Opinion – Are You Convinced But Wrong?

The desire to know, when you actually don’t, is a powerful force in people. Peter Scholtes provides some interesting research and observation about opinion in his book, The Leader’s Handbook. His research data comes from the business arena, specifically manufacturing, where measurable data is available.

So, his research is not from highly charged emotional issues about religion or politics where opinion too often is dominant. It is very valuable information, because it shows how opinion is a tool that demands actions when you don't search for the facts!

Opinion – Are You Convinced But Wrong?

The Data

There was a problem in a factory. A team of researchers knew the problem and chose to use the problem as a test to do some research about opinion. They went to the people on the factory floor and asked them about the problem. Then they asked the people to share their view about a solution to the problem as well as how convinced they were it was the solution.

The chart in the video below illustrates the conversations with the various people and the “X’s” represent the solution that each person provides. As they interviewed people, each person's solution was placed on the chart depending on two items:

  • Documentation of facts about their solution
  • Their conviction that their solution was the solution

The graph below shows those two items as the X and Y scales. The left or Y scale shows the degree of conviction - "Unsure to Absolute Conviction." And, the bottom or X scale shows the degree of documented facts for their solution - "Outright Lie to Well Documented Truth."

The Correlation

With those two scales, you might be like me and expect the correlation to be like the picture above, right? That correlation is as follows: when facts are well documented, people would “pound the table” about their conviction.

Well, that did not happen in this situation. Watch the video to see how opinion ruled the day. Note the variety of answers on the chart and where a large group of answers were.

Here is a quote from the book.

The (Expected Correlation)...would be an ideal and logical correlation. The X’s represent what we commonly observe in everyday life. Discourse is usually cloaked in the rhetoric of rationality. However, data is a necessary ingredient to rationality, particularly data showing variation. Without data, opinion prevails. Where opinion prevails, whoever has power is king. The ultimate correlation, therefore, is more likely between assertiveness and clout, not assertiveness and objective truth. It is possible that managers who wish to hold on to the illusion of power may resist a statistical view of work. - Peter Scholtes

A Key Discovery for Leaders

Their discovery is important to review, especially for leaders. Many of the people were ABSOLUTELY convinced that their solution was best, but it wasn't a good solution, it was closer to a lie than truth. They just had an opinion with few facts about the solution.

So, many people were "pounding the table" about their opinion. On the other hand, others had good facts, but were not convinced. Still others had few facts, but were not convinced they were right.

The group of people in the upper left of the chart is an important learning for leaders! The real correlation is NOT between Conviction and Well Documented Truth. It is between Assertiveness and Power. That means, you as the leader have the power, so be careful when you "pound the table!" Is your opinion driving your conviction? Are you about to take action on something that may be a lie?

Time for self-reflection. Do you believe something that does not have supporting facts? Does your opinion have little or no evidence to support it? Do you follow common statements like “How can we know truth?” Is the truth how you see it? Do you think that there are no absolutes? 

If so, then WOW! You need to slow down and find some facts and truth.

Please get more facts instead of just using your opinion - especially if you have the power to take the next action for the group.


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