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Dealing with Naysayers

October 19, 2022

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Who wants to deal with employees always opposing or dismissing the actions of an employer?  No one wants to consistently hear negative feedback.  No one wants to hear “I told you so” either.  Yet naysayers play an important role in the organization, and if harnessed properly can add value to leadership messaging and actions.

As Josh Ritter points out, many times managers look at naysayers as bad employees, not team players, and a bad influence on the organization.  Many times these naysayers are good performers, but considered as having an attitude problem.  So, what are the naysayers really complaining about? 

When managers come up with a new “path” for growth and development of the organization, naysayers may likely see the future of the actions taken to go down the new path as harmful as opposed to adding value.  Managers need to understand these arguments put forward and develop messaging that will sway and gain the trust of the most resolute.  By understanding the criticisms and engaging the naysayers to overcome their objections, these employees could be determined leaders down the new path.  The naysayer is the one who can help transform the culture.

Naysayers keep management honest by forcing them to examine and explain in ways that employees can understand, not only the outcome, but the path to the outcome.  Egos get into the way, and no one wants to hear “it won’t work.”  Therefore, the messaging has to be turned around to “how do we make it work?”  The turnabout engages naysayers in the new direction the employer wants to take. 

A top-down organization is not the most effective organization.  Without checks and balances, the organization will not grow and will not engage employees into that growth.  A naysayer is a check and balance.  Naysayers are usually naysayers because they have their vision of the future, and unless they can be convinced otherwise, they will be a thorn in the side. 

In some cases, organizations have laid off those employees to bring new ones on who have not bought into any messaging.  These new employees, it is believed, can be molded and shaped into the “good” employee for the new path.  Yet leaders need to put some action behind their words to convince naysayers that they are not dealing with the new flavor of the month.  There are too many business books with similar messaging framed differently.   Naysayers are not stupid; they just need to understand the why and how. 

Leaders need to listen to what they have to say and acknowledge their concerns.  Don’t just say that’s so and so and that is how they always are.  Engage them.  Ask them for solutions.  Make them owners of the new paradigm. Josh Ritter identifies the positive of engagement:

Leaders need to realize where the roadblocks are, where the hiccups are, where the push back will come from, where the back-channeling will happen and why, where the communication breakdown will occur, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, why people will not be on board with their vision.

With this type of leadership approach, managers can make more lasting changes that should have a strong residual for the organization.  Not every naysayer will buy in, and that is a different issue for a different day, but engagement will keep leaders and messaging honest and clear.

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