How to Become Opinionated

“It’s bad to have an opinion you’re proud of if you can’t state the arguments for the other side better than your opponents.”

— Charlie Munger

I get irked by loud people in meetings. Especially the kind who stay fixated on a idea or notion of their own, who don’t bring much to the table, and make a lot of unnecessary noise to prove their point. I’m sure you’ve met such clients and bosses—the ones that need to be convinced of the most obvious of things. These are the trickiest people to deal with—in meetings and in life. They have strong opinions and beliefs, and it’s very hard to change them. How do you convince such people when you are a quiet person in nature, don’t like to talk unnecessarily, and definitely don’t enjoy shouting to get your ideas heard?

Truth be told, it’s not enough to just have an idea or an opinion, no matter how good you think it is. In fact, you are not entitled to have a view or an opinion of your own, unless you can argue better against that view than the smartest guy who holds that opposite view.

Think about it once: while we all hold an opinion on almost everything we come across—religion, politics, relationships, business, ethics, philosophy, city planning, government, etc, how many of us do the work required to have an opinion?

Most people read a thing or two and come to an abrupt conclusion. They simply go about finding more confirming information after that. Anything that doesn’t fit their notion is branded to belong to a different school of thought. Generally, when you can’t persuade somebody to buy into your vision, you call him foolish, or that he is unable to see the “big picture”. But it’s not so. You can’t convince others not because they are foolish, but because you haven’t done the work necessary to defend your opinion.

Having an opinion is easy. The work required to actually have an original opinion is the hard part. You have to do the reading, talk to others, and listen to their arguments. Sometimes it would be a waste of your time. Not all people are smart. But you’ve to do the work nonetheless.

Doing the work means you can’t make up your mind with a high degree of confidence right away. Doing the work will force you to challenge your beliefs because you have to argue from both sides. You have to become an impartial judge of your own ideas, and become your own worst critic.

Doing that work means you have to regard an issue not emotionally but rationally. You even need to have the intellectual honesty to abandon your best-loved ideas, notions, plans, and opinions when they fail to stand counter-arguments. You have to learn to kill your darlings. And by that logic, when arguments don’t kill your ideas, they grow stronger.

Only then, when you can argue better against yourself than others can, have you done the work to hold an opinion. That is the time you can say, “Hey, I can hold this view, because I can’t find anyone else who can argue better against my view.”

If you can’t do it on your own, take help from a friend. Ask somebody to become your Advocatus Diaboli (Devil’s Advocate) and find flaws in your ideas, and loopholes in your arguments. This can help you keep your ego in check, and also look at issues from multiple perspectives.

All scientific discoveries are educated opinions. When Einstein encountered opinions or facts that ran contrary to his ideas, he endeavoured not only to listen but also not to rest until he could either argue better than his challengers, or abandon his ideas and look for better ones. To win the argument in the meeting room, you gotta have the discipline to do the same.

“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire.”

— Charlie Munger

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