care about the person, to hell with their opinion.  Often people tell me what other people think of me and I just laugh.  I laugh at nearly everything, life is funny.  Don’t like me, I don’t care.  I’m able to do that because I’m a confident person and I know who I am.  I know my values and I’m proud of my actions, I don’t do bad things so I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.  Say what you want.

On the occasions that you can be directly impacted, like if you somehow found out that your boss thinks that you’re a lazy son of a bitch, you will want to take action.  Take positive action.  Let it spur you on to success.  “Lazy, huh? I’ll show you lazy!”  And go out there and work your ass off like you should have been doing anyway.

Now lastly, let’s open the honesty door.  If you are annoyed or hurt by someone’s opinion of you, consider carefully whether they may be right.  If someone I work with tells me that they think I’m stupid and I don’t know what I’m talking about, I wouldn’t blink.  I am convinced that neither of those things are true.  On the other hand, if they said, “You’re a little pompous and irreverent,” I would shrug in a “well, you got me,” kind of way.

But if they said, “your speech was confusing and I find you unapproachable,” I would take that seriously, because I work hard to deliver clarity and display approachability, but those things are not my most natural traits.  Nobody ever says that to me by the way.  Sometimes I over compensate in fact, but nobody ever complained about too much clarity and too much of a welcoming manner.

When someone else’s opinions strike a chord, it may be that your feelings are being driven by how you’re thinking about that opinion.  And this is where you can get your biggest win, because this is telling you two really important things:

  1. People perceive this about you
  2. This is an area you can/should work on

So in fact, the negative opinion can be a blessing in disguise, if you have the sense to reframe it.

If you need any help reframing negativity, using other people’s opinions as a tool to increase your self-awareness or assistance increasing your self-confidence, let’s jump on a Discovery Call and thrash it out.

RSJ

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