5 Keys To Sorting Through The Crazy and Conflicting Opinions You Hear As A Leader

One of the most challenging tasks of leadership involves sorting through seemingly endless opinions you hear almost every day about pretty much everything. Some of the opinions are crazy. Even the ones that aren’t are conflicting.

Think about it:

Your inbox is filled with polite and not-very-polite suggestions about what you should be doing that you’re not doing, and all the things you need to stop doing.

The five people on your board or leadership team all have different ideas about where to head next.

A few people have ideas about your sermon could have been better.

Everyone in your church or organization has views on pretty much anything. Just ask them.

Most days it’s enough to make your head swim.

On the one hand, you don’t want to be closed to what other people think. On the other hand, you’ve thought about never asking again because the sea of conflicting voices just seem so overwhelming.

What do you with all that?

How do you figure out which voices to listen to?

How do you know which comments contain the gold and which are distractions?

What do you do when no one agrees with each other?

While your job is to lead people into the future, there is no shortage of opinions on how to do that. And that’s where all the frustration seeps in.

There are great ways to use feedback, and not so great ways to use.

Knowing the difference can help you immensely.

The Problem With 4000 Opinions

I was reminded recently of  how challenging opinions can be as we selected the final cover design for my next book (which I’m so excited about! It releases September 4th, 2018!)

Choosing a cover isn’t an easy process.

The dialogue on cover design started like many things in leadership do: with a conversation between my editor, me, my agent and few people I invited into the dialogue

My editor, agent, team and I could have just picked our favorite, but I thought I’d test what we thought were the three final designs with a select group of my readers and listeners.

I got over 4000 responses.

The good news about having 4000 opinions is you have the insights of 4000 people.

The bad news, of course, is that you have 4000 opinions.

When you ask for opinions, you hear from people.

And along the way, guess what I heard?

Tons of conflicting opinions. And negative comments galore. All of that despite getting a 73% positive rating on the final cover direction.

At times I had to work hard not to get upset, or discouraged or frustrated. Just like you have to work hard in leadership not to just throw in the towel and declare you’re giving up.

Here are back to back opinions on the SAME design (made on the same day in exactly the same minute, may I add).






What do you do with that?

Someone takes an artist’s hard work and a team’s best efforts and simply says “ugh”. And in the very next breath someone else says “best one yet.”

No wonder leadership is hard.

Opposite opinions were everywhere in the surveys.

Check out the back to back comments below:





Plain. Stereotypical. Awesome. All about the same design.

So whether you have 40 different opinions or 4000, how do you decide?

We’ll get to that in a minute, but in the meantime…here’s the winner (which I love, and which readers made better with every revision).

And the Winner Is…





Getting user feedback may have been a bit challenging, but it was so rewarding for reasons I’ll explain.

In the meantime, many of you have asked what the book is about, so here’s a quick summary.

A lot of it springs out of my journey in life and leadership. Didn’t See It Coming is really about the personal ups and downs we all experience as people and leaders, and the stuff that just blindsides us.

Think about it. No one dreams of becoming cynical, disconnected, or burned out. Yet it happens daily as our lives collapse under the weight of pride, compromise or even moral failure. Unprepared and unaware, we lose hope, give in, and give up.

What’s shocking is how these catastrophic collapses often come as a surprise, even to good leaders. The question is – were there warning signs or clues along the way that could have prevented such heartache, loss, and pain?

The answer is a resounding YES. You don’t have to be blindsided again.

That’s what the book’s about. You can see most of it coming, and I share how to avoid the pitfalls that sink too many of us.

So what did I learn from 4000 opinions, and from 23 years of listening to a bazillion opinions in leadership about where to go next, how to do it and what we were doing right/wrong?

Here are five keys that can really help.

1. Take The Opinions Seriously, But Not Personally

How many times have you left a meeting upset over what someone said, or checked your inbox only to want to chuck your laptop out the window, or lay awake at night replaying a hurtful comment over again and again in your mind?

Yep. Too often.

