The ‘Silence’ Killer

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

I make it no secret that I like nothing less than a person without an opinion. I don’t care whether some agrees or disagrees with me, but it really bugs me when someone doesn’t have an original opinion or thought. ‘YES’ men are bad, but at least you know what you’re getting from them. On the other hand, someone without an opinion, they add ZERO value.

When you interview and hire people, you spend a lot of time thinking about teams and how each individual can bring in value (in my case, can they bring in extra value in SEO/SEM that I’m not an expert in?). While it’s great for your ego when people compliment your work and agree with everything you do, you’re probably not being challenged and growth is severely limited. On the other hand, you don’t want someone that disagrees with EVERYTHING you say — sure there’s some value in being a devil’s advocate, but disagree-ing for disagreement sake doesn’t work either.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” — Steve Jobs

While it may be obvious that you want someone that can add value (everyone already talks about this), there is a third subset of people — people who don’t have their own original thoughts or opinions.

It’s not always immediately obvious, but there are people who are very good at listening and latching on to other people’s ideas/opinions (“I agree with X” or “I agree with Y”). They are very good at taking somebody’s side, but because it’s not their own opinion they’re unable to add more value. By doing this, they’re able to hide. They only get caught when people start realising that they never speak up first (maybe they’re good listeners or want to make a fair argument) and they’re usually stunned when you go to them first for ideas/thoughts (i.e. they have nothing to say). In a group meeting or project, this means that instead of needing to invite everybody, you might as well have invited everybody except one (the results would have been exactly the same).

While listening is an important trait in everybody, using it for the sole purpose of latching on to someone else’s opinion is a problem. I remember one time speaking to a colleague of mine (a very friendly guy) and we ended up talking about the latest Kanye West album (I won’t say which one as it will age me). I asked him what he thought and he gave a very smart and analytical view of the album. The problem was that I had brought it up because I was thinking about buying it and (coincidentally) was reading reviews — he had memorised WORD-FOR-WORD a review from a top critic and passing off the opinion as his own. My mind was blown (and he was actually fired a month later from the job).

It’s understandable that people don’t want to look like idiots or become alienated for sharing an unpopular opinion. But in my opinion the other option — staying silent — is momentously worse. As someone that has to make tough decisions on a daily basis, I want to be able to learn as much as possible by learning about all the options, opinions and perspectives — without these I’m unable to make informed decisions.

You might think you’re being nice and agreeable, but to be perfectly honest, you’re not very useful at all.

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