My oldest daughter bought me a shirt that has these words written in bold, black letters on the chest, “Everyone is Entitled to My Opinion.” I doubt that she meant it as one of the things that she admires most about her dad. I readily admit that I have an opinion about everything that I consider consequential and it has taken me many years to learn to express those opinions more appropriately.
I know of the old adage, “One never discusses politics or religion in polite company.” Politics and religion are my favorite topics and I find discussing them to be mentally stimulating. However, even prattling about mindless trivialities can get you in trouble these days. Discussing the weather can easily slip into the politicized bombshell of “climate change.” “How are you?” – can lead to a debate on the importance of God in our lives.
Since discussions of things that are important to us lead us to express our opinions. And, since opinions are as ubiquitous and individual as people, we need to learn how to express our opinions and when to just shut up.
From someone who apparently feels that everyone is entitled to my opinion, I offer the following list, based on extensive experience with my wife and children, and on the job.
Shut Up When You…
- See a glazed look in the eyes of the person to whom you are speaking. They are no longer listening, no matter how brilliant your comments are.
- Are doing all of the talking and no one else is participating in the “conversation.” This is when you become a bore and a boor.
- Know the other person has no regard for what you are saying. Don’t waste your time or theirs.
- Are damaging your relationship by what you are saying. Sometimes you have to say unpleasant things to others, but stop until you can say it in a better way.
- Keep talking about things that are inconsequential or unimportant to others. For example, when you discuss the latest standings in the NBA with me.
- Start to use sarcasm. Sarcasm is the language of arrogance and condescension.
- Are expressing an opinion on something you know little or nothing about. Questioning would be more appropriate.
- Realize that being right is not as important as being right with the person to whom you are speaking. Relationships are always more important than being right.
- Use inflammatory language. The politician you are discussing is not an idiot, even if you strongly disagree with his/her philosophy.
- Realize that the other person in the conversation is an egotist. The proud are terrible conversationalists since they prefer to lecture and mock rather than discuss.
- Resort to demeaning the other person rather than focusing on the topic. This is a sure indication that you do not have the ability to defend your opinion.
- Lecture anyone for more than three minutes. After three minutes of talking, you have lost their attention and you are probably just repeating what you already said.
- Could undermine the authority of a leader of a worthwhile cause. Talk to the leader if you have a concern instead of complaining to anyone who will listen.
- Become aware that everything you are saying is about yourself. No one wants to listen to a braggart.
- Intend to say something, that doesn’t have to be said, that could hurt someone else’s feelings. Just because you think it, doesn’t mean that it has to be spoken.
The ability to say the right thing at the right time is an important talent. The ability to know when to shut up and do it is probably more important.