Have you ever played Devil's Advocate? Have you ever had someone play Devil's Advocate (DA) with you?
The concept of a Devil's Advocate comes with some baggage. I'm going to unpack the role and offer a few tips on how to truly help others with your questions.
WHAT IS A DEVIL'S ADVOCATE'S GOAL?
DA's like to explore all sides before committing. They objectively question the world they are given, constantly thinking outside the box. Ultimately, a Devil's Advocate offers the opportunity to become more self-aware.
Their primary goal should be to help. The goal of playing Devil's Advocate should be to bring clarity.
WHY DO WE NEED THEM?
Even with simple matters, deciding can be stressful. I remember my Mom asking me, when I was a kid, what I wanted for dinner: a grilled cheese or a peanut butter sandwich. I was paralyzed, unable to choose. When she saw my difficulty she said, "Okay I'll make the peanut butter sandwich." That was it! Now I knew that I wanted the grilled cheese. Her statement said, "What if I made you a peanut butter sandwich?" And instantly, I knew my own mind. Seconds before I was confused, but after being questioned, I knew what I wanted. That's the magic of having a Devil's Advocate.
It's so great to have a DA, no matter the size of the decision. If that's true, then why don't most people seek them out intentionally?
THE YUCKY SIDE
But there's a dark side in the life of a Devil's Advocate. Imagine sitting down to coffee with a coworker. You tell them what's on your mind, the crossroads before you and that you're struggling to decide. Then, from out of nowhere, they parachute in, unsolicited, and challenge you! What the heck?! That was not the purpose of this meeting.
I've been on both sides. I imagine you probably have too. It can be fun to think through all the options but sometimes people just want to share.
Over the years I've helped many friends find what's really going on beneath the surface. But I've also had those wonderful times when we just share our hearts. And, I've given my fair share of unsolicited advice (whoops! sorry if I did that to you!).
That being said, here are some tips about how to better fulfill the role of a Devil's Advocate. And don't forget, I added some bonus material at the bottom!
Tip #1 - Ask Permission Always ask your friend, spouse or coworker (even child) if they'd like to hear other ideas or perspectives. Try, "Is it okay if I play Devil's Advocate with you?" or "Would you enjoy hearing some other ideas?"
Tip #2 - Begin With Gentle Questions Simple questions pave the way for the tone of your conversations. Try, "What if..." , "Do you think it might...?" or "Have you ever thought...?" These types of questions bring a sense of imagination rather than critique. It's an invitation to think differently, not a command.
Tip #3 - Role Playing Role playing takes away the stress. If someone misspeaks, they can try again. If it becomes a dead-end they can begin anew. This takes off any pressure someone might feel.
If you intentionally approach someone during the decision-making process, the other person is likely to feel respected and welcome your questions. Above all, be sure that your aim is to be helpful. I know I'm not the only one who can tell the difference between antagonizing and loving questions. In truth, if we called playing Devil's Advocate by it's true essence, it would be called brainstorming.
*BONUS: Three Polite Phrases To Refuse A Devil's Advocate
I admit it, I actually love to play Devil's Advocate. Ask any of my real friends. I also enjoy when someone plays it with me. But, like everyone, sometimes I just want my friends to listen.
We've all had a bum day at work or listened to kids complain one too many times. In those moments I need encouragement, not a challenge. So here are some phrases to get your started:
Phrase #1 - "I appreciate your desire to help me think through this, but I'm just not ready for that yet."
Phrase #2 - "Right now I'm just sharing, but maybe another time we can talk about it more deeply. Is that okay?"
Phrase #3 - "When the time comes, you're the person I'd want to help me consider the options. Thanks for being such a great friend and I really appreciate your patience while I get it together."
All of these communicate love and value for the offering. In most cases it's not about the question, but about timing. When poorly timed, a gentle challenge can feel like a rebuke.
In the end, you decide when to receive challenge.
Tell me about your experience with the Devil's Advocate in your life, good or bad!
Please comment below...