Other People’s Opinions

Worried about what people think of you? I used to obsess. And I wanted to stop obsessing. It never felt good to do so and it never helped me in anyway.

Here’s what I wish I had known earlier about other people’s opinions so that you can obsess less and actually feel positive about other people’s opinions. What? Yes, you can feel good about whatever feedback or criticism comes your way.

The biggest falsehood that we are taught, usually by our family and friends, is that we shouldn’t care about other people’s opinions. And while their advice is well intended, it 100% doesn’t work.

Why? Because we’re human. Humans have evolved to care about what other people think because it’s what allows for friendship and community. It’s human and trying not care goes against our natural instinct. So, you’re left with a strategy that will fail you all the time.

Accepting the fact that we care about what others think of us cuts the misery (and time obsessing about it) in half. It’s true. Think of the last feedback you received, good or bad, and admit you cared about what they said. And feel the tension automatically release from your body.

It’s okay to care about other people’s opinions. In fact, it’s what makes you human.

Feeling good about what other’s say about you requires establishing a mind boundary. And if you’ve never heard of one, you’re not alone. Again, we’re not taught how our minds work in relations to interacting with others. And then how to set boundaries around it.

A mind boundary is like lot a body boundary meaning your body is physically separate from another. The entity of our skin keeps us separate and the mind is even more protected by our skull, fluid and our skin. The physical separation denotes a real boundary.

But we can’t see a mind boundary like a body boundary. And when we don’t create one in our head, we can take what people say about us personally to the point that it dictates how we think and feel about ourselves.

When we establish a mind boundary we still understand that what someone says influences us (because we care) but it doesn’t erode our sense of self-worth. So, how do we establish this when we haven’t been taught this?

The mind boundary involves seeing each other’s minds as two separate operating machines.

When someone tells you that they don’t agree with you, their opinion comes from the inner workings of their own mind and NOT from what you said. Their opinions are influenced by a lot of factors from their life that lead them to have that opinion, not from what you said.

Other people’s opinions have nothing to do with you.

When someone tells you that you look amazing today, their opinion also comes from the inner workings of their own mind. Not from how you look or act.

And how you think and what opinions you have come from the inner workings of your mind. They are not caused by how someone else looks, acts or speaks. You own your opinion just like the other person.

Knowing the other person owns their opinion helps take the sting out of criticism. And as you hear other people’s opinions practicing the mind boundary, you’ll feel better about them because you’ll begin to understand the person and where they’re coming from (literally their own mind).

Take a listen to episode 19: Other People’s Opinions where I talk about the mind boundary.

Make small talk a success

You ever notice nobody says “I love small talk!”. What’s there to love about talking about stuff that doesn’t matter. And you can’t really avoid polite conversation completely because small talk conversation happens when you meet someone new.

So, what do you? And more so, how do you make it enjoyable and then, have it move from small talk to a real conversation?

I figured out that there’s two quick ways to improve it. First,

Stop asking 2 questions: “Where are you?” and “What do you do (for a living)?”

This is quick but not so easy to execute. In many societies this has become the standard way to start conversing with someone. We usually don’t give it a second thought but it’s the main reason why small talk has a low chance of ascending into something more.

Why? It’s more or less back and forth. I ask you “Where are you from?” – you answer it and then you ask in return. The same goes for what we do in our daily lives.

That’s the reason why it’s difficult to execute because when you’re asked this question, it’s challenging to go against the societal norm of asking the question back. Then, what do you do?

Answer the question with a story. More importantly, answer it with your story.

It’s hard to imagine answering a banal question like “Where are you from?” with a story but it’s the 2nd strategy in ensuring small talk becomes a real conversation.

Instead of answering with the city or country or your usual answer, think of something you genuinely like or love about where you’re from. Like if someone’s from Paris, they would say:

I grew up in Paris and love the cafe culture where you can sit outside for 10 minutes in the morning before going into work and have enjoy a cup of espresso.  It clears my mind and gets me ready to start the day.  

From here, the conversation will have direction. Although Paris, on its own, may seem like an interesting response, it may only lead to someone asking about the city instead of you directing the conversation to something you authentically enjoy and like to discuss.

That is what will make it more enjoyable for you and give something to other person to connect to. The other person could be curious about the cafe culture or about better ways to start the day. Or they may share how much they detest espresso. Either way, there’s purposeful direction.

The next question, What do you do?, can be answered in the same way. What is it about what you do in your daily life (parent, manager, designer, etc.) that’s interesting or fascinating to you. Instead of getting the “title” right focus on the that part that you enjoy talking about and add in a few tidbits that you’ve learned along the way.

I used to the a quality control technician. Yeah, it wasn’t exciting. And it sounds like a quick way to dead end the conversation but here’s what I used to answer with:

I work in a lab and I'm responsible for checking the quality of a food ingredient that goes into about 80% of the beverages consumed in my country.  It goes into beer, ...

When I started answering this question this way, people could connect to the story. Very few can connect to “quality control technician”. Not even those of us who are one!

Whenever I did this, someone would jump in about one of the beverages or would be curious about how it could be in 80% of beverages. It peaked people’s curiosity, no doubt!

Using these two strategies, I’ve gotten out of the more small talk conversation to actually getting to know other people a bit better. It didn’t mean that we became best friends but it made for great conversations and a lot easier to talk to them again when I would see them another time.

I share with you my answers to these question is the podcast episode 18: Make small a success. Enjoy!

The truth about boundaries

There is one key element of boundaries that I never knew. And once I got the “truth” in my head, I started to handle my boundaries differently and more effectively. And this “truth” makes setting boundaries a lot easier.

After 10 years of practicing setting boundaries I first had to get this clear in my head:

People don’t need to respect your boundaries, you need to uphold them.

Basically, this means letting go of putting the responsibility on someone else to honour your boundaries and then, you taking action (not the other person) to uphold them.

But the one “truth” I still missed was what I was actually upholding?

When you uphold a boundary you are in essence managing your time commitments.

Yeah, I didn’t know that boundaries actually was a time commitment skill. A skill I didn’t have.

Commitment as defined in the dictionary is about dedication and lack of freedom due to obligation. Now, while this is an accurate definition, it fails to direct how we handle commitments.

Commitments are a decision you make ahead of time about your time. And looking at it from this perspective you can see how setting boundaries relates to time.

We give our time to work, our family, health, etc. And when we set a boundary around it we make a commitment about the amount of time we dedicate to it. We say we’ll go to the holiday dinner and spend time there. We say we’ll help a friend move so we’ll spend time there.

Upholding your boundaries means that in the moment when your boundary is challenged you keep your commitment. When we say we’re going to exercise at 9AM Saturday morning and your best friend texts you to have coffee at the time. What do you do?

Now, it may seem like there is no freedom as the formal definition suggests. But when you look at all the decisions about your time and map it out you actually become more flexible. How? Because you have the knowledge of how your time is being used and then, can adjust your schedule from an informed place rather than being at the whim of whenever someone asks you for your time last minute.

Time commitments at first look like a time management problem but really it comes done to what you commit to ahead of time and then, what you choose to do in the moment.

I speak more about this when a friend gave me an opportunity to evaluate my time commitment and ultimately my boundaries. Listen below.