Think about it…when someone in your group, social or professional, brings up an innovative idea, or reveals that they’re starting a new project, how do you typically respond? Do you typically encourage them, or are you the one who’s pointing out the issues?
I’m a lawyer, so I get paid to do the latter, but family members, coworkers, and other seemingly well-intentioned people often have their criticisms ready too, usually in the form of passive questions, like, “what are you going to do about ______?”
People call it “playing” Devil’s Advocate.
However, looking for reasons why things won’t work isn’t a good strategy for making them work. I often catch my lawyer experience bleeding over into other aspects of my life, giving my friends my thoughts about their idea, whether or not they were requested, regardless of whether I even know what I’m talking about. Most of the time it’s not even for the benefit of the person who told me the idea.
Everyone wants to experience that warmth — like they contributed to something — but the Devil’s Advocate is at the bottom of the totem pole. It takes no courage to say why an idea wont work. The Devil’s Advocate can’t even be held accountable for his or her criticisms, because he or she was only “playing.”
Furthermore, playing Devil’s Advocate is easy. Your friend or colleague may have been working on a bold, new idea for god-knows-how-long before telling you about it, or may have quit his or her job to go all-in on a new project. Therefore, when they finally bring it up, I implore you to focus on the positives and provide your friend or colleague with encouragement.
Next time someone is starting a project they’re passionate about, don’t look for reasons why it won’t work. Flood them with reasons why it will. If you question an idea or concept someone has, suggest solutions.
At every award show — the Grammy’s, Oscars, etc, you’ll probably see at least one winner thank the people in their life who told them they would never succeed at their passion. Maybe the chip on their shoulder really did inspire him or her to success, but the Devil’s Advocate got left in the dust.
Don’t be the one who’s just shooting down everyone else’s ideas. Bring something to the table.