Be a Contrarian with Grace

Every workgroup needs a contrarian.

People with different points of view, experiences, or attitudes move conversation and decision-making to a higher level. They aid in getting unconventional ideas and options noticed, comfort zones expanded, and results improved.

That’s the upside. Some contrarians can also bring things to a complete halt.

The Urban Dictionary defines a contrarian as “someone who automatically tends to take the opposite point of view from the person to whom they're speaking, or to disagree with society at large out of a sort of knee-jerk reflex.”

The trick to being a valuable contrarian versus being a pain-in-the-you-know-where one is orientation and attitude.

Are you being the contrarian because you have a “me” focus rather than a “we” one? Because you believe your opinion is always the right one? Because you love to argue just for the sake of arguing? Or, are you pushing for something important the rest of the group has failed to see?

When the Catholic Church determines whether an individual should become a saint, a person is assigned the role of devil’s advocate. It’s their job to poke holes in the evidence. Additionally, there’s also a “Promoter of Justice” whose role is to argue in favor of the facts.

Purposefully poking meaningful holes in a position or idea is priceless.  Being antagonistic just for the sport of it isn’t.

By design, there was a contrarian on nearly every team I lead. I wanted someone who was willing to shake up the status quo.

Their orientation and attitude had everything to do with whether their teammates were initially receptive when they shared a point of view.

Concepts introduced combatively or with an air of superiority were ignored or quickly dismissed. The disagreeable messenger killed his own idea.

Often they [contrarians] haven’t acquired the tactical skills of developing their ideas. They tend to blurt them out, making them hard to accept, or else they disagree with others in a clumsy way. ~Karl Albrecht, author

3 things contrarians with grace do

Pay attention to social graces. People instinctively pull back from comments laced with anger, bitterness and frustration because they feel like they’re being attacked. Your idea may well be the right answer, but if your present it with contempt, expect a cool reception. Learn to introduce and frame your ideas with tact and diplomacy.

If I see you as different and I view you with suspicion, or at the best with cold neutrality, it is unlikely that I will feel kindly disposed toward you. If instead I look at you knowing we both belong to the human race, both have a similar nature, different experiences but the same roots and a common destiny, then it is probable I will feel openness, solidarity, empathy toward you. In another word, kindness. ~Piero Ferrucci, The Power of Kindness

Think more about we and less about me. Present your thoughts less in terms of how they benefit you and more in terms of how they benefit the team, organization, community, etc. Promoting the greater good is good; hogging the spotlight isn’t.

Scientists have discovered that the small, brave act of cooperating with another person, of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness, makes the brain light up with quiet joy. ~Natalie Angier, writer

Keep sharing. Poking holes in existing thinking or advancing something totally new is what moves business, careers, and personal growth forward. Make your voice heard.

We have it in our power to change the world over. ~Thomas Paine, political activity

What tips do you have for being a contrarian with grace?