Opinion – Are You Convinced But Wrong?

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

So, his research is on something other than highly charged emotional issues about religion or politics, where opinion too often dominates. This is very valuable information because it shows how opinion is a tool that demands action 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 research opinion. They went to the people on the factory floor and asked them about the problem. Then, they asked the people to share their views 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 “Xs” 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." 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. That correlation is as follows: people would “pound the table” about their conviction when facts are well documented.

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 many 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

It is essential for leaders to review their discoveries. Many people were ABSOLUTELY convinced 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 opinions. Others had good facts but were not convinced. Still, others had few facts but were not confident they were right.

The group of people in the upper left of the chart is an important lesson 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?

It's time for self-reflection. Do you believe something without supporting facts? Does your opinion have little or no evidence to support it? Do you follow common statements like “How can we know the truth?” Is the truth how you see it? Do you think there are no absolutes? 

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

Please gather more facts instead of just expressing your opinion, especially if you have the power to take the next action for the group.


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