The Devil’s Advocate as a Godsend

June 29, 2009

i-want-you-speak-up-copyIn the workplace, there are a lot of tough decisions that get made every day.  Any project has turning points, any idea meets resistance, and any announcement will be taken differently by different people.  But some of the tougher decisions are made at the personal level, and they can affect the entire company.

One such decision is what I call the naysayer’s paradox.

Here is where this decision comes from: You are part of a team at work that is developing a new product or service, or even just a new strategy.  The boss is clearly looking to you for wisdom and insight, but wants to get this project moving forward sooner rather than later.  So an idea is developed and gets approved, but you are not a big fan of it.  Either you see some fundamental flaw that others have ignored or you think doing it a little differently could work better.  You know your boss just wants you to get behind the idea and push it along, but you feel the need to voice your “negative” opinion.  What do you do?

It’s a very difficult position to be in.  On the one hand, keeping quiet and getting the job done will put you in better standing with the team, with your boss, and with the company.  And though it may not be the best decision for the project, it might lead to higher morale, and maybe more money for you.

On the other hand, speaking up and playing the devil’s advocate might lead to a better product or service.  It might spark more discussion, iron out some of the flaws, or make the team more efficient.  But at the same time, it might not put you in the best position with the boss or the rest of the team.

In many ways, you may get rewarded for keeping your mouth shut, even though it means the project does not go as well as it could have.  This is an uncomfortable situation to be in.

But those people that do speak up are doing their company a service.
Though the short term affect may be negative, the long term impacts that getting the project done right will have far outweigh anything else.  Company’s benefit from opinionated employees who are looking out for the interest of the company as a whole instead of only their own career, even if the “bosses” can’t see that.

There is always a time to keep your mouth shut, but innovation happens when you open it.

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