I think it would be fair to say that we live in a very divisive time right now.  Not only do so many people have opposing opinions about a lot of topics, from anything like childrearing to face masks to politics, but due to our technology based world, those opinions are easily shared in ways that have never been possible before.

As the saying goes, “Opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one”, it also seems like all those opinions are causing more and more people to either feel attacked, or to react by attacking back.  Whether it’s someone’s negative comment about a picture you posted on Facebook, or it’s your neighbor’s political sign on their front lawn, other people’s opinions are more visible than ever before.

Of course it’s important to be able to express yourself and to have your preferences, but unfortunately instead of bringing us together or just being interesting, the barrage of opinions are tearing a lot of people apart instead.  Children are suffering with bullying, teenagers are being ostracized, and adults are lashing out or ending relationships, all in response to other people’s opinions.

What was once easy to manage and deal with because there were fewer opinions expressed, often due to the limited number of people you came in contact with on a daily basis, has now become a tidal wave of information.  For example you probably didn’t know, or even care, what your boss’ views were on global warming, but now his comments might be on your radar because of the exposure to so many people’s opinions on the subject.

Before you know it, his opinion might have you at odds with him in ways that weren’t an issue before.  All of a sudden your easygoing interaction with him has become challenging and his constructive feedback about your performance seems off-putting and disconcerting.

Maybe you have always had a respectful relationship with your mother-in-law, but you’ve started to notice her comments about how you’re handling your children during the pandemic are getting frustrating.  It seems like she doesn’t trust your judgement and is often commenting on things you post on Facebook, in a passive-aggressive way.  

Unfortunately, the more opinions there are, whether they are about you or about everything else, the more challenging it can become to navigate both in your personal and professional life.  As an accountant and a mom, it’s important to learn how to handle other people’s opinions, as well as be able to be an example and show your children this skill as well.

Thankfully, just because you are more aware of other people’s opinions, doesn’t mean they have to be so challenging.  There is a much better way to navigate the tricky waters we’re all in, where other people’s points of view are much more visible, and in our own line of sight.      

This week I’m going to discuss how to handle other people’s opinions of you, as well as how to handle other people’s opinions of everything else. 

 
 

How to handle other people’s opinions of you

You’ve probably heard the expression ‘What you think of me is none of my business”, but let’s be honest – it can be difficult to handle other people’s opinion of you, especially since it’s become so much easier for people to share their opinions.  Things like what you look like, what you do and say, as well as your own opinions of everything else, are now more exposed and open for judgement by others.

Unfortunately, so many working moms spend their lives trying to control other people’s opinions of them, that they lose themselves in the process.  They seek the validation of others in order to feel confident in themselves and in their abilities, creating a lose/lose situation where they do or don’t do things, all for the sake of acceptance and approval.

Maybe you’ve experienced this as well, where you were afraid of a few people’s opinions, so you didn’t go out and create what you genuinely wanted to create in the world.  Instead you chose to play small or stay put, not wanting to risk disapproval or rejection from others.

It could be as simple as not getting that new haircut you admired on someone else, for fear of what your partner or girlfriends might think.  Or it could be something big like having a desire to be your own boss, but not taking the steps to make it happen because of what others might say when you need to fail your way to success.

The interesting thing is that so many women hold themselves back based on their perception of other people’s opinions, not necessarily their actual opinions.  This often happens when no one has actually expressed any doubt or judgement, but you believe you know what others will think, assuming that it won’t be favorable, so you stop yourself from getting any imagined negative comments.

After I had my second child I was struggling with the idea of leaving my tax manager position at Ernst & Young and staying home for a few years to spend more time with my two young children.  I was so worried about what other people would think about me walking away from my accounting career for a little bit, and especially what my parents would think.

My perception was that they would be disappointed because they had helped me pay for my college education and that they would try to convince me to figure out how to stay in my current, highly sought after position.  The funny thing was that once I sat down and actually told my mom what I was thinking of doing, she was 100% on board and supportive of my decision.  

Of course that’s not always the case, where your perception of someone else’s opinion is wrong, but more often than not, that’s exactly what happens.  We actually project our own fears and concerns onto someone else, believing they have to be having the same thoughts that we’re having.

In order to better handle other people’s opinions of you, you first have to get clear about your opinion of you by asking the simple question, “What is my opinion of myself?”  It might seem silly, but I guarantee your answer probably has a lot of interesting layers to it.

The reason it’s so important to ask that question, is that when you have a firm foundation of self-confidence and you really like and respect who you are, other people’s opinions won’t be able to shake that foundation so much.  When you feel confident and show up authentically, other people’s opinions of you are interesting, but not hurtful.

As I’ve shared before in a previous podcast, you can be the juiciest peach, but there are just going to be people who don’t like peaches; and that’s okay.  When you can make peace with your “peachiness” and let others decide whether they’re a peach-loving person or not, you give up trying to change people in order for you to feel better.

