My daughter is going through a tough time. She's being bullied at school by a 'friend'. Over the last few months, we've had talks about how people treat one another, what it means to be yourself and how we build trust in a relationship (and what happens when that trust gets broken). The most recent conversations have been about self-esteem and true and false friends.
One of the key moments in these conversations has been around other people's opinions and how much value we place on them. (I have to tell you that it's something I still have to remind myself of!)
When we define ourselves by others’ opinions
When faced with these conversations I go back to my Brené Brown books. Because these life experiences aren't just happening in the playground, they happen at all stages of life, including our jobs. I read Brené's books because they help me in my coaching, in my own relationships and with my role as a mum. That's a lot of support!
When we define ourselves by what everyone thinks, it’s hard to be brave. When we stop caring about what anyone thinks, we’re too armored for authentic connection. - Brené Brown, Dare to Lead
I talked last week about asking people's permission and opinions until you find one that matches your own. But what if, instead, you only listened to those people who really have your best interests at heart?
Getting clear on whose opinions matter
I shared my own thoughts with my daughter and I was telling my own friend about the situation. She recalled when she'd been subjected to similar behaviours. As I talked about this with more people, they too had a story to share.
The truth is, we start learning whose opinions matter at a very young age, and we have some hard lessons to learn along the way. Still, as adults, we sometimes place worth on opinions that don't matter. This hinders our capacity for connection.
Your Square Squad
Brené shares a tool called The Square Squad in her book Daring Greatly and then again in her latest book Dare to Lead:
"Get a one-inch piece by one-inch piece of paper and write down the names of the people whose opinions matter to you. It needs to be small because it forces you to edit."
There are some rules:
- Your square squad is the very short list of people whose opinions matter.
- These are the people who care enough about you to be honest, rather than telling you what you want to hear. They should not be people who just blindly agree with you no matter what.
- People on your list love you not despite your vulnerability and imperfections, but because of them.
- They will point out when you are out of your integrity or when you have messed up, and they will support you to fix things.
- The paper is small because it forces you to narrow the list to only those people who have earned the right to an opinion.
- Don’t listen to criticism from people who aren’t on your square squad. It is hurtful and unproductive.
Choosing who is in your square squad
With my daughter and her square squad, we talked about the behaviours that friends exhibit and what makes them true or good friends so she could choose who was in her square squad. It brought me to another story Brené tells - about the marble jar.
“We trust the people who have earned marbles over time in our life. Whenever someone supports you, or is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honours what you share with them as private, you put marbles in the jar. When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, marbles come out. We look for the people who, over time, put marbles in, and in, and in, until you look up one day and they’re holding a full jar. Those are the folks you can tell your secrets to. Those are the folks you trust with information that’s important to you.”
We all need a reminder to reflect on who we call on and what that looks like during tough times. We need to be told with kindness, love and strength what we need to know and we need to know that they are in the arena with us. These are the people who go in the square squad.
Bonus exercise: You might choose to contact your squad and share a little gratitude. You can keep it simple: I’m getting clear on whose opinions matter to me. Thank you for being one of those people. I’m grateful that you care enough to be honest and real with me.
How much value do you place on an opinion?
You have a lot more control over your life than we’re led to believe. And you get to decide how other people’s words affect you. The question is, how though? What does that process look like? We have to be consciously aware of people’s opinions, but what do we do with them once we have them?
Start with awareness. When someone gives you their opinion, positive or negative, what do you notice? How do you feel? This is the starting point for deciding on how much value you place on someone else’s opinion
Then, get curious. When we receive unsolicited advice that makes us feel uncomfortable we can react by being defensive. We might create assumptions out of fear. If you find this is true for you, what’s going on? Take some breaths and get curious. Sometimes, how we relate to the issue, is the issue (another blog on this another day!).
I like to take into account who’s giving me their opinion, if I hear something I don’t like from one of my square squad I am more likely to get curious rather than dismiss it out of hand as I know they have my best interests at heart. I still might choose to do it differently, but I always consider it. If it’s someone who’s not in my squad and who I don’t know, I tend to place less value on their opinions.
If someone’s opinion helps you become a better person, achieve your goals more efficiently, or allows you to see things from a new perspective, it’s valuable.