Mr. Wells, meet your devil’s advocate

Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race. – H.G. Wells

4 reasons to thank the devil's advocate in your workplace #worktips #workideasWith all due respect, Mr. Wells, I’m not sure that I agree with the equation: adult on bike = hope for the human race. For years I’ve driven around my hometown and passed a man who rides a 10-speed … wearing a motorcycle helmet. With the face mask down. And it’s tinted.  I’m afraid I don’t have much hope there.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic about H.G.’s statement. I’m just challenging the notion that an adult on a bike is always a good thing.

I recall riding in a car with a co-worker years ago who spotted a bicyclist and shared the same sentiment as Mr. Wells. She thought it was great to see the 40-something man riding a Schwinn in the rain. She gave him credit for getting some exercise. I merely played devil’s advocate and questioned the possibility that this adult sporting street clothes and peddling away is forced to as the result of a revoked license due to a DUI. (Or multiple DUIs if you live here in Wisconsin. Pfft.) Sure my perspective could be deemed as negative. My colleague claimed I “ruined it” for her in the future. She would never be able to look at adults on bikes the same way again.  In this case, she was feigning her annoyance. But more often than not we get frustrated with those who challenge our point of view. It happens between children and parents. Between political parties. And, more often than not, in the workplace.  Like many of you, I’ve had my fair share of bosses who drove me crazy challenging every theory, position and proposal I presented.  And now that I think of it, remind me to call them to say thank you.

Here are four reasons to be thankful for a devil’s advocate: 1. Pushing your buttons can make you better. One of the most irritating people to be around is the person who disagrees with you only for the sake of argument. The person is non-committal to the opposing position. He just wants to upset the apple cart and irritate you, right? Remove the emotion of taking personal offense and look at it as an opportunity to learn. Be open minded to opposing views.  They may raise valid points that prevent you from making costly mistakes. They can also help you anticipate and prevent potential problems. If nothing else, those arguments can also help fuel your fire, inspiring you to become even more passionate about your position confirming your stance is the right one for you to take.

Check Out Your URL 2. You’re shoved out of your comfort zone. The times I grew frustrated with my bosses were when the validity of my opinion or recommendation was challenged. Perhaps it was when the statistics in my presentation were being questioned. Or I was being asked to rewrite an article to accommodate compromise.  The fact is, I was having to do something I didn’t agree with or support. I was being pushed out of my comfort zone – sometimes kicking and screaming. (To myself, of course. I’m not into making Career Limiting Moves.) But every time, after calming down, I would realize it was an opportunity to learn about compromise or adapt a new skill. Every experience, good and bad, whether you agree with having it or not, presents the opportunity for personal and professional growth.

3. You learn respect. I had the privilege to sit on a quality assurance committee where each of us had a responsibility to play devil’s advocate to each other. Doing so insured that every step in a process or procedure took all departments’ positions and scenarios into consideration.  Working with multiple disciplines made the experience educational. On numerous occasions what seemed like simple common sense procedures to me were far more complicated and could have serious ramifications down the road given others’ roles. The discussions and the devil’s advocates taught me to respect the experience and ideas every individual brings to the table.

4. You learn that disagreement and dislike are two different things. Just because someone argues against your position doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t like you. In fact, some people may challenge you BECAUSE they like you and want to help you grow as a professional. Many of the strongest devil’s advocates I encountered became not only the colleagues I most respected, but also good friends. Any good leader would tell you that “yes men” do them no good. The people who question conventional thinking and who aren’t afraid to disagree with the popular vote are the ones who often end up being trusted confidantes and sounding boards for leadership.

The next time a colleague, friend or family member starts the conversation with “I’m just playing devil’s advocate …,” try to remember that the chances of the person actually being evil are slim to none. (Hey, I’m not stupid. I know there are self-absorbed jerks out there driving their own agendas and you have to be weary of them.) Take the opportunity to open your mind, listen to opposing viewpoints, and consider others’ ideas. If we all did that, well then, Mr. Wells, THAT would give me hope for the human race.

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