Speak For Yourself

The quickest way to devalue your argument is to present it as someone else’s point of view. When I hear “everyone is worried about X” or “a lot of people think X” I get nervous. Those phrases are great if the topic under discussion is how people are feeling or thinking. But if the topic is X then I find myself immediately skeptical, in contrast to what the speaker hopes. I usually stop and ask them if they can be more specific about how they gathered that feedback and what specifically was said. Someone acting as the unelected representative of a collective opinion is relying on the strength of an invisible mob rather than the strength of their personal position. In my experience, strong arguments stand on their own and rarely require such backing.

When sharing opinions there are three reasonable options, in order of strength (and not mutually exclusive):

  1. Own the opinion as your own and make an argument on the merits.
  2. Refer to specific individuals, ideally with particular insight on the topic, who hold a certain opinion.
  3. Mention specific feedback you have heard from specific sources for whatever it is worth.

There are exceptions. If the indirection is meant to protect a specific but importantly unnamed group of individuals, take responsibility for that by stating outright why you are being coy in your presentation. “A few individuals who weren’t comfortable sharing their point of view asked me to pass on this feedback.” That is still a weaker argument since it isn’t clear the speaker even believes it, but this can be valuable to understand where people are. And of course the most valuable feedback in this situation is that people don’t feel comfortable dissenting, which is absolutely critical to correct.

I appreciate people who have strong opinions but I expect them to take full responsibility of their position rather than deferring ownership of it to someone else.