Strong opinions, weakly held

Dennis Sparks

Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held. —Bob Sutton

“The world is divided into people who think they are right,” a wise person once said.

While it is essential that leaders have clear, well-defined beliefs and ideas that guide their work, it is also essential that those beliefs and ideas are open to influence by respected colleagues.

That means that leaders do both the intellectually demanding work of forming clear, well-considered points of view and the interpersonally demanding work of holding them loosely.

Because our views are often influenced by psychological and emotional forces of which we are not fully aware, both their formation and alteration is seldom fully rational.

That means that altering our views based on evidence and logic rather than vigorously defending them until death typically requires a high level of emotional intelligence.

How do you decide when to maintain your point of view and when to surrender it?

5 Responses to “Strong opinions, weakly held”


  1. 1 carla March 19, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Hi Dennis
    I love the quote by Bob Sutton. In the last few years I have become a better listener largely because of you, your blog and your book! I now strive to listen like Bob Sutton. It was during a staff meeting that I realized that I need to listen to voices of dissent as well as voices of agreement.All too often groups will agree with a leader without thinking through as to why they agree, in other words, group think takes over. I now listen more carefully to the few voices that question something in a staff meeting and elsewhere and disagree with what is being said. I then think through their objections and evaluate their validity from my own perspective. Whether I surrender my opinion depends on the strength of their arguments and if they are valid or not. Listening to ‘dissenters’ provides opportunities to make the status quo better and serves to validate my own opinion with sound reasoning.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks March 19, 2015 at 11:50 am

      Looking for the value in dissent…. What a wonderful application of these ideas, Carla, one that is particularly challenging when the dissent is emotional. Thanks for sharing it, Carla.

  2. 3 carla March 19, 2015 at 11:13 am

    I forgot to check the box to notify me of new comments. This post solves that problem.

  3. 4 Kent Peterson March 23, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    This is a powerful set of ideas. They point to the complexities of shared leadership which balances and blends ideas strongly held with the thoughtful reframes and “dissent”, concerns, ideas of colleagues.
    This blog keeps me thinking deeply about how to shape strong, positive school cultures.

  4. 5 Moses March 25, 2015 at 12:52 am

    What about Weak Opinions, Strongly Held?


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