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Dealing with the Nay-Sayers
From Devil's Advocates to Debbie Downers
People want to follow the leader who can say with confidence, “Let’s do this—it’s going to make things better.”
We need to “focus on the fix” and be positive to keep up the confidence and morale of our people, but sometimes there’s someone who takes the opposite position and throws sand into the gears. What are we supposed to do with them?
First off, we need to listen to their concerns. Sometimes, they are insightful and right—we really should NOT do the thing. More often, though, they see a potential stumbling block, and if we can develop a contingency plan, e.g., “If that problem occurs, we could postpone step 3 until was can do this fix. Would that work?”
Sometimes, though, the nay-sayer is saying “nay” because of an emotional response. Do NOT skip that listening step, and really consider their concerns! Dismissing anyone as “too emotional” without that valid consideration is a HUGE morale-killer and respect-killer that will undermine you as a leader on your team.
If we have genuinely listened to their concerns and see that the plan itself isn’t a problem with the proposed plan of action, we should consider what is causing them to respond negatively. Are they already overcommitted and don’t feel they can take on their part in what you are proposing? Are they demotivated or burned-out and need to recharge? Is your proposed change going to make everything they have done for the past year obsolete? Is the plan unfairly asking a few people to do the majority of the work, but not rewarding their efforts? Did you explain the proposed plan in a way that didn’t give them a clear understanding of the steps needed and the benefits of completion? (I mean, YOU know why you want to do it, but do THEY? Really? Did you explain it the way YOU like to hear things, or the way THEY like to hear things?)
I’ve found that bringing in my potential nay-sayers as sounding boards before the general roll-out to “kick the tires,” and then considering and addressing their concerns works much better than rushing them into action or strong-arming them into reluctant agreement.