In school, we’re taught to understand both sides of every issue. If you can argue for and against a point, you’re more likely to truly understand all dimensions of the problem at hand.
In the workplace, it’s also helpful to understand all angles of an issue. Earlier in my career, I worked in strategy roles. My internal “customers,” so to speak, were C-level executives. When I shared my ideas, I tried to remain balanced, presenting both sides of the argument. I wanted to be unbiased in my approach.
But one executive I worked for wanted to know my ideas. On multiple occasions, he would ask me, “But Angela, what do you really think about this issue?” He once told me I was the only employee he’d ever had whose personal opinion he couldn’t guess. In a way, this felt good. I was separating the business and the personal.
Over the years, I’ve learned that this is not always the best approach. Recently, something happened to remind me of this point. I’ve been working with a smart person to help me on a project. The person is an expert in an area I know nothing about. I respect their experience and perspectives. When it was time to make a decision, I asked the person, “What do you think about this?” The person responded with, “Well, I generally try not to influence my clients with my own opinions.”
There are certain times in your career when you’re brought in to work on a project because you know more about a particular subject than anyone else in the room. When that happens, it’s time to share your opinion. It’s time to have thoughts based on your past experiences. To a degree, it’s okay to have biases in that moment. The bias you have is your past experience guiding you – past experience that nobody else in the room has.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times at work when your employer is just looking for someone to complete a task. In those moments, they’re not looking for feedback, suggestions, or improvements.
But when you’re hired to be a consultant, a strategist, or a high-level thinker, you should have an opinion. Your opinion will guide your client to success. It will take them to a level that they wouldn’t be able to reach on their own. That’s why they hired you. If they were just looking for a button pusher, they’d find someone cheaper to do the job.
So stand up and speak up. When it’s your turn to have an opinion, have one. And if you don’t have one for a specific reason, explain that. But be sure the reason is not because you’re avoiding having to say something.
It’s true, you may fail if you speak up. But failure happens to everyone. Plus, with your experience and your expertise, you’re the person least likely to fail in the room. Your boss knows that, and they’re depending on you to help out.
You can only do that if you have an opinion.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.