Everyone seems to have them, but are all opinions relevant or worthwhile? Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in the history of Silicon Valley, opines about whose opinion should really count, whether in the boardroom or a bookstore.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, guest host for this edition of another Tough Things First podcast. I’m a writer and entrepreneur in California. And I’m happy to be back again. Ray, hi.
Ray Zinn: How you doing, Rob? Good to have you with us.
Rob Artigo: Thanks a lot. Sometimes when we’ve wrapped up our podcast sessions, we’ve exchanged some emails and thoughts about what we can do to improve the topics, and maybe the delivery, or simply just how can we make it more interesting for the listeners. And I offer my opinion, you have yours, and in some environments, in business and in life, opinions can be stifled or they can be overbearing even.
So Ray, should we consider opinions important?
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. What’s interesting here is, is that opinions are unsubstantiated facts. So you know, when you express an opinion, you have to look at it as, it’s not substantiated, I don’t have any facts to base it, but I’m saying here’s my opinion. Now, if you say red is red and blue is blue, and the sky is blue, and so forth. Then you’re stating facts. And those aren’t opinions, because they don’t, they’re not based on speculation, they’re based actually on hard data.
So, when one gives their opinion, at least you understand where they stand. And I always invite people to express their opinion. The hard thing though Rob is whether or not, how we respond to those opinions if we disagree with them. But if we’re careful, and remember that an opinion is not substantiated fact, it is just our view.
Rob Artigo: Right, and I think that when you’re in a group for example, a session, where you’re talking design, or product, or a direction for the company, you may have people in the room who have, who state an opinion, because they and they have an established credibility in the area. Maybe it’s the person who is the money guy. And or they woman who heads up sales. Or the person who does personnel, you know?
Is there, and maybe they have specific credibility on a thing. So, when they give an opinion within the group structure, they have a credibility. And the people who don’t necessarily have that credibility, maybe it’s the person who works in the front office, with the CEO, giving an opinion, about something in personnel where they don’t have the personnel credibility.
But they might have an interesting idea, or something to input, that will help improve the situation. I suppose the credibility is important, but at the same time, do you think we should gloss over or dismiss people just because they lack the credibility in their opinion?
Ray Zinn: Not if you wanna get along with people and understand their viewpoint, you have to let them express their opinion. Often times when someone’s expressing an opinion on a particular subject, I can tell that they don’t understand what they’re talking about. And so, I’ll take the time to explain to them, or maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’m the one that doesn’t really have the knowledge and the understanding on a particular subject.
And I need to be educated. So, when we listen more than we talk, then we learn. You know, Judge Judy says, “You know, you have two ears and one month for a reason.”
Rob Artigo: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ray Zinn: And so, we don’t do a very good job at listening. But we learn when we listen. We can’t learn while we’re talking. And so, taking the time to let someone express their views, we’ll learn something. And because we’re not all knowing, not everybody has all knowledge. And so, we don’t wanna just push them aside because we think we’re the expert and they’re not.
Rob Artigo: In the business environment, one thing that I find very interesting is, that some businesses, and I don’t know if you did this at Micrel, but they have a comment box. Like an employee comment box, where you walk by and you just drop in a note that says, that anybody in the whole company from the guy emptying out the garbage or sweeping the floor, to the CEO, if they wanted to. Could drop in anonymously a note that says, “This is an issue I’ve seen, I’d like to see it addressed in some way.”
And they’re, you know those things always have opinion in them. They have opinion about the direction of the company, or about the dynamics of personnel, or they have an opinion about, I don’t know, the coffee machine. Or the espresso machine, or something in the break room, or having to pay for coffee, or something like that. But do you find that a company benefits from having the, from taking the opinions of all those employees together, and analyzing them and taking them seriously?
Ray Zinn: Well for example, we had a no swearing policy at my Micrel. Meaning you couldn’t use condescending or foul language.
Rob Artigo: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ray Zinn: And we’d get comments back from certain people saying, “Well, but you know you’re not allowing me expressing my freedom of right to express myself by the language I wanna use.” And we say, “Well, but you can’t, just because you have this right, freedom of speech so to speak, as they would. Doesn’t, you don’t have the right to offend other people. And if your language is offensive, then you can’t just, because you have the freedom of speech, offend somebody.”
That’s the key here, in that one policy we had, which is no foul, no condescending or foul language. But I had people comment that they disagreed. I said, “Well, maybe you need to find a company that allows you to express yourself in whatever form you want.” But, we have to have some control over the kind of opinions and statements that people make.
So, if you can express your opinion as long as it’s, it doesn’t hurt another person. So, we gotta keep that in mind too. If, let’s go back to the issue of pro choice, or pro life-
Rob Artigo: Right.
Ray Zinn: You can express your opinion on pro life, but the pro choice people might be offended because of their belief in allowing the woman to have her, make the decision.
Rob Artigo: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: So, we just have to be concerned and if, for example, if religion’s an issue, and somebody doesn’t wanna have you express your opinion about religion, then you have to be careful about that. So the bottom line is, is to get along with each other, we have to recognize people’s feelings on a particular subject, whether it be political, or socio economical, or whatever it is.
We have to be careful. I mean, I can remember offending someone and I didn’t even realize I was offending them. I-
Rob Artigo: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: Like to shoot guns, and they were asking me, “What do you, what’s one of your hobbies?” And I told them I like to shoot, and not necessarily kill an animal, but I like to shoot targets.
Rob Artigo: Yup.
