Sharing your opinions is fun. . . when everyone else agrees with you. But what about when they don’t? No one likes feeling like the odd one out, and these days, it seems like people with unpopular opinions are more likely to get shunned (or #cancelled). Does that mean you should change your opinions to conform to the majority’s beliefs? Of course not. But it does mean you should learn how to handle having an unpopular opinion.
How to handle having an unpopular opinion
Having an unpopular opinion can elicit a wide range of reactions from others: everything from an eyebrow raise, to a polite “Oh, interesting,” to a fiery diatribe in favor of the opposite viewpoint. The more passionate responses could easily lead to a heated debate now and feelings of hurt or shame later.
As someone who has a few unpopular opinions myself (and as someone who recognizes and respects that many people we revere once had unpopular opinions) I’ve learned a thing or two about how to handle it—both the discussions themselves and the emotions surrounding them.
Know when to stand up and when to stand down
In other words, pick your battles. Not every battle is worth fighting. Not every battle is fair. If the other person isn’t willing to have a respectful and open discussion, then the battle is over before it even begins—and no one wins.
Be very careful about the battles you choose to bring your unpopular opinions to. Know what really matters to you. Deliberately set your priorities. Ask yourself:
- What are the odds of me being able to start a productive conversation?
- Will this debate matter tomorrow?
- What do I know about the person I want to argue with? Is that relationship worth risking over this topic?
Here’s a hint: most battles are not worth fighting. Think carefully before starting something that is of little consequence to you. Having an unpopular opinion doesn’t mean you always have to keep your mouth shut, but you should make sure you know what you’re doing before you open it.
Know your why
So you have an unpopular opinion. Why? Why do you feel the way you do about that particular topic? Is it because of your experiences, or the experiences of someone you love? Why does this matter to you enough to swim against the current?
The deeper you can dig here, the more powerful it will be. I’ve found that unpopular opinions are often tied to strong, deep set emotions. What emotions are fueling your beliefs?
Find your people
Whether or not your opinion is “popular” depends on who you’re with. A popular opinion among your group of friends can become unpopular when you’re with your family and vice versa.
However your opinion is received by one group of people, know this: there are, almost certainly, people out there that feel the same way you do.
I’m not saying you should only surround yourself with people who think like you do. That’s how echo chambers happen. I’m just saying that having support from someone, somewhere, can help you feel less alone and help you handle your “unpopular” opinion.
Do your research
You have your opinions for a reason. Like I said before, they’re probably tied to deep emotions and feelings. But if you want to have thoughtful discussions about these topics, you’ll need more than feelings to carry you through.
Find substantiated data that supports your opinion. Research the other side and learn why other people feel the way they do.
Popularity and accuracy don’t necessarily go hand in hand (that is, just because more people believe something doesn’t mean it’s true). Do your best to find the facts surrounding the situation. They’ll help you argue your opinion more effectively and give you some perspective of the other side.
Focus on the word “opinion”
The deeper the belief, the more likely people are to think of the belief as a fact. If you have a belief that’s unpopular, but that you believe strongly, it can be easy to forget that your unpopular opinion is just that: an opinion.
When you’re going against the grain, it’s easy to adopt an attitude of “I’ve figured something out that other people haven’t.” I get it. I’ve been there. But just as you’re entitled to your opinion, other people are entitled to theirs, too.
Respect others’ opinions, even as you hold fast to your own.
Build up, don’t tear down
Handling an unpopular opinion has a lot to do with how you present it to other people. The best way to do this is to keep your arguments in the positive, rather than the negative.
We just went through a brutal election year in the United States. Almost every political ad I saw, read, or heard—from TV to junk mail—was all about tearing the other side down. The argument wasn’t “This is why you should vote for me!” It was “This is why you shouldn’t vote for my opponent!”
When you’re trying to have a productive conversation, negative arguments aren’t going to help. Instead of focusing on why the other person is “wrong,” keep your arguments centered around your opinions and why you think that way. This will help other people feel less attacked and more likely to hear what you have to say.
Separate disagreement from disapproval
Having an unpopular opinion can take a toll on you emotionally. It might leave you feeling isolated or unwelcome in certain groups. Who wants that?
A key part of how to handle an unpopular opinion is learning to separate disagreement from disapproval. In other words, it’s recognizing that two people can have different opinions and still like and respect each other.
I’ll be the first to admit that this is easier said than done. What if you disagree over an issue that you really care about? Can you respect that person if they feel differently than you?
I talk more about this in this post about being unapologetic and kind, but the gist is this: it’s possible. And if it’s possible for you to do it, it’s possible for other people to do it, too.
The best people in your life are the ones who can disagree with you and still love you—not because of what you think, but because of who you are. Seek and cultivate those relationships, not the ones that leave you feeling “less than” because of your unpopular opinion.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable
I’ll be honest: I give this advice a lot, and I know a lot of other people do, too. But it’s priceless advice for anyone who has an unpopular opinion (and really, for creatives in general).
Sometimes, life is uncomfortable—physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, you name it. But if we can learn how to handle that discomfort in a healthy way, we can work through those uncomfortable times more effectively.
Allow yourself to sit in the discomfort your unpopular opinion brings. Validate those uncomfortable feelings. Experience them. Then, start doing the work to move on from the discomfort into a more confident, self-assured state.
Learning how to handle having an unpopular opinion is important if (a) you want to be able to share your opinion respectfully and effectively, and (b) you don’t want to feel emotionally drained and isolated because of your opinion.
Having an unpopular opinion is hard, but it doesn’t have to ruin your relationships or your self-esteem. With the right approach, you can stand confident in your beliefs, even when you feel like others don’t share them.
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