Managing A Naysayer Without Ruining The Harmony Of The Team

Naysayers are those whose first reaction to anything is a NO. Managing a naysayer in team can be hard. They oppose every innovative idea proposed by anyone in the team. Team leaders and members get exhausted dealing with them. Many of these naysayers can actually be brilliant, hard working and driven workers. But the team leaders feel tired of constant opposition and their inability to take the naysayers on board. As a result, they stop paying attention to whatever the naysayer in the team is saying however valid and brilliant his suggestions are.

Why does that happen? There are obvious reasons for it. Repeated opposition is perceived as a conflict. Managing conflict at work becomes burdensome for team managers. Opposition is jarring and tends to slow down the team, team managers feel. Another reason why managers find managing a naysayer difficult is that disagreements feel personal. It does not feel good. Sometimes team members and leaders feel that the naysayers are opposing them just to score a point and derail the whole discussion. This could happen because of the cognitive biases of the team members and the team leader. At other times team leaders view opposition as lack of unity in the team. 

Naysayers can be valuable team members and if handled right, their contribution to the team can be enormous. There are effective ways that can be used to deal with conflict in a team and neutralize opposition.

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Whenever a new or innovative idea is to be presented to a team that has a known naysayers, it is always better to present it along with a couple of alternatives. These alternatives can be discussed first and it can take care of the NOs. Once the main idea is presented as the third or fourth option, there will not be much opposition to it.

How to handle a naysayer psychologically? One way is to take other members on board prior to discussing a new idea with the entire group. If all team members agree to implement an idea, the habitual naysayers will find it difficult to oppose it. It is equally important to not get defensive with the naysayer in discussions and also to not argue incessantly with him.

Leaders and team members can show greater maturity in welcoming a naysayer’s contribution without making it appear personal. A good way to handle conflict in a team is to actually ask all team members to consider and state reasons against the proposed change or idea. This way, opposition to an idea is normalized and made a part of the decision making process. Doris Goodwin states in her best-selling book, A TEAM OF RIVALS that president Lincoln had filled his team with opposers to create a more effective administration. 

To make the normalization process even better, all the team members should be encouraged to develop the skill to present counter views and share them. This equal participation in discussing opposing views takes the sting out of solitary opposition of a naysayer.  

A team leader should resist the urge to dismiss opposition to the new idea straight away even when he is absolutely convinced about the idea in the first place. He must pay heed to the opposing view. The naysayers should not be demonized either. 

Lastly, the most important step in managing a naysayer is to give genuine feedback to the person. The person opposing should know that his views were considered. The reasons why these views were not taken up should also be explained cogently. This works beautifully in dealing with any conflict in a team.

Successful team leaders realize the value of disagreements and counter views in arriving at good decisions. Yes they have to deal with initial reactions of dislike, conflict and disharmony when they handle naysayers. Great team leaders deal with this problem by separating the behavior from the person. All of it helps to build stronger and more productive teams.    


  • How to deal with no sayers of your team. Parul Bahl. 24 Aug 2019
  • Jennifer porter 30 Mar 2016. Harvard Business Review

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