I Want to Have Opinions
August 9, 2014 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to be opinionated without being obnoxious? What are the dos and dont's?

I find myself being neutral on most subjects out of respect for my friends and family and acquaintances. I'm also neutral or ambivalent on a lot of topics because frankly, if I don't know much about a subject, I don't like to form an opinion and I certainly don't state an opinion.

I find that it's boring and I'm tired of not having opinions. In the past I had a lot of opinions about food or music or daily life. Examples: "Who doesn't like onions and garlic?" "There's something wrong with a person if they don't like Motown" or "I can't take people who don't eat vegetables." Stuff like that but for the longest time I haven't said things like this. In my twenties and for some of my thirties I was always running my mouth and in an effort not to be annoying, I've become more understanding and mellow. If you don't like Motown, well that's okay, we can still be friends. I'm still live and let live and very easygoing. I'm almost too low-key and I don't like it. I would like to say more of what I'm thinking. I think that is the main thing. I would like to say more of what I'm thinking but I stop myself. I feel like I'm too pleasant. I feel like I'm more boring and my personality suffers because I'm never stating my opinions. Is there a way to be opinionated without offending people or should I just not give a hoot?
posted by Fairchild to Human Relations (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Based on your examples of what it means to be opinionated, I think the key to being opinionated without offending people is to stop putting them down for their opinions and reframing it so that it's about what you prefer or believe:

"Who doesn't like onions and garlic?" -> "I love onions and garlic. Who's with me?". Still an opinion, no judgements being placed on disliking onions or garlic.

"There's something wrong with a person if they don't like Motown" -> "Motown is awesome"

That said, I also think that one of the best things about close friends is that you can run your mouth and say things like "I can't stand people who hate vegetables" and know they'll still think you're a good person. So, it might be worth reflecting on why you don't feel comfortable expressing yourself in this way with them.
posted by rhythm and booze at 3:50 PM on August 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

I state things as a matter of preference, such as "I prefer Motown and pepperoni pizza." That way, it's not a "I am wrong and you are right!" thing.
posted by heathrowga at 3:52 PM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can have strong opinions about things without judging people for holding the opposite opinion. I think cheese is just about the best food there is, but I know a lot of people who won't touch it, and yeah, I can see how people can find it gross. Both perspectives are equally right.

When you say something like "There's something wrong with a person if they don't like Motown," you're not actually expressing anything except snobbishness. That statement says nothing about why you specifically like Motown, or why you believe everyone should give Motown a listen, or whether you'd recommend starting with Diana Ross or the Jackson 5, etc. Those are way more interesting things to discuss! Talk about why you hold your opinions and find out why other people hold theirs, and refrain from evaluating who's right. If there's something you have no opinion on because you're not informed enough, just ask questions.

Keep track of your mood during these conversations, too; if you find yourself tensing up or talking quickly, it's a good sign that the conversation is starting to turn into an argument and it's time to back off and find an easier subject.

There are some things that you can't really avoid the I'm-right-you're-wrong feeling, though - usually hot-button political and social topics, but sometimes some lighter things like Broadway musicals or CrossFit or whatever. Those subjects are best avoided altogether.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:03 PM on August 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Your example opinions are all framed negatively: doesn't like, something wrong, can't and don't. As rhythm and booze suggests above, framing the same essential preferences positively sounds a lot better.
posted by tomboko at 4:15 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

The difference between obnoxious and opinionated is all in who you're talking to. If it's someone you're close to, who happens not to like Motown, they'll know you're just indulging in hyperbole for effect. They'll know you don't actually think something is wrong with them. They'll take it as your OPINION.

The less acquainted you are with someone, the more likely they are to take your words at face value. If you say "There's something wrong with people who don't like Motown" to someone you don't know very well, and that person happens to like Motown, they'll think you're saying there's something wrong with them. They'll find you OBNOXIOUS.

Choose your audiences appropriately. Either save your hyperbole for preaching to the choir - people you know will agree with what you're saying - or only do it around people who love you enough to roll their eyes instead of getting offended.
posted by kythuen at 4:16 PM on August 9, 2014

I feel like I'm more boring and my personality suffers because I'm never stating my opinions.

The two are not necessarily connected. Plenty of my most entertaining friends rarely if ever state opinions as such.

Plus - opinions over what? If it's tomato/tomahto then no one cares, it's just a more or less neutral area for general exploration. "So guys, where's the best potato salad you've ever had in life?" (cf this question.) Everyone gets a chance to contribute and show off. Harmless enthusiasm.

If it's pro-life/ pro-choice, you may not be boring but you're not going to please anyone except those who agree with you. Thus the old adage to avoid religion and politics.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:17 PM on August 9, 2014

The difference between obnoxious and opinionated is all in who you're talking to. If it's someone you're close to, who happens not to like Motown, they'll know you're just indulging in hyperbole for effect. They'll know you don't actually think something is wrong with them. They'll take it as your OPINION.