Ray Zinn: And this person, once they found that out, wouldn’t shake my hand because they said, “I’m not gonna shake the hand of anybody that’s handled a gun.”
Rob Artigo: Oh jeez.
Ray Zinn: And so, I didn’t even realize that I had offended them. And so, but once I knew, I apologized. I said, “Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you didn’t like that.” I mean, I don’t start out by saying, “Well, let’s talk about everything that offends you, so that we stay off those subjects.”
But that’s sometimes the way it ends up. I’ve offended people and didn’t even know it.
Rob Artigo: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: Some people get offended awfully easy. Let’s go back to the people who are getting offended easily, and you need to look at yourself and say, “Why can’t I allow people to express their opinion without me becoming offended?” Because you’re not going to get along, become offended or feel attacked because if somebody differs from you and your particular area of interest.
Rob Artigo: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ray Zinn: So, anyway, it’s a two way street. We gotta be careful about offending people, but we also gotta be careful about being offended.
Rob Artigo: I was in the military for a long time, in the army, and I was a non-commissioned officer. I made the, up to the rank of Staff Sargent. I was a Staff Sargent for a really long time, which is, it’s a mid-level leadership position as a non-commissioned officer. And of course, a lot of the roles that I had were sort of above my rank. In one case, I was an Operation Sargent, so I was the senior NCO in the operations section.
And my counterpart was the Operations Officer, and he was a Major. So, what I would do is go into these battle update briefings, and I would have to present information. And then, we would be talking around the table as to what’s going on in personnel. What we’re doing. I had to reserve what I was, most of what I was thinking, in order main, I couldn’t just blurt things out because I couldn’t in that room, impose myself in the conversation.
Because I didn’t have the rank to do it. So, I see that as we wrap this up here, let’s talk a little bit about those times when it’s right to hold back your opinion. And I know that, if I’m in a board room meeting, with everybody’s got staff there, and we’ve got you there, and your staff can be advising you, but you don’t expect your staff to speak for you. So, there are times when you’re supposed to hold back, right?
Ray Zinn: In Micrel, I had an open door policy, you could express your opinion, you could, I didn’t say, “Well, because you’re not an executive, or one of the top lines managers, you can’t express your opinion.” I never said that. I opened, the meeting was always open. Every Friday we had our operations meeting, where the various departments would come and we would discuss how we did for the week, and so forth.
And we didn’t look at it by rank, we didn’t say, “Oh, you’re not high enough level, you can’t express that opinion, or that view.” We accepted all views and opinions. As I mentioned earlier about we had this policy of no swearing, and but we still allowed them to express their opinion about well, they objected to it, and if they object to it, then so be it.
Ray Zinn: We still allowed them to express their opinion. I’m sorry that your situation in the military, that you weren’t allowed to speak your opinion, because you would, didn’t have a high enough rank.
Rob Artigo: Right.
Ray Zinn: That’s a shame. And I don’t agree with that philosophy.
Rob Artigo: Have you seen that in the business world? Where other companies have taken that approach? Where, I’ve seen around Silicone Valley, in some places, where underlings, I would think of them as underlings, because they’re the rank and file of the company. Are afraid to do anything, do anything or say anything, because they might end up stepping on the toes of the boss. And getting fired.
I mean, it’s that kind of military inversion, you know the structure is so intense for them, that they are afraid to do anything like that.
Ray Zinn: Okay so, if you’re in an environment where you’re not allowed to speak your mind, and as long as you’re doing it in a polite way, I wouldn’t want to work for a company like that. I wouldn’t want to be in an organization where my comments and my opinions didn’t matter. Because of my rank, or my position within the company. You don’t wanna work for a company like that.
Rob Artigo: It’s not a supportive environment. I mean, I agree. It’s not a supportive environment, it doesn’t feel like as an employee, if you feel like you’re lesser than, because your opinion doesn’t matter, even if its not necessarily your opinion is not gonna help the situation, because maybe they take it as, well, it’s alright. Thank you for your opinion on that, and they move along.
Maybe it’s not the thing that’s gonna turn things around, or really help them out, but if they’re not shutting you down, and they’re letting you give out an opinion, you feel like your part of the process. And you feel like you’re part of the team. Rather than feeling like shut up, you don’t deserve to have an opinion in this room.
Ray Zinn: Right. You don’t wanna work for a company where there’s this hierarchy of, you’re, you don’t have the position or the authority to express yourself.
Rob Artigo: I’ll have one last question for you on this subject. If I’m in an interview, or I’m considering taking a job with a company, how do I find out if that’s the kind of environment that it is? Whether it’s, if it’s an open environment for opinions, or if it’s a closed environment, like a military thing.
Ray Zinn: Well, you just answered it. I mean, you just ask the question. What kind of environment do we, is it? Within this company. Is it one where it’s opened, people can express their opinion or views? Or is there kind of a rank and file, like the military, where you have to be an equal level in order to express yourself? How open do you see this company?
And just ask the question. And if you’re interviewing with say several people, you can get a consensus by asking each one of them about that. I think it’s a very important question.
Rob Artigo: Well, you can visit Ray Zinn at Tough Things First dot com. You can find him on Facebook as well, and Linkedin, may the connection. You can ask questions, you can pitch an idea that perhaps you’d like to come on this podcast, and host the show for a whole podcast, or at least a, or maybe a handful of podcasts.
And ask Ray a bunch of questions, and dig into the subject matter that you find interesting. Also, be on the look out for Ray’s new book, The Zen of Zinn. Thank you very much Ray, appreciate it.
Ray Zinn: You’re welcome, thank you Rob for joining us.