Building an opinion – 10 tips

I recently talked about ‘information overload‘.  Today, I want to discuss the importance of getting enough information to build an opinion.

Opinions can end up as misguided when you don’t have the right amount of information at your disposal.  It’s okay to misunderstand or make the odd mistake, but a regular lack of detail starts to cause a breakdown in communication.

photo by Marcio Cabral de Moura

photo by Marcio Cabral de Moura

This isn’t just about study.  We’re constantly engaged in an ‘information gathering’ exercise.  It may be about new music, sport, your mate’s haircut, the person you fancy down the corridor, anything at all.  While you’re living and thinking, you’re learning about new things and developing opinions all the time.  Therefore, it’s crucial to take a balanced overview, no matter how strong your opinion is.  Once you have enough information to hand, you have every right to a strong opinion. But as with your coursework, make sure you can back it up! 😉

Here are ten tips to help guide you and allow the right flow of information in your life:

1. Don’t fill in the unknown gaps yourself – As tempting as it may be, never make stuff up.  If you’re missing facts and aren’t sure about the answer, do more research.  If there’s not enough time to do that, it may be best to either scrap the idea or mention it in passing and explain that you don’t have the information to go into further detail.  Depends on the individual situation.

2. If it’s questionable, question it; don’t moan to others instead – While you may not like the sound of something, it’s dangerous to rush off and make accusations elsewhere.  You may have misunderstood what had been said, or overlooked a vital resource with answers you didn’t know existed.  So by all means question what you’ve heard, but don’t go telling others how stupid it was unless you’ve properly looked into it.

3. If you’ve not heard it first hand, expect inaccuracies or bias – What you hear may be totally true and completely accurate, but second-hand information needs to be treated carefully.  It’s bad enough hearing some stories from the original source, so further down the chain can be disastrous! By all means use what you’ve heard to research a bit further and get closer to the story, but don’t rely wholly on what you’ve been told.

4. Don’t jump in to arguments when you can’t see the whole picture – Similar to point 2, if you don’t have all the details to hand, find out how easily you can get an overview first.  Without an overview, there’s a risk of getting things badly wrong.  Even if it’s not wrong, what’s the point in going over old ground and wasting valuable time?

5. Don’t jump in quickly if you’re not yet involved – I have friends who, with the best intention in the world, tried to save situations that were nothing to do with them.  But they rushed in without getting all the facts. They viewed everything from the wrong perspective and did more harm than help.  If you insist on helping with something you aren’t involved with, at least get involved gradually and find out what’s happening first to get a better understanding of where the land lies.

photo by theilr

photo by theilr

6. Seek out different opinions and information – Sometimes you’re given a story that sounds perfectly believable. Later, you find out it’s rubbish. There is often more than one side to a story.  While most people realise that, we don’t always remember.

7. In any debate or argument, listen to what the main disagreement is about – There may be a reason behind the difference of opinion.  Many debates don’t have a clear cut right and wrong.  Even seemingly obvious arguments may be turned on their head for a reason and the only way you’d know that is if you’d listened to the whole argument.  Like points 5 and 6, this is about not jumping in, but instead making sure you understand every side to the story.

8. Don’t let ‘winning’ get in the way – Devotion to a cause is one thing.  Winning no matter what the situation is another.  It’s okay to admit when you’re wrong.  It’s okay to admit that you don’t know.  It’s okay to admit that you need more information before giving an answer or opinion.  Armed with this knowledge, you have greater opportunity to return with enough information to clarify your position.  An open attitude also lets you change your own opinion more easily than if you felt you had to stick to your guns.

9. A bit of mischief may sound amusing, but be strong and don’t bother – Less to do with information and accuracy, more to do with common sense.  Injecting a bit of humour to the proceedings may feel advantageous, but not everyone understands, especially if they are passionate about the subject under discussion.  Only do it when you’re absolutely certain it’ll work, or if you’re with close friends!

10. Even conclusive information and decisions are not always correct – Books like ‘The Black Swan’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb talk about this.  A fact is seen as a fact until it’s been disproved.  And even if that’s not an issue, textbooks can still have errors, out of date statistics, and other inaccuracies.  Nobody’s perfect!  These aren’t things to worry about, just stuff to be aware of.  You don’t need to process every last piece of information, because the world doesn’t work like that.  Just be sure that you’ve done what you can and thought sensibly throughout.

photo by Phillie Casablanca

photo by Phillie Casablanca

I hope these tips help.  But don’t just take my word for it…I’m only one opinion in a world of many! 🙂