And there were times where pouring over the comments on cover design I felt a bit upset too.

It’s hard not to feel a little hurt when you someone’s comment is simple ‘ugh’, and it’s also hard not to shoot back with sarcasm and say “Well, what does the cover of your book look like?”

But don’t miss this: just because you feel negative emotions doesn’t mean you have to act on them.

Wise leaders never act on their negative emotions.

So how do you do that? How do you not let the negative comments bother you for more than a few minutes?

Over the years, I’ve had to learn to take people opinions seriously, but not personally.

Taking them personally is what keeps you up at night.

The best way to NOT take opinions personally is to pray about it, get some perspective, go for a walk, talk through the ones that bother you with a friend, smile, learn and move on.

Don’t dismiss them, learn from them.

If you take things personally, you’ll always dismiss the offending comment. Which means you’ll never learn from it.

When you take things seriously, but not personally, your leadership will improve significantly.

2. Listen…Even If You Hate What They Have to Say

Look, you’re going to hate what some people have to say. You’re human. They’re human. You’re just not always going to agree. And sometimes they won’t say it in a nice way.

You may be tempted to dismiss or ignore what someone has to say when you don’t agree with them.

Wisdom would suggest that you should listen.

There’s almost always a kernel of truth in what someone is saying. And even if they’re wrong, you can still learn.

I remember congregational meetings in my early days of ministry where people were angry at the changes we were making.

It was hard to hear them disagree, and hard not to try to shut them down or rebut what they were saying.

But I can’t tell you how many times people would come up to me after someone ‘ranted’ at a meeting and told me that the angry person lost credibility and I gained credibility by not shutting them down.

And even when the criticism doesn’t come at your publicly, listening can provide valuable insight into how other people are thinking, the insight you need to do a better job moving everyone into the future.

We took all the feedback—positive and negative—and threw it into better designs.

As a leader, the truth is your friend. Even if you don’t like the truth.

3. Consider the Source

So what about the ranting, toxic person who loves to clog up your inbox?

That’s where the job of discernment gets easier.

In the anonymous survey I did for my cover, I had no idea who held what opinion. So it was impossible to consider the source. That’s what can easily happen in a large organization or when processing information online.

But in much of your decision making, the input isn’t anonymous. You know exactly who said what, which helps.

If the person in question has a history of being toxic, well, that tells you something. And you likely don’t need to spend a lot of time changing the future because of what he or she has to say. In fact, you should try to limit their influence everywhere (here are 6 signs you’re dealing with a toxic person).

That said, only a small percentage of people are toxic. Most aren’t.

So how do you know you should weigh their opinion?

Here’s a question that has helped me a lot: ask yourself: Is this the kind of person I can build the future of the church (or my organization) on?

For some reason, that has served as an extremely filter for figuring out how to weigh differing voices.

To drill down further, I ask myself three questions:

  1. Are they aligned with our mission?
  2. What are their friends like?
  3. What’s their trajectory?

I wrote a full post about using those three questions to filter leadership here.

If you listen most closely to the voices that will help you build the future, you’ll have a better future.

4. Look for the Trends

It’s really easy to get lost in specific details when you’re assessing feedback.

That can be as simple as saying “Well, she said X at the meeting, but he said Y.” Or you can get lost in the comments or in an inbox and before you know it, your mind feels like mud.

But there are always trends.

In the end, that’s what our team looked for.

Which cover had the most positive ratings?

Which had the most negative?

What did the comments tell us about design revision for the next round?

We kept refining and making it better, and as we did, the winning cover design eeked out more and more positive ratings.

At the end, it had only a 9% negative rating, a 73% positive rating, and an 18% neutral rating.

Good enough for this side of heaven.

If you don’t look for trends, you’ll let the 9% of negative voices drown out the other 91%.

You’ll keep revising and revising hoping to hit 100%, which you won’t.

Too many churches and organizations let a tiny percentage of negative voices snuff out a positive future.

5. Make the Call, and Look for Consensus Later

The best buy-in happens after a decision is made.

