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The Truth About Other People’s Opinions – Do They Matter?

The Answer is Simple – It Depends

Struggling with Other People's Opinions
Image – izkes@iStock

You let other people’s opinions influence your thoughts and actions.

Even worse, you let those opinions influence how you feel about yourself.

You want to be liked. You want to belong.

It seems the best way to make that happen is to meet other people’s expectations.

What they think of you feels important.  You believe it is important.

But . . . is it?

Acceptance and friendships based on how well you meet other people’s expectations are tenuous at best.

The only absolutes that result from such behavior are disappointment, low self-esteem, and a boatload of mental anguish.

Time Usually Changes Things

As you get older, there is a good chance you will stop caring what other people think. Other people’s opinions will no longer devastate you – at least, most of the time.

It is such a relief!

The good news is you don’t have to wait. There are things you can do that will help you learn to manage your propensity to care so much.

There are seven tips I would like to ahsere. These come from lessons learned over many years of living. Do I always remember them? No. But, when I do, it feels great. I hope they can help you, as well.

1. Learn to filter other people’s opinions.

Listening to other people’s opinions without filtering the information is not only foolish, it is a serious threat to your happiness.

Readily accepting other people’s opinions as truth gives them power over your life, which you don’t want them to have. It is your life – not theirs. It is your right to choose how you live it.

This is not to imply that everything others say is wrong or bad, but learning to listen with a filter can change things significantly.

Train yourself to listen carefully to what they are saying, recognize what is helpful and useful, and discard everything else. Then, you decide what you want to do with the information – use it or file it away.

Living is more fun and less stressful when you listen to your own counsel.

2. There are times when caring about other people’s opinions is important.

When you have to make a decision that affects others, it is important to listen to opinions of those who will be impacted by the decision.

It is not wise – or even ethical to make such decisions without at least discussing the impact it will have on everyone concerned.

There is a wonderful freedom in making your own decisions. But, always be sensitive to others’ opinions when they are involved and will have to deal with the consequences of a decision you make.

3. When a decision involves only you, stand firm when others try to interject their opinions into the process.

You can graciously accept and even listen (if you choose) to other people’s opinions. Be as polite as possible, thank them for their input, and graciously move on.

Simply state clearly that you are comfortable making the decision on your own and ask them to respect that.

If someone insists on giving you unsolicited advice, ask him/her how s/he would feel if you started butting into his/her life. Then, remove yourself from the conversation and do what you feel is best.

4. Be well-informed when making a decision that others may challenge.

Do your homework, research the situation/question thoroughly, and have your facts straight.

Gather as much information as possible when making decisions that others may feel compelled to challenge.  When you are well-prepared, you will be able to meet a serious challenge head-on.

If someone  mildly resists or objects to your decision, you will have what you need to present your case, if you choose.  If you must present your case, do so calmly and confidently.

In either situation, stand your ground. Don’t let anyone bully you into changing your mind. Preparation will help you do this.

5. Learn when to respond and when to ignore other people’s opinions.

People say things all the time that may annoy you in one way or another. It is important to be able to quickly recognize when to respond (thoughtfully) and when to ignore what was said.

If an annoying or unkind remark is made, but there are no potential consequences from that remark (other than being annoyed by it), the wise choice is usually to ignore it.

On the other hand, if someone makes a statement that at some point can become an issue if it’s not addressed, action is required. (Please, notice that I said “action” not “reaction.”)

For example, a colleague states that you aren’t doing your job even when you know you are.

You have the right and responsibility to defend yourself, but not necessarily in the heat of the moment. Reacting from anger is always a mistake.

Take a minute or two to breathe (longer, if necessary) and think through your response. Then, calmly tell the offending colleague exactly why he is off base with his comment and let it go.

Don’t wait and let the situation blow out of proportion or let the statement become a rumor that blows up in your face.

Calmly standing up for yourself is important in such situations.

6. Understand that everything is not personal – even though it feels like it is.

This can be a difficult one for many people to learn. It has been my biggest challenge (I still haven’t completely mastered it).

A wise first step when something has been said that feels very personal and upsets you, is to take a few minutes to think about exactly what was said – not what you think they meant.

Was it truly a personal attack? On the surface, it may feel personal, but when you consider the words carefully and the speaker’s perspective, you may realize they have a point (or not).

When you take a minute or two to assess the situation, you can calmly choose how you are going to respond – rather react with an emotional outburst.

Keep in mind that when you take comments personally, you are giving people more power than they should ever be allowed to have. It triggers self-doubt, rather than allowing you to tap into what you know to be true about yourself.

Trust yourself. Listen to what is being said, evaluate it for merit, and choose a calm, healthy response.

7. Choose your battles – most of them aren’t worth fighting.

You have probably heard this most of your life.

You know life is filled with challenges and many potentially annoying situations.

Allowing yourself to get upset or doubt yourself when someone says or does something you don’t like, serves no purpose. You spin your wheels and waste your energy.

Learn to let the small stuff wash over you without responding. Save your focus and energy for the big battles that are worth fighting – the ones with outcomes that can make a difference to you or someone you care about.

There You Have It!

These are powerful, effective tips. Some will be harder to implement than others.Tips #3 and #6 are the ones that continue to challenge me, but I keep working on them.

For good measure, I have included three action steps you can take right away and a list of suggested reading for anyone who would like more information.

Be patient with yourself. The change can take time, which is OK. The important thing is to start the process.

Step One:  Learn to meditate daily

  • To stop caring about other people’s opinions, you must be able to calm your mind. Otherwise, it is too easy to get angry and/or accept other people’s comments as truth and feel bad about yourself.
  • Meditation is a great way to help you control anger and self-doubt when they arise.

Step Two:  Learn to “act” rather than “react”

  • A knee-jerk reaction is never a good choice. It usually adds fuel to the fire in any situation.
  • When something is said that you cannot ignore, take a deep breath, and calmly think about what was said using your listening  filter and considering the speaker’s perspective. Then, carefully choose your response.

Step ThreeLearn from your experiences

  • If you tend to take everything personally, practice self-reflection.
  • Each time you feel someone has attacked you personally, take time to reflect on the situation with an open mind.
  • Walk through the experience step-by-step and determine if you overreacted – at all, a little, or a lot?  What could you have done differently? What can you learn from the experience?

Begin living your life on your terms today. Keep your own counsel and be the person you were meant to be.

Related reading:  Self-Care Is a Priority: YOU Must Come First

Additional Reading

The Art of Everyday Assertiveness:

Not Nice – Stop People Pleasing:

The Power of Not Caring:

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