Even with people you're close to, it's best to be careful with that kind of negative phrasing. Sometimes it works (I have friends I can interact with that way) if it's clearly in jest and both people are participating. However, a nonstop barrage of "my opinion is the right opinion and everyone else is stupid" will make it seriously not fun to hang out with you. I have some old friends I now avoid spending time with because the conversation inevitably goes that direction. The constant barrage of microcriticisms gets tiresome for the listener, and you run the risk that they'll either quietly find other people to hang out with or they'll hit their tolerance limit and explode at you.

There's nothing wrong with having opinions and expressing them, but you can do it in a way that's going to feel less judgmental to any listeners who disagree. "Mmm, onions and garlic are the best! Wait, you're leaving the onions off your burger? Can I have them? Woohoo! More onions for me!"

Also, all of the examples you cited are really matters of opinion; even the vegetable one seems like an odd thing to have such a strong feeling about unless the vegetable-hater's food issues are actually impacting your life in some way. Other people are permitted their foibles!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:35 PM on August 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Rhythm and Booze has it. You can have these exact same opinions without voicing them in a way that is so critical of people who feel differently.
posted by amaire at 4:47 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm quite opinionated, and I'm sure it bothers a few people, but I believe I'm generally seen as quite agreeable. These are my tips:

1) Vast majority positive opinion ( I love blah blah, not I hate blah blah)
2) Strong opinions about things the other person doesn't really care about or know about are fine. E.g My love for crappy fantasy novels and foodstuffs of different types(
3) You should be careful with opinions about politics, or any other topic that someone will likely *have* an opinion on, and may have a lot of perceptions about.
4) You should express an interest in other people's opinions. Ask lots f questions, be wary of getting into it. What I regard as invigorating discussion can be viewed as confrontational arguments by people who came up in different family and cultural environments.
posted by smoke at 4:49 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Finding out why people feel the way they do can be super interesting. Some really good conversations can have their basis in disagreement. Practice framing these moments, even just in your head to start, along the lines of "You hate onions, I LOVE onions, isn't it interesting how different people can be, tell me more."

Disagreement can be fine if you can hook it to curiosity and an openness to learn about people's differences, rather than a judgement or instant shut-down of any further discussion on the subject.
posted by jessicapierce at 5:01 PM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

So, part of the negative framing comes from a place of anxiety; the paradox of choice - if there are other valid options, then it's possible you've made a "wrong" choice; if any other path is invalid, then you don't have to be worried about choosing "incorrectly." That someone holds an opposite view or took an opposite path does not invalidate your choice. I think you'll have more comfort expressing your opinion in a non-biased/non-jerk-ish manner if you better internalize acceptance of those choices.

Someone not liking onions does not in any way undermine your love of onions. You can like motown and someone else can not like it - it doesn't mean either of you are wrong. It's just like, your opinion man.

State your opinion, if someone holds an opposing view and you want to converse/be interesting, try to find out why they hold that opinion (and why you hold yours) -- not in an effort to change their mind, but just to learn more about them as a person.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:02 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The examples in your question aren't opinions, they're judgments. (This may be the reason you were led to believe that being opinionated = obnoxious.) My ex-husband expressed "opinions" like this all the time and it really wore me down to hear stuff like, "Cell phones suck! People who want cell phones are ego-driven self-important douchebags!" when he knew perfectly well that I wanted a cell phone. That's where it gets obnoxious.

"Motown is awesome" is an opinion, "People who don't like Motown are defective" is a judgment. Express your feelings or thoughts on a subject in a positive way and it's an opinion.

It's also fine to say, "I don't know enough about [whatever] to have an opinion." Then when you learn enough about the subject to believe one way or another, express it in a positive way and it's not obnoxious at all.
posted by mibo at 7:46 PM on August 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

The key to having strong opinions is to restate them as matters of fact, or rather, many threads of fact that weave into facinating tapestry of you-are-right. "Did you know in 1962 Berry Gordy ran a pizza shop? Well... [10 minutes later] and the kid with the Dutch clogs? His name was Marvin Gaye." --cut to everyone in your audience going "Damn Motown is awesome!"

Know a hell of a lot about what you are talking about, and your opinions become interesting enough to be stories.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:47 PM on August 9, 2014

Opinions should be based on a (hopefully) rational train of thought. How can you be sure you are having a valid opinion rather than just spouting something random? Why should anyone be impressed with your opinion about onions and garlic unless it expands on what really makes them special for you?
posted by JJ86 at 8:49 PM on August 9, 2014

I found it hard to tell if you really feel you don't have opinions or feel you shouldn't/can't express them.

I can be pretty opinionated and think it's a double edged sword. I think people can feel quite relieved that someone (in this case me) can come out with something maybe a lot of people think but few might actually come out with and say. I find with common ground these conversations where you all feel strongly can feel exciting/passionate/fun .. very real and honest.