There’s rarely a consensus around courage. Courage requires too much brawn to be popular.

Courage almost never finds consensus before a decision is made. Consensus around courage always happens after, when people see the results.

Whether it’s a phone with no physical keyboard, a ride-sharing service (What? You think people would share their own cars???) or video locations (people will never go to a church and watch a screen), consensus usually only forms after courageous steps are taken.

Too many leaders look for consensus on the front side of courage, which they will never get. And if you do get consensus, chances are you’ve already watered down your decision enough that it’s no longer courageous.

The Israelites always want to go back to slavery after they’ve been released. The desert is too hard, and the Promised Land is too far off.

You’ll never find consensus on the front side of courage. So just be courageous.

What Are You Learning

What are you learning about sifting through the many opinions you hear as a leader?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Keys To Sorting Through The Crazy and Conflicting Opinions You Hear As A Leader


  1. Greg on February 6, 2018 at 9:06 am

    This is gold- thank you so very much!!

  2. Gloria Okeke on February 5, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    Honestly, this is sooooo timely. Am going to share this. Thank you so much.

  3. Jo Ann Staebler on February 5, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    This is so timely. We canceled worship yesterday because of predicted road conditions (they didn’t materialize), so I wrote a “pastoral email” regarding three congregational news bits I was going to announce (music director resigned precipitously, young visitor to our tiny, elderly congregation just had a baby, and a long-time member who’s been ill is slowly improving). The only response I got was from a consistent complainer, who said nothing about the news, but called me out for not using the lectionary (I do 95% of the time), suggesting God doesn’t have to be perceived as only male (response to 1 Corinthians 8), and not always using the NRSV. My dilemma is how to let her know she’s been heard while staying on teaching side of the line between teaching and defending. You give some helpful suggestions here.

  4. PAHerrington on February 5, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    This is more gold bro. Wish I had met the current version of you 20 years ago. To your young readers and followers, I say read and heed. You are blessing an helping many. #consensusaftercourage

  5. Leon Burdette on February 5, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Great article! Going through changes right now in our faith family. I’m going to share this article with my Sr. Pastor and the others on our Staff Team.

  6. Glenn Garvin on February 5, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Your one thought, “There’s rarely a consensus around courage” was worth the read. Thanks for being vulnerable with your listeners/followers.

  7. Jo Anne Taylor on February 5, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Whew! I’m so glad you picked the cover I liked! A wise mentor once told me to strive for “thick skin and a soft heart” in ministry. This fits well with the first point. Your three questions to discern how much weight to give a person’s opinion (Consider the Source) are really helpful to me right now. Thank you!

  8. Josiah Kennealy on February 5, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Carey, this blog is gold for any young leader like me to learn from someone who has seasoned experience like yourself. Fantastic point about how if you want to get to the “promise land” you have to leave the “land of familiar” and that’s not easy. Many blessings to you!

  9. Val on February 5, 2018 at 8:14 am

    Thanks Carey, very helpful information. Great reminders,
    ideas and concepts I will try to use.
    By the way, I love the book cover!
    God bless you and your team.

  10. Matt on February 5, 2018 at 7:50 am

    Thanks so much Carey! Timing couldn’t be better. Going through these very same issues in my leadership journey right now and wondering if it’s the norm or just me. So glad to have some object perspective. Thank you for sharing, leading, and mentoring so many leaders! You keep us fueled, focused, and sane! Thank you!

    • Rick Cochran on February 5, 2018 at 12:39 pm

      Carey you are spot on! Can’t wait to read the book! Just shared this post with my Children’s Director. She has been sorting through the voiced opinions of others as she is taking our Children’s Ministry through a difficult transition time right now. You reinforced a new series and possibly a new book I have had simmering on my back burners: When Life Blind Sides You! It really is about dealing with the unforeseeable elements in vision as you move forward into that vision. Starting a new church and staying with it for a decade is an intense educational process for the visionary pastor! Thanks again, Rick

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