Dealing with naysayers at work

Dealing with naysayers at work isn’t always easy.  We all come across them, those people either in our team, or in the broader business who do nothing but throw a wet blanket over everything we say or do.  They are the people who will always tell you why something can’t be done.  They may be Managers, or peers in the business who are not part of your project team.

What is a ‘naysayer’

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a naysayer is “one who denies, refuses, opposes, or is skeptical or cynical about something.”  This very much describes the behaviour of the people that we feel cause us a lot of grief on our projects.

They will be the first person to tell you in full detail why what you want to do won’t work.  They will provide you with all of the reasons for it not being possible to get the outcome that you feel is possible.  They will give you all of the information on how things have been done before to prove to you that it won’t work, even if you are going about the task in a completely different way.

How to spot a naysayer

I will make a generalisation that a naysayer is going to be the person who has been in your business the longest.  They will have a history of having seen things change, for the good or not so good.  They will have come up through the ranks most likely and now be in a management or leadership position, and that may not be the head honcho’s job.  They hold a lot of sway in the organisation.  They have a lot of contacts within the business/organisation because of their length of tenure.

They are ‘known’ by a lot of people.  Most people won’t cross them.  They may be the person that holds the key to getting things done in the organisation, even though when you initially look at them this is not the impression that you get.

Naysayers don’t like change

I have found that naysayers don’t like change.  They are scared of it.  Well, at least that’s what it seems like when I first engage with them. What I have found in actual fact is that they love change.  They are innovative underneath, and they also don’t like risk.  They want to be sure that what is being proposed will work.  They want things done in the simplest possible way with the least amount of disruption to either themselves or the people around them.

Tips for dealing with your naysayers

  • I have learned that my naysayers are my best advocates.  If I am open and willing to engage with them and have them tell me why what I am proposing won’t work, I then see where there are things that I either haven’t been aware of, or haven’t considered.  This, in the longer term has allowed me to come up with a better solution.  So, be friends with them.  Ask them to tell you why what you are proposing won’t work.
  • Test your solutions and ideas by taking them to them.  This is my best method of engaging directly with them.  I have found that they want to work with you to find a solution.  They will even help you come up with it, usually, as long as you listen to them and acknowledge what they are saying.
  • Use your naysayer as your knowledge holder.  I have had my naysayer in a room explaining to my project team why something that needs to be done must be considered in a different way.  They are great at explaining and will readily do it, as they have the knowledge and do understand.  Sometimes they understand a lot more and a lot better than you do.  You just haven’t realised it yet.

Why it’s worthwhile knowing your naysayers

I have personally found that if I make friends with my naysayers, get them involved and assisting me with what they are telling me won’t work, they have become my biggest and best advocates in the long term.  I have used them to road test ideas; brainstorm solutions and had them then be my testers for other things that I have worked on.  They will be your best allies if you only get to know them.