That said I think people can also find me a total dick. I think I'm generally willing to take the gamble in order to be true to myself.

The uglier side of it can be (yes normally something social/political/personally experienced) where I can occasionally get into the "I'm totally right and everything they all say is shit" stuff. I grew up amongst activists and often found this really grating but sometimes see it in myself and try to notice and curb it. I have a friend who is like this often (though great in many ways) and find due to her approach "you must agree" I almost instinctively go 100 miles in the opposite direction in my head, but I'm a bit obsessed about resisting people trying to control me!

Non violent communication is interesting to look into.. if things are approached ina decent way I think the idea is people can learn from each other and maybe find unexpected common ground... maybe this is the way forward.
posted by tanktop at 2:43 AM on August 10, 2014

I think having opinions for the sake of having opinions doesn't make a person interesting. I expected this post to be about having opinions on contentious political/social issues, and feeling nervous about expressing them. I think it's a good thing that you no longer spend time telling people they're weird for not liking onions or Motown - I'm pretty sure that's called growing up :)
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 5:26 AM on August 10, 2014

This is a little different spin on it, but if it's conversations that are boring due to the fact that you're not expressing your opinions, maybe try infusing a few more questions into the discussion: "Not into Motown? How about so-and-so, I have a lot of friends who like them even though they're not big fans of the genre." "Interesting point. I'm kind of on the other said of that debate (whatever the topic is). I'm curious how you developed your point of view."

This way you're in an "opinion" conversations where it's not all about one person foisting his or her views upon the others.

Of course as others have mentioned there are topics like religion, politics, and computer operating systems where you may be better off staying out of the fray.
posted by altcountryman at 6:44 AM on August 10, 2014

I think there's a better quote to illustrate this but this is the only one I could find. It's written by practitioner of Tantric Buddhism, talking with a teacher:
Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche once told me that I was ‘ . . . one big diplomat’. This was not a complimentary statement on his part. How he came to say this requires a lengthy anecdote – but suffice it to say that I had replied: I don’t know, Rinpoche in answer to a question Chhi’mèd Rig’dzin Rinpoche had asked as to whether plants were sentient or not. I had politely declined to have an opinion – as I do not like to express opinions on subjects concerning which I have no direct knowledge. Rinpoche followed my reply quite swiftly by requiring me to express my opinion – which I did. He said You Tantra man – who must have opinion! I gave my opinion. He then asked me to substantiate my opinion – which I did. Fortunately my exposition met with his satisfaction and we laughed a great deal about the outcome.
The basic point is that having views about worldly things is part of the play of the world, and if you tend to have no opinions, that may be a sign of some kind of subtle (or overt) fear, stagnation, depression, or just a way of relating to the world that is self-stifling and timid.

Within my circles of friends I've often become sort of "the mediator," the one who always sees both sides, doesn't judge, and so on. I think that's immensely valuable to have, but it's not always the necessary aspect to express.

If you're just joshing around, nobody will blame you for saying "The problem with you, my friend, is that you don't listen to enough Motown!" They might disagree; that's part of the fun.

Maybe you can make a thing out of actively preferring certain options, discovering your own preferences as if they were natural facts to dig out, dedicating yourself to the amazingness of whatever you realize you like.

There's a kind of refreshing simplicity in having a clear opinion, even if it's a totally ridiculous one. "I don't like Holland, it's too flat and boring, I hope it sinks!" "Let's go to Pizza Hut, I would blow up a bus for some pepperoni pizza right now."

I think the key to not being obnoxious is just to take your opinions lightly enough that they don't become heavy impositions on others.
posted by mbrock at 8:43 AM on August 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Who doesn't like onions and garlic?" "There's something wrong with a person if they don't like Motown" or "I can't take people who don't eat vegetables."

I think your problem is that you have opinions about PEOPLE instead of TOPICS/THINGS. A person can like or dislike Motown, and you can have an opinions about Motown and discuss it with them if you respect the person while disagreeing with their opinion. In your examples, you don't say anything about the topic - you are just showing disrespect for the people who hold different opinions than yours.
posted by CathyG at 1:29 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to add the value of curiosity. This has helped me to find a positive route through a conversation with someone who holds very different opinions to me on a subject.

For example:
You - I love Motown so much
Person - Oh wow, I really hate Motown
You - That's interesting, I didn't think I'd ever meet someone who actively disliked such a popular genre! What is it about it that you don't like?

Maybe the reason they give is something you don't agree with, no matter, it'll probably still be an enlightening conversation in some way. Maybe it is, and then you get to adjust your opinion slightly to accommodate it (yeah, I've always loved Motown, but recently I realised I only loved songs like Build Me Up Buttercup because of the nostalgia factor). And allowing your opinions to be malleable is one of the best ways to grow old gracefully!
posted by greenish at 5:57 AM on August 11, 2014

« Older Help me think of some small but significant...   |   Memorable Sunday lunch in seattle Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.