A Case Against Playing Devil’s Advocate: Why you need to Be a Voice of Support, NOT a Voice of Reason
Have you ever received advice from someone that felt more like an attack? Has someone with the best intentions ever offered you insight that left you frustrated or potentially even angered? You’re not alone! Every week I encounter at least one person that believes they are being the voice of reason, when in reality they are just trying to be contrarian.
Many people, myself included, have attempted to be the voice of reason, but were in reality just eroding the other person’s excitement.
I recall a recent lunch with a good friend of mine. During our conversation he mentioned a new job opportunity that would potentially be a step up, but would involve a transition into another industry. Needless to say, he was very excited and optimistic about this new venture. However, there was something about this moment I couldn’t let go… I had to say something.
I started with a fairly inquisitive question. Something along the lines of what’s the company’s 5 year strategy? After a few more benign questions, I turned up the intensity. Quickly, I began walking through all the hidden problems and all the potential challenges that my friend might be confronted with.
Then out of the left field he cuts me off with “Can you just be supportive of this change I’m going to make?”
It was like a slap back to reality. I had become the same type of person I’ve fought in countless meetings. I was ‘Playing Devil’s Advocate’. In my attempt to be insightful, I had thrown water on the newly lit fire of hope within my friend. In my shortsighted effort to bestow wisdom, I had taken an exciting moment and trivialized it.
It was at this moment, I came to the conclusion that I can either build people up or I can break them down. Since then, I have decided to constantly make the conscious decision to be a person of support, NOT a voice of reason.
If you are anything like me, you’ve been confronted by these sorts of moments. Here are a few ways that you can fight being the voice of reason and become the voice of support.
1. Ask yourself “How can I positively impact THIS person?”
When in a conversation, look beyond your knowledge and insight and ask yourself what’s best for the person that is confiding in you. Think about how you can positively impact the person sitting across from you. Not trying to influence them, not trying to change their mind, and not pushing your own agenda. Only think about them and their emotional and psychological well being.
Actually listen to their thoughts. Chances are, they’ve already thought through many of the problems and roadblocks you would have pointed out. Highlighting the issues would only serve to frustrate and irritate someone that has already been overthinking their situation.
3. Ask if they want help! As it turns out, not everyone wants advice. Can you believe it?!
It took me many difficult conversations with my wife to realize that sometimes people just want to vent. There are times when people will share problems or challenges without the desire for someone else’s insight. Before offering unsolicited advice, make sure it is actually wanted.
Don’t try to be the:
4. Remember: No one thinks they are detractors or malicious or oppressive.
Many times it is the people that believe they are helping the most that end up doing the most damage. I want you to think of someone in your life that constantly telling you to keep your head out of the clouds, or continually trying to help you see potential problems, or the person that most easily bring the ‘voice of reason’ to your situation. These people often have no idea of the negative impact they have. Most times they think they are being helpful or ‘honest’ with you. While it is important that you limit their influence, remember they do not mean you harm.
Lastly, remember that there is a very good chance that you have become the ‘voice of reason’ on someone else’s life. Be aware of how advice could detract from someone else’s success.
In conclusion, work to be a person of support in the lives of those around you, not the voice of reason. Let the rest of the world play devil’s advocate.
Be awesome, stay awesome!