Nothing Nice to Say

Nothing Nice to Say

How to Respond When Someone Asks Your Opinion and You Have Nothing Nice to Say

Have you ever been cornered by a colleague and asked a potentially incriminating question:  “What do you think about the new boss?”  or, “What do you think about the co-workers new hair cut?” or “What do you think about the CEO’s new (controversial) policy?”

The list of potential gossip-inducing questions is endless.  However, the outcome is always the same:  Anything you say can and will be used against you!

In order not to get pulled into the he-said-she-said fray, here are THREE OPTIONS for responding when you have nothing nice to say:

  • Non-response

In this instance, you choose not to take the bait.  You can make non-committal responses such as:

“I’ve been too busy to even think about it.”

“I haven’t even given him much thought.”

“I’m not even going to go there!”

  • Throw it Back

Typically, when someone asks “what do YOU think?,” he or she has a strong opinion on the subject.  You can capitalize on that, and avoid their trap by responding:

 “Sounds like you have some thoughts.  What do YOU think?”

Or, combine option # 1 and #2 by saying:

“I haven’t given it much thought.  What’s YOUR opinion?”

  • Focus on the positive

You can stay out of trouble by focusing on the positive aspect of something.  A long list of negative things about a person or situation may come to mind, however there’s always at least a positive thing or two.  For example, if someone asks your opinion on the new boss, you can identify a couple strengths you’ve noticed:

“I have to admit, he really is organized and good at goal setting.”

By the way, these strategies can be useful outside of the workplace too.  When my daughter was a  teenager, I asked her opinion on a new outfit I was wearing.  Her tastes and mine differed greatly, especially at that time, so that could have been a losing proposition.   She promptly responded using the throw-it-back option:

“Mom, the important thing is what do YOU think of your new outfit?!”

Lastly, I should point out that there are times when friends and colleagues legitimately ask for and want our feedback.   The important thing here is to be as honest as possible without being harsh.  In these cases, we can use a version of Option #3 by focusing on the positive.

Here are some examples of how you can focus on the positive by offering constructive suggestions:

“What did you think of my presentation?”

You’re thinking:  “It was monotone & boring.”
Instead say:  “I think that adding a little more inflection in your voice and a couple personal stories would be great!”

 “What do you think of my idea?

You’re thinking:   “Dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!”
Instead say:  “I’m concerned that the strategy may not succeed because of our limited budget.  How can you overcome that?”

So, there you have it…three ways to share your not-so-nice opinion in a constructive way!

  • Richard Paul Martin

    I like the Throw Back for people I’m close To, but in a professional setting Id go with the positive. To the question “What do you think of the new boss?”, my response would depend on who’s asking and why.

    So people love to milk others for information to confirm their own opinions. Over time you get to learn who they are. I use to love sabotaging this type. So to the.question “What do you think of the new boss?”, I might say all the people I’ve talked to seem to like him.

    But if the question “What do you think of the new boss?” is along the lines of ‘Do you think I can work with him?’ My response would be a more honest evaluation with the caveat of his being new.

    No idea if I made sense.

    • Sarita Maybin

      Thanks for the comment Richard! That makes perfect sense! I love the fact that you would choose your strategy based on the setting–personal or professional–as well as who is commenting and what their intention is. I especially appreciate your point about people wanting to “confirm their own opinions.” Reminds me of something I heard years ago: “People don’t want information, they want validation!” All the best to you!