This was first published on KSL.com
I work with a woman, who is very opinionated with severe black and white thinking. I find myself getting upset by the way that she voices her opinions all the time and won’t even consider another's point of view. We all eat lunch together and honestly, it’s getting hard to tolerate. What do you do with people who are that opinionated and not open to life having any shades of grey?
We are going to answer three questions inside your question.
First, why do some people see the world in this black-and-white way and feel they have to constantly share or even push their opinions on the rest of us?
Second, how do you know if you are one of these opinionated people?
Third, what can you do so people, who are like this, don’t drive you batty?
It makes life a great deal easier if you understand what is really driving human behavior. Understanding what motivates people helps us to not take other people’s behavior as personally either.
We believe human behavior is driven (consciously or subconsciously) by what we fear and what we value. So, we are going to explain the fears and values behind very opinionated, black-and-white thinking.
These people often have fear failure (that they might not be good enough) and they have fear loss (that life won’t be the way they want it to be). We know this because these two fears are behind almost all bad behavior.
These people feel safer if they have a clearly defined moral code, a black-and-white clear and solid code of behavior (the way people should behave) and other rules of correct living. If they have these rules clearly defined, they know exactly what they must do to be good enough. These guidelines make them feel safe. They also get a sense of safety from finding fault in the rule breaking and incorrect thinking in the people around them. If they can find people who are worse or wrong, it makes their ego feel a little better or right, which quiets their fear of failure a bit.
People who are quick to judge others as wrong are usually getting a strong sense of safety and self-worth from believing they are right. The more fear of failure they have about themselves, the more they might focus on black and white rules that prove they are right.
They may also be a tad controlling too because having things done “right” also makes them feel safer in the world. They are often defensive, territorial and protective of themselves, which can come across as selfish, arrogant and inflexible. They are often more focused on things being right and fair than they are on caring how other people feel.
These people also highly value ideas. They like learning and teaching. They believe correct ideas and doing things right are critical to success and happiness, and they tend to assume that everyone has or should have the same ideas, beliefs and values they have.
They also fear what would happen if their ideas (and rules) are not upheld. For example, people who are passionate about the environment and global warming value environmental issues, as well as fear the outcome if the planet is not looked after. They can at times be a tad judgmental or critical when they feel others don’t value ideas, beliefs and opinions or have the wrong ones.
Now, the question is, are you this kind of person? Do you have a strong sense of right and wrong and often find yourself in judgment of others? Do you ever leave a situation and realize you may have talked too much or dominated the conversation? Do you get irritated when people disagree with you and do you see them as less than you, because of their choices?
If these are resonating as truth for you, don’t worry – we aren’t saying you are bad, wrong or less than others for being wired this way. The truth is the world needs people who care deeply about right and wrong, but we must all watch for unbalanced behavior that comes when we function from fear.
If you aren’t like this but have people in your life who are, here are some tips for dealing with these people:
1. Show compassion toward the fear that is driving their opinionated behavior and black-and-white thinking.
When we consciously choose to stay calm and not react to the behavior of others, we are able to look at what is motivating it. Think about this woman at work, what do you know about her story and what she has been through in her life? Do you think there is some fear of failure in her? Can you sense that her stand on issues is about feeling right somewhere? When you look underneath the behavior and try to identify where it comes from, we step into greater acceptance, tolerance and compassion. See if you can show greater kindness and compassion to her and recognize her insecurities, after all, you have those too, they just manifest themselves differently for each of us.
2. Don’t react to the bad behavior, instead listen intently and then ask for permission to share your ideas
In the moment, when people are on a soap box and speaking down to us or sharing their strong opinions that we disagree with, we can become triggered and feel frustrated or angry. Often our ego wants to retaliate by interrupting or arguing, which can escalate the situation to conflict and confrontation.
Now, you understand their opinionated behavior is about their fear and their need for validation and safety. So, in reality, what they need is validation (which we know is the last thing you want to give them). If you can have a mutually validating conversation and make them feel safe, you might be able to get them in a place where they can listen to you too. You might even teach them something. The formula to having these conversations is on our website.
But, you basically must ask them more questions about their opinions and listen and validate their right to think the way they do. If you are willing to go here, you then earn the right to have a turn to share your opinion with them.
After you have given them some time to share and you make sure they feel heard, you can ask permission to share your thoughts. “Would you be open to letting me share another opinion?” This permission question opens the door for you to now be heard and share your opinion. If the person interrupts or tries to speak over you again, you have earned the right to say, “Excuse me, please don’t interrupt, I listened to your ideas on this, and I would appreciate you respecting my turn to speak and hearing my thoughts.”
This can be done respectfully and without confrontation. But remember, it’s not about changing other people’s minds, it’s about coming to a place where both differing opinions are respected and validating everyone involved.
3. Don’t take it so personally.
Other people’s need to be right or feel superior is their fear of failure at work. It is about their fears about themselves — it isn’t really about you. Ask yourself, “Which part of you needs validation and recognition for your opinions and feels mistreated when you don’t get that?” Is your fear of failure being triggered?”
All of us have this fear, on some level, but healthy self-esteem comes from knowing you don’t need validation or recognition from others to have the same intrinsic worth as every other person on the planet. Remind yourself that you are a unique, one of a kind human soul and your value doesn’t depend on your opinions, whether you are validated or liked by others, or whether other people think you are wrong.
As you remind yourself of this truth you will find yourself needing less attention and acknowledgment from others, and you will be able to better tolerate listening to the black and white views of others without feeling bothered.
If you are this kind of person and can recognize a need to be heard and validated for what you think, this is a great fear challenge to work on. Practice asking more questions and listening more than you talk next time you are with people. You will find validating others opinions feels even better than sharing yours.
Knowing you are lifting others up always feels better than being right. Practice setting aside your need to be right about how things should be. Try allowing people to have the same intrinsic value as you, even though their beliefs and values are different.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.