Working with Naysayers – Does it hold up?

Seven years ago, I wrote about “the two kinds of naysayers” in a post titled: Leaders Know the Two Kinds of Naysayers. I wrote this because I was seeing a lot of leaders miss out on two things:

1) their power to make a difference, and

2) their responsibility to be a steward of their organization.

This mostly holds up, because I still hear that sentence “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” Leaders still get impatient when they hear what they perceive to be lazy thinking. And I still get impatient when THOSE leaders fail to realize that they are also being, dare I say it, a bit lazy when it comes to their reaction.

However, seven years later, here’s the one thing I’d revise. I no longer like my advice to say some variation of, “When a person constantly pokes at a situation, without being proactive before the meeting, it hurts their relationships with the team. I’m concerned that you might be falling into that; let’s talk about it.” That feels a little assumptive to me now, when I look back on it.

What I’d suggest instead is a variation on, “You raise issues and concerns frequently – this is usually helpful. The next step is to consider two things: Can you come up with ideas? Maybe not a full blown solution, but the next step. Or – what might you do if you were in my shoes? What is the impact you want to have on the team morale in general, and your relationships specifically? Sometimes, the ‘devil’s advocate’ can be misinterpreted as a constant naysayer. Have you thought about this?”

Then, be honest about YOUR current impression – it could be something like, “I sometimes wonder if you are doing this to be helpful or not, and I don’t like making that assumption.” Or, “I’m worried that if you don’t balance this out with some more proactive ideas or positive feedback, you might become your own worst enemy, and I don’t want that for you.”

People who lead still need to be thoughtful when responding to people who raise concerns. Resist the temptation to assume lazy thinking, and embrace the power of your position to guide people to better problem-solving skills.

Check out that original post to dive deeper. It holds up!

~ Alan

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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