- Acknowledge everyone for their ideas, thought processes and contributions. I find the 2:1 ratio (or “dump truck” theory) can apply well here. If you’re going to give someone bad news, or criticism, it helps to first give positive reinforcement. A devil’s advocate should never criticize the person giving the ideas but it never hurts to acknowledge what the person did well.
- Stay objective. Don’t be skeptical of the people involved but their ideas. Bring up the idea as it affects the greater goal or purpose of the meeting, not as a stand alone issue.
- Clarify. Sometimes asking the right questions will bring clarity as folks have to answer them. You can also paraphrase what’s being, highlighting a potential pitfall. Ask if you understand the proposed idea and ask about potential future implications.
- Unless insightful, don’t feel obligated to speak. Historically, the role of devil’s advocate takes an opposing position on everything. Instead, I’d like to argue that in order to be more well received, wait until you have something insightful to draw attention to. Sure, the role becomes futile unless actively done but you run the risk of either upsetting your colleagues or making a joke of yourself if you refute everything. Actively listen with a skeptic’s view of what’s being proposed & discussed. Look for wholes in the evidence, potential pitfalls, etc. and bring them up as you can.
Don’t forget that it’s hard for the devil’s advocate too. To help embrace the role of devil’s advocate, the meeting leader should acknowledge when they’re doing a good job as well.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Elizabeth Pauker-Silva