If You Can’t Say Something Nice, What DO You 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.

Three Options

In order not to get pulled into the he-said-she-said fray, here are three options for responding:

  1. 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.”

  2. 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?”

  3. 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.”

Useful Outside the Workplace

By the way, these strategies can be useful outside of the workplace too. I remember  asking my teenage daughter her opinion on a new outfit I was wearing. Her tastes and mine differ greatly, so that could have been a losing proposition. She promptly responded:

“Mom, the important thing is what 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 and boring.”  
Instead say: “I think that adding a little more inflection in your voice and a couple 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.

Learn More at a Free Webinar

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, What DO You Say?
Thursday, July 21 at 3:30 p.m. EDT

Learn more practical approaches and actual phrases for those times when you need to tactfully clue someone in, deflect the negative comment of a well-meaning friend, or let a co-worker know what he or she is doing drives you crazy — without destroying the relationship. Register Now>

Sarita Maybin is an award-winning speaker whose audiences have fun learning to stay positive, handle communication challenges and work together better.

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