Never Attack a Naysayer

There is a process I have used over and over again to sort out people’s objections to moving in a new direction or adjusting course – it is called a consensus continuum.  On the consensus continuum you separate the value of an idea from the willingness to participate in moving the idea forward.  Often the continuum is completed anonymously, the exception being if someone is willing to lead the initiative be sure to get their name.

 There are many reasons people do not wish to support an idea.  They may be feeling overwhelmed.  They can’t see how their role fits with participating or they just don’t want to.  The continuum allows people to think something is a good idea without feeling like their consent implies a willingness to bring the idea into fruition.  

Years ago a group member came with a new idea that was well researched, had a lot of potential for the groups work and looked promising.  In the meeting after hearing all of the details and having a 30 minute discussion the tension in the room was palpable.  Things were at a stale mate. We decided it might be a good time for a break and just as we were ready to leave the facilitator suggested we complete a consensus continuum on the idea on our way to break.  The only thing she asked was if we were willing to lead to please put our name next to the numbers 9 or 10 on the participate side.   Coming back from break it was obvious to all of us what the issue really was.  Nearly everyone had marked the left side of continuum at level 8-10.  We all thought it was a great idea. On the right side of the continuum we were clustered in the 4-7 range.  None of us were willing to lead and few were willing to put any effort into making it happen. We decide to table it and look at the idea in six months to see if anything had shifted. In the change process you need to separate people’s level of energy to move on an idea from the strength of the idea. 

On the “Willingness to Participate” side of the continuum the phrase “I will not sabotage.” is strategic.   At best saboteurs are skeptics but at worst- which is often the case- saboteurs can be naysayers. Naysayers make it their business to shoot down people and ideas. Naysayers actively work against the idea publicly, privately or both.  As a leader it is critical you know with whom you are dealing. Your instinct is probably to ignore saboteurs or to bombard them with facts, data and research.  Take a deep breath and learn how to engage them in productive ways.

When working with a naysayer:
Be Yoda – use the force to engage their energy and move it in the direction you wish to go. Trust yourself and your idea, stay centered, and draw them into the conversation.

Be Atticus Finch – be prepared and of high moral character. Like Atticus stay even keeled, remain rooted in your beliefs and be prepared. A good attorney never asks a question they don’t already know the answer to - make a list of common objections you anticipate others may have and work through your answers ahead of time. The better you know the key players the better prepared you can be. 

Be Mother Theresa – be respectful and listen carefully.  At its heart, being respectful means showing that you value other people's perspectives, time and space. Being respectful comes with an added bonus even if the naysayer is narcissistic or a bully – being respectful will draw the rest of the audience to your side.  

Be Gahndi – link your idea to a higher level value. Keep your focus on the mission and values of the organization as a whole and know how your idea links to the traditions of the organization. Take full advantage of the opportunity to model how you are in control of yourself – stay on your game. The worst thing you can do - attack or become defensive because it feeds the negative energy they are spewing.

Be Mr. Rogers – keep it simple and recognize that if your idea is complex you will need to find ways to simplify the process and put time, energy and resources into supporting individuals.
Above all else remember you are always modeling the behavior you seek in others.


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