How to Play Devil's Advocate and Still Win People Over
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself; therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” ~George Bernard Shaw
In literature and films, non-conformists are celebrated. They are whom George Bernard Shaw referred to as the “unreasonable man,” people who march to the beat of their own drums.
In contemporary society, the truth may lie closer to what Journalist Mignon McLaughlin once wrote:
"Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers."
The so-called “troublemakers” also go by the labels: misfits, contrarians, rebels and as in my own case, “pain-in-the-ass.” Even if you do not classify yourself as such, it is safe to say that at some point in your career and personal life, you have played devil’s advocate.
If you rock the boat, it is the quickest way to alienate others. When you attack people’s ideas, they tend to take it personal because their self-worth is on the line. And when someone’s self-worth is on the line, they will react the same way as a cornered animal. They will bite.
Outside-the-box thinkers are so focused on getting their ideas out to others that they sometimes forego protocol and other rules of engagement. When this happens, others perceived them to be lacking interpersonal skills. Certainly, being abrasive or inconsiderate defeats the purpose of introducing new ideas, influencing a different outcome or motivating people to effect change.
So the next time you want to introduce a world changing idea, keep these pointers in mind in CHART-ing a more effective communication.
Employ Charm. Charm is that “Je ne sais quoi,” an elusive quality that draws people to you. There is no one magic combination but many. The one I appreciate is a combination of self-confidence, humility and self-effacing wit.
Use Humor. Humor’s another elusive quality. What may be funny to some may be offensive to others. Use humor judiciously. Know your audience.
Here’s an example of one that hit its mark. A morning news anchor wanted his producer to do away with beginning nearly every story with, “while you were sleeping.” In one staff meeting, he joked, “Hey, I’m just a talking head with great hair but are we assuming too much for saying that our viewers are sleeping? Unless we have spy cams in their home, we don’t know for a fact that all of them are sleeping at 3:00 AM.”
Authenticity over Affectation. The sophisticates among us can elicit emotions from themselves and other people. They are called actors. Kidding aside, if you come across as genuine, even people with polarizing positions will appreciate your passion and commitment.
Be Respectful. Avoid a knee-jerk response and take time to formulate your ideas before speaking your mind. When your views run counter to the majority, you must take care to convey them in a manner that does not lessen another’s dignity.
If you have an intuitive understanding of how much ownership people attach to their ideas, beliefs and values, you will exercise caution and thus, master diplomacy. At the heart of diplomacy is respect. It’s about maintaining the relationship and protecting another’s dignity. It’s thinking about long-term gains rather than short-term wins. It runs counterculture to an American way of thinking.
First, Earn Trust. People are willing to give you greater leeway when you have worked to earn their trust. After they have come to know of your integrity, people will be slower to react with anger, resentment or jealousy. It isn’t that people mistrust new ideas; it is that they have yet to trust the person behind the idea.
- Being Present
- Getting Off the Couch
- Life Lessons from Sports
- Mental Clutter
- Overcoming Challenge
- Overcoming Sadness
- Positive Attitude
- Positive Self-Talk
- Pushing Limits
- Taking Action
- Time Management