Reflexively Oppositional – The Leader’s Challenge

Posted: January 27, 2011 in change, leadership, life, ministry, perspective, productivity

Sooner or later every leader will have to deal with someone – or a group of someone’s – who are reflexively oppositional. Most of us know what to look for, but if you don’t, here are a few profiles.

  • The person who is against every idea, sometimes even their own.
  • The person who when presented with a any idea, first tells you all the obstacles or hurdles involved.
  • The person who during the implementation phase of anything new determines, at the first glitch, that the entire program is unworkable.

I could give you more, but you get the idea. There are some folks, that no matter what, will react negatively to any and ever idea, proposal or change. In a certain way, these folks can be helpful. We all need people who can look down the road and help us avoid some of the pitfalls. But mostly, without redirection, the reflexively oppositional are a drain our emotions, progress, and morale. As a leader, you need to know that the reflexively oppositional exist; they will curtail and undercut any opportunities for growth and development and then ultimately blame the leader when things don’t get better. If one thing is true about the reflexively oppositional, it’s that nothing is ever their fault. Now that you know that, what should you do? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Teach! Believe it or not, many of the reflexively oppositional have never been taught to brainstorm and develop ideas. Find a conference or teacher that can help Negative Nellies how to brainstorm. In the short term, at your next meeting, ask your team to bring $20 in $1 bills and you bring a large bowl. During the brainstorming session, whenever someone says, “we can’t…” or “that won’t…” they have to put $1 into the bowl. After about 6-months use the money to do something fun with your staff or buy gifts.
  2. Redirect! I did this just this week. When a new idea or initiative is proposed, make sure that positive comments are shared. As my wife says, “Any dumb dog can tell you why something won’t work.” Ask your team to give you 5 positive and possibilities before they can say anything negative. When someone complains, stop them, and say, “Now tell me something positive about __________.” People aren’t wired to think this way, so we have to be constantly redirected. The people on your team that can’t ever be positive will learn that you’re not a worthwhile destination for the negative.
  3. Project. As a leader, you must focus on projecting the positive. Sit down with a journal or notebook and map out all the successes you and your team have had, then remind people of them. This past week, I sat down and listed the successes we’ve had in my brief time at Redwood Church – building renovation, incredible small group launch, Men’s Fraternity, reconnection with our mission point in Haiti, relaunched Women’s ministry, increased mid-week attendance,  etc…. These efforts required prayer, time and hard work. Don’t lose them to the archives of memory. Keep them close to inspire you and your team.
  4. Give it Over. Many of the reflexively oppositional are so because they feel they are never listened to or don’t have enough influence in the organization. Therefore, give it to them. Give them a large responsibility and the freedom to run with it. Many an oppositional worker has been humbled by the experience of having to lead and produce something from beginning to end. Handing over responsibility allows them to unleash their full potential. And you never know, they may be a lion of a leader who just needed an opportunity. For this to work, though, they have to be responsible for all aspects of a project. It’s easier to gripe when you’re only responsible for 6% of a project. Give it over.
  5. Hire Differently. The simple truth is that you don’t want to work with everyone, regardless of their competence or lack thereof. If you’re in an industry that requires innovation or if you’re a possibility thinker, you MUST surround yourself with the same kind of people. You’re looking for “What if…” people, not “We can’t people.” We can’t people have never innovated an industry, grown a market-share or otherwise changed the world. You don’t want them! During the hiring process ask outlandish questions and see what responses you get.

The Reflexively Oppositional will always be with us, it’s our challenge to manage them well. Many Debbie Downers are critical-thinkers that organizations need, but their comments and affect need to be harnesses. Hopefully, leaders can help one another out.

How do you handle the reflexively oppositional in your organization?

 

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Comments
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sean Palmer, Sean Palmer. Sean Palmer said: New Blog Post, Dealing with the Negative Nellies in your organization: http://ht.ly/3LqBD […]

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