Benefits of attribution to office dialogue

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lauren Wright
  • 28 Bomb Wing Public Affairs
A good journalist will discern between fact and opinion when presenting a complete picture of an issue, story or event. So will a good Airman, I think. 

Everyone has an opinion, so the old adage goes. Whether it's regarding office policy or current events, finding someone to express their view is seldom difficult. 

Believing in an opinion and conveying it when making a recommendation makes absolute sense, especially when that opinion is based on years of experience and first-hand knowledge. 

Many people are influenced and make decisions through a constant flow of information in what philosopher John Stuart Mill called the "marketplace of ideas," where good suggestions rise to the top. We see this form of expression in the editorial or opinion sections of newspapers. Unfortunately, opinions get masqueraded as facts in our day to day conversations, which can cause leaders and Airmen, to make less informed, and  potentially costly, decisions. 

For example, an Airman who wants to re-train may have a supervisor who tells them, "Personnel won't approve it." This statement has potential to make a big difference in this Airman's decision to pursue an alternate career. If this statement is rooted in opinion, an Airman has the right to know. 

Sometimes it's easy to figure out when someone is expressing their personal view or views based on personal experience. "I think this should happen," they say. Or, "When I was at my last base, we did it this way." Sometimes the facts are hard to find, and sometimes we are too lazy to confirm them; I do not think this gives us license to speak as though our opinions are fact. 

We owe our leaders and Airmen attribution. They may not have had the same detailed experience in a certain field or location. Attribution builds my confidence both in the information delivered and the person speaking. It ultimately helps me make better decisions, as well. 

It is important to note that I value opinion and so have the commanders I have worked for. They appreciate constructive input and occasionally ask for raw opinion. 

"What should we do?" they might ask. "Who do you want to win?" 

Opinion in response to this second question, albeit superficial, builds a comfortable atmosphere and can be incredibly entertaining. I find this form of information exchange to be valuable in learning about the members of my public affairs team. 

It is also important to identify speculation. If you are not certain, say so. A guess, even when rooted in experience and first-hand understanding, is still subjective. 

Not distinguishing a guess, speculation or raw opinion is misleading and not generally accepted in journalism. I try to avoid it in my office, as well. 

Opinion certainly has a place at the dinner and office table, but I think it's important that it's portrayed, at least in the latter case, as such.