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What to Do When a ‘Devil’s Advocate’ Tries to Derail Your Project

There is always one in the group. You know exactly who I mean, the one that opens their big mouth and gets everyone else in trouble. So what do you do with these overzealous people? In an article for Harvard Business Review, Joanne Cleaver discusses how to handle these “devil’s advocates.”

Sans Keanu Reeves

A devil’s advocate can be a great thing because they push people to view things differently and challenge norms. If there were never a devil’s advocate, women would still not be able to vote, amongst a myriad of other things. But handling these types of people can be a delicate affair. Cleaver discusses six tactics that help her retain and develop women leaders:

  1. Be armed with statistics.
  2. Show how the topic is a business issue.
  3. Take on the status quo.
  4. Challenge assumptions.
  5. Show how everyone gets a piece of the pie.
  6. Focus on goals.

Always be ready to answer a critique with definite numbers that support you. This will lessen the chance for talking back, because who can argue with math? Sometimes, a more abstract initiative is questioned because people do not believe it will deliver measurable results. If it is tackled like just another business problem though, elements of the initiative can be reframed as metrics to track and grow.

It is alluring to stick with what is easy and has always worked, but that is not always what is best. There are consequences with continuing as things are, such as a failure to progress and being left behind. Challenge the status quo.

People are quick to assume. The best way to counteract this is to redirect their attention to the true heart of the matter. If assumptions are being made, decide what actions will replace those assumptions with clarity.

Regarding Cleaver’s fifth point, she finds providing women with extra resources does not take anything away from men, and it in fact adds value to the organization as a whole. Everyone will reap the benefits!

People sometimes want to play devil’s advocate merely for its own sake. This is not always for the best when the kernel of an idea has already been demonstrably proven to be good. Instead, try to redirect the energy in the room toward merely discussing the best way to enact the idea. In Cleaver’s example, empowering women leaders will benefit the organization; there is no need to take apart and critique what has already been accomplished.

You can read the original article here: https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-to-do-when-a-devils-advocate-tries-to-derail-your-project

About Danielle Koehler

Danielle is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. She has degrees in English and human resource management from Shippensburg University.

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