For a lot of women, we are so concerned about other people’s opinions of us, that we often show up around people as inauthentic versions of us.  We become chameleons in various situations, rarely showing our true colors, worried about others will think, say or do.

If you are like most women, you might be afraid of being judged, but the truth is that people are already judging you. That’s never going to change, because the human brain is programmed to make judgments about everything; judgement equals protection to your brain.

Fortunately, by deciding that your opinion of you matters way more than others opinions of you, that’s when you experience true freedom.  That’s when you can just allow people to be wrong about you, without making them wrong for having an opinion about you.

Basically they just have a human brain that has 60,000 thoughts a day, just like you.  What they say and do based on those thoughts has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with their life experiences, their beliefs, and the unique filter in their brain that they use to process all those tens of thousands of thoughts.  

Think about this for a second – if you didn’t have blue hair, you wouldn’t care if someone told you they hated your blue hair; their opinion would be interesting and a bit silly, but it wouldn’t mean anything unless you made it mean something.  To handle other people’s opinions of you, you just have to like your opinion of you more than you care about theirs, whether it’s good or bad.   

 
 

How to handle other people’s opinions of everything else

Although it might not be much of a consolation to remember the saying, “No two minds think alike”, especially when dealing with other people’s opinions of everything else in the world, it really is the truth.  But unfortunately we assume that when we think thoughts, others are thinking the same thing.

The analogy that I like to use is that if you put a blue chair in the middle of a room with 10 people in the room, how many chairs are there in the room?  The answer is at least 10 because every single person in the room is having their own unique thoughts about that chair – they like/dislike the shape, they like/dislike the color, maybe they remember a similar chair in their favorite friend’s house, etc.

Whether it’s who should be elected to office next, what’s considered appropriate behavior during this pandemic, or whether children should be homeschooled this year, everyone is looking at similar situations and having very different opinions.  Unfortunately, those differences in opinions are tearing apart a lot of relationships and dividing people in a world that really needs as much unity as possible. 

As intelligent women, we can conceptually understand that other people have opinions that may differ from ours, but it’s often difficult for us to emotionally understand how, when we’re so wrapped up in our thoughts and the way we see things.  We can get so caught up in agreeing or disagreeing with other people’s opinions, that we don’t stop to imagine what some else’s thoughts might be about the same subject and why.

We’re so busy trying to be right, that we don’t spend enough time trying to understand other people’s opinions from a place of curiosity, rather than condemnation.  Just as there is an origin to your opinion on things, there is also an origin to other people’s opinions as well, and depending on how long and how often someone has thought a particular thought, that will determine how strong their belief has become.

In order to handle other people’s opinions, I suggest you come up with at least 3 reasons why someone might have the opinion they have.  Just like people on a debate team need to be able to present  arguments from both sides of an issue and be able to articulate the opposing viewpoints, it’s helpful to ask yourself what could someone who has a differing opinion be thinking and feeling?  

For example, I was speaking to a coworker who has very strong political views and she was sharing that she had had a big disagreement with a friend with an opposing view.  She said she was considering ending the friendship, since this person was “clearly crazy” based on their disagreement.

When I asked her to come up with 3 reasons why he may have the opinion he has, imagining what he might be thinking and feeling that would make that opinion possible, she visibly relaxed.  She said, “I imagine he loves this country as much as I do, that he was raised to believe a certain way, and that he feels comfortable enough with me to express his opinion”.

Her brain, like all of ours, just wanted to be right, which meant that if someone’s opinion didn’t match hers, they were wrong.  Thankfully, with a little imagination, she was able to step into her friend’s brain and envision what he might be thinking when he looked at the “blue chair” in the room.

By imagining what thoughts form other people’s opinions, and then how those thoughts probably make them feel and act, you can begin to agree to disagree, but in a more understanding way as opposed to an adversarial way.   To handle other people’s opinions, you just need to choose to find them interesting, rather than insane or incendiary.

The more you can see that your brain’s need to be right is making others wrong, the easier it will be to live more peacefully.  No two minds think alike, and that’s what makes life so interesting when you decide that it can be.

 
 

Summary  

  • Whether it’s someone’s negative comment about a picture you posted on Facebook, or it’s your neighbor’s political sign on their front lawn, other people’s opinions are more visible than ever before.
  • Unfortunately, so many working moms spend their lives trying to control other people’s opinions of them, that they lose themselves in the process.
  • When you feel confident and show up authentically, other people’s opinions of you are interesting, but not hurtful.
  • We’re so busy trying to be right, that we don’t spend enough time trying to understand other people’s opinions from a place of curiosity, rather than condemnation.
  • To handle other people’s opinions, you just need to choose to find them interesting, rather than insane or incendiary.