3. Encourage debate. Dissent doesn’t always come when you want it, but your openness to other ideas shapes the environment as one that’s productive, rather than acrimonious.
4. Pick your battles. You’ll lose ugly and often when you go head to head on every pushback. Focus on the fights (aka discussions) that really matter.
5. Depersonalize the difference of opinion, maintaining focus on the project goal. Avoid personal pronouns.
6. Leave your fear at the door. Stay calm and confident. Devil’s advocates tend to pounce when they see weakness.
7. Mind the power of three. Ensure that it’s not just you and the devil’s advocate slugging it out. That’s the quickest path to an ugly standoff. An odd number of discussion participants eases decision making. Three (or five or …) is a balanced tripod, rather than a tug of war.
8. Embrace co-creation with a thank-you. You have it, whether you want it or not. Thank the devil’s advocate for testing the feasibility of your idea.
9. Have proof points ready — models from competitive and colleague organizations, stats, stories from peers in the field. Validation trumps opinion every time.
“A couple of years ago I was invited to be on a panel about social media at a managers’ retreat with our HR and IT folks, both of whom were very wary of what was a very new thing at the time,” says Bobbie Lewis, former director of communications at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. “The week before, I had attended a wonderful workshop focused on why organizations should allow employees access to social media on the job.
“I came to our retreat armed with objective, specific stats and stories (versus my colleagues’ vague worries) that opened their minds and built their confidence,” Lewis adds. “I blew them out of the water.”