No one likes the office naysayer – the person who always says that new ideas won’t work or who has a negative spin on every new suggestion. That leaves people who happen to be good at seeing potential problems coming down the road or spotting the holes in a plan in a tough situation. How do you speak up without being seen as relentlessly negative?
You can bring problems to the surface without getting a reputation for being the office Eeyore. You just need to be careful and thoughtful about how you do it. Here’s how to say, “That won’t work” without seeming like a constant naysayer:
- Ask questions. Instead of “we can’t do X because of Y,” try asking, “How do you think we could handle potential issues from Y?” Of course, make sure you say this in a genuinely collaborative tone; you don’t want your manner to convey “Y is obviously insurmountable.”
- Say something positive about the idea you’re shooting down. You can often soften criticism by noting a genuinely valuable element within the idea, as long as you can do it without being obviously insincere. For example, “It would be great if we were able send all the interns to the conference in Las Vegas! I bet they’d get a lot out of attending, and would appreciate being included. I think it would be tough to budget for it though, since we’re already a bit over what we’ve allocated for the event, but I really like that you’re thinking about ways to ensure they feel like part of our team. Maybe we can look for ways to do more of that, even if we can’t send them to events.”
- Suggest modifications. There might be good reasons to point out that something isn’t practical, but you’re less likely to seem like a chronic naysayer if simultaneously suggest modifications that could make it work. Or, if you can’t think of any reasonable modifications that would make an idea more feasible, it can still help to simply say, “But I wonder if there’s some way to modify this to get around those issues.” In other words, you’re not saying “nope, we can’t do it”; you’re playing more of a collaborative role and saying “let’s look at how we might be able to make it work.”
- Frame your concerns as setting the idea or project up for success. Instead of “We can’t do that because of X,” try framing your input as “One thing I think we’d have to figure out is how we’d handle X.” For example, “To give this the best chance of success, let’s figure out what could go wrong so we can avoid those things. For instance, I could see one possible roadblock being X. Do you have thoughts on how we could avoid that?”
- Pick your battles. If you know that you tend to end up being the check on others’ ideas, give people more breathing room when the stakes are low. If you think something isn’t a stellar idea but it’s not likely to damage anything, cost large sums or money, or create opportunity costs by drawing lots of energy away from more worthwhile projects, it might make sense to hold your objections. And who knows, it might turn out that the idea goes better than you thought it would!
Facing your own challenges overcoming objections while trying to implement change? Read the free eBook, 3 Key Steps to Effective Change Management.
Image courtesy of Eeyore Quotes about Rain