The Atlas

Opinions are like don't bloody them

The seventh item on Gallup's list of 12 Elements of Employee Engagement is one that I often find triggers a tendency towards counterproductive zero sum thinking:

At work, my opinions seem to count.

From both leaders and employees, I often see a binary view of this that stops a productive conversation in its tracks.

  • Leaders: People's opinion is all fine and good, but there are reasons that decisions are made, and some of the things they are asking me to change are way beyond my power to do anything about!
  • Employees: No one cares about my opinion. I just show up, do my job and go home.

If I had a magic wand, I'd permanently quash both of those sentiments. Not only are they not helpful (for either party), but they are actually extremely untrue.


Listening to your employees with empathy, asking questions and trying to put yourself in their shoes may not make their requests any more actionable, but it is an enormously valuable trust-building exercise and one that has the potential to broaden your perspective in ways you could not imagine or do by yourself.


Unless your boss (very recently) did your job, odds are that they are not intimately familiar with what walking in your shoes feels like. Additionally, by virtue of their role, they are probably splitting their attention across a much broader spectrum of issues than you can always see from where you sit in the organization. As a result, your perspective can be enormously valuable if it's framed as a productive way to make things better.

Of course, the downside is if either side of this conversation devolves into pissing and moaning. A little venting is often helpful, as long as everyone keeps some perspective and then moves on. Whining, however, is never helpful -- either about an actual issue or your lot in life.

My best tips for new managers when it comes to making inroads on this difficult challenge -- especially those who work in larger, corporate environments where managers are often handcuffed when it comes to a lot of things about daily life:

  • Ask for feedback, and do it with open-ended questions. Many employees may take being asked over and over again before they start feeling comfortable saying anything. This is not a one-and-done conversation.
  • Don't jump to the solution. Many times someone can say something simplistic like, "I need XYZ." Don't stop there. Keep digging. Frequently it takes more work to understand what they are really trying to solve. There is almost always a few different ways to make an impact -- even if it's not the XYZ they first requested.
  • Acknowledge everyone's roles. If an employee has a perspective on something that will help improve things, even if you don't agree, show them the same respect you want to be shown. But also be sure that you are clear about the things that you are able to influence versus the things that you can't.
  • March forward in unison. This is often the hardest thing for new managers to learn to do, but it's critical: decision by committee is not how a good team functions. As a good leader, your job is to collect meaningful, thoughtful and expert information, and then make the best possible decision given the resources and constraints are your disposal. As a member of the team, your staff's job is to execute, even when they didn't get their way.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Regarding the above, if you are going to do something different than what your employee or team is requesting, the only way you can make them feel like they didn't waste their time, energy, breath and faith in you is for YOU to explain to them why a different direction made sense. "Because I said so" is what a sleep-deprived parent says to a toddler who won't stop asking "Why?" from the backseat. That is NOT how a compassion leader deals withadult employees who are subject matter experts in their own right.

A final thought on this is about repeating yourself: As someone who absolutely hates having to repeat herself and often gets frustrated when I feel like someone missed something important I know I already addressed, I get why this is a source of frustration for leaders, but it is necessary. The Rule of Seven is an ageold sales and advertising rule that is a good rule of thumb for all forms of persuasion -- which this is. Consistency of your message here is critical, and do not assume that you can get away with saying it any LESS than seven times before people actually START to hear it.

In the meantime, have a fantastic week and if you know a heart broken 49ers fan, consider buying them a taco. After all, tacos make everything better.

P.S. I have a new free download on my site, to help you work through the question of what you need from work.

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