Want To Really Annoy People? Play the Devil’s Advocate

To the devil’s advocate: STOP IT! The devil is doing fine on his own, he does not need your help. 

Do you ever find argumentative people love to talk about the exception to the rule? Finding the one in a millionth chance and using it as “evidence” for what could happen. It’s a great way to stress yourself out. Also a good way to determine if one is a know-it-all. Do they like proving someone wrong by arguing the exception to the rule?

Why do we do it though? Why do we cause this undue harm on our minds always trying to determine “what’s the worst that could happen?” Sure it’s good to understand what’s the worst that can happen, but to act upon it, or be planning based on it is silly. If we’re constantly worried about what’s the worst that can happen we never look at what’s the best thing that can happen! Ever bring that up in a planning session? Probably not because optimism isn’t generally looked fondly on in the business community (until lately!)

What’s the WORST that could happen? What’s the BEST that could happen?

A part of our brains are built to do this, to protect us. But that same part of your brain telling you to run from danger in a dark alley is the same part that’s holding you back from doing something amazing. In ancient times running away from what scared us was a smart tactic but in today’s world we need to seek out what scares us and push through it. Playing devils’ advocate is a way to assess what’s the worst that could happen. They problem with this is that the “worst” rarely ever happens, but our brains love to focus on the smallest negative piece of feedback. So instead of finding a solution to the obstacle in the way we think about how bad the feedback was and we never move on.


Worry Warts 

Have you ever met one? They thinks the sky is falling when under ground? These people can’t get through much without a comment on what’s about to go wrong. Also known as “Negative Nancy” syndrome. If you focus on what’s going to go wrong, it does much more often.

Stop worrying about things you can’t control.

Defeating the know-it-all 

The reason people love to get their two cents in, is ego. When we can comment on a topic and produce a fact or opinion we think others look up to us more. If you can refute a major point the professor just made you’re going to get a shot of dopamine, you’re going to feel good. But like a young Jeph around the dinner table used to do, know-it-alls annoy the hell out of others. You don’t need to get your opinion into every conversation, let the other person have the final say for a change.

Correcting people when they’re wrong is a small way to make yourself feel smart.

The problem with this notion is that it’s false. Sure at first it feels good, but you’re trying to make yourself feel better by making someone look wrong. In How To Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie says if you’re trying to build rapport with someone you should never correct them during a conversation, even when you know they are wrong. The thought process? When you correct someone for something they said wrong it makes them look less smart.

Calling out a mistake in public is a blatant display of ego, try your best not to do it. 

It’s easy to disagree with people, it’s easy to be the devils advocate

You know what’s hard though? Trying to find the best in people and ideas, being Gods advocate (is that a thing?).

You know how easy it is to sit through meetings and pick apart ideas and tell others why their ideas won’t work? That’s simple, what’s really hard is the opposite. Finding beauty in others, having blind faith in someone you trusts’ idea, just to show them you support them. It’s easy to be negative and say “no lets do the same old” it’s much more difficult to say “yes, we may not be doing it right, lets try something new.” 

If you continue to argue the devils’ advocate eventually people won’t bring their ideas to you

Ever heard of the “culture” analogy about the monkeys in a cage with bananas high a top the cage with only a ladder to climb up to get the bananas? If you spray each monkey every time they try to climb the ladder to get the bananas, then introduce a new monkey to the cage, the older monkey won’t let new monkey up the ladder for fear of being sprayed. Lesson learned, you’ll bread the behaviour you get. If you bash new ideas and punish those who try new things and fail, you’ll get a team that’s afraid to do anything innovative.

Wisdom is about having empathy.

True wisdom is understanding the devils’ advocates’ position but mitigating against it 

Wisdom is about having empathy. Understanding another persons’ point of view, respecting them for that and still having the courage to form their own opinion. Being smart isn’t proving someone wrong, it’s agreeing with someone as well as getting them to see your side of it. Knowledge isn’t a one way street and the more you treat it like a competition the more annoying you’re going to be and the less wisdom you’ll actually gain.