Of all the strategies around us, whether you practice Theory X (dictatorial) or Theory Y (democratic) management style, perhaps the least appreciated by many, yet most important of all is the Devil’s Advocate. If you’re a born-again atheist, the first question that you’ll raise is – who is a Devil’s Advocate?
A scientific way to explain a Devil’s Advocate without using Google is as follows: Every human being, regardless of age, religion, political belief, and sexual preference is one who has an opposite view about anything that the majority support because many of them belong to the committee on silence or are simply too naïve to understand what’s happening around them.
In one short sentence, a Devil’s Advocate forces a proponent to explain the reasonableness of his idea in the hope of uncovering its problems. Some scholars, in testing a hypothesis would even recommend a formal process where half of the team takes on the evil role to debate the other half on the wisdom of a certain proposition. Even without a formal appointment, however, and in most cases, some individuals naturally gravitate to play such role without any special arrangement.
With or without formalities, the Devil’s Advocate allows a constructive method in viewing a certain idea from several angles that ultimately produces the best possible decision than massive carbohydrate overdose.
But what pushes some brave souls to challenge ideas, even if it appears that they will not benefit from it all? Oscar Wilde may have the answer: “We are each our own devil and we make this world our hell.”
No, I think I have a superior concept: “For those who say nothing is impossible, try talking to nincompoops.”
Now try this simple trick at home. If you have a dog, buy him a treat and you’ll be amazed at the way it will dance and swing its tail to your affection. Never mind if your neighbors complain about the barking. The lesson here is monumentally interesting. If you don’t have anything to offer, notice the silence of the dog.
If you don’t have a dog, try it on your house help when your wife is not looking.
When you have been in management as long as I have (3,000 years, one month, and two days), you get used to some people making all wacky claims, such as you are forced to play the role of a Devil’s Advocate. As a journalist, I believe it is my supreme responsibility to help the business community learn all the possible buzzwords it needs to make their respective organizations flourish.
That’s why I rely much on writing as a hobby.
But that’s not all. I spend my free time enjoying the crowd of volunteers doing similar work for non-profit organizations. Many of them are sociable and intellectual groups than they appear to be in their Facebook profile. But some are exact replicas of barangay personnel, because their leaders and supporters appear like they don’t know what to do. I will not beat around the bush, but many of them have post-graduate degrees and yet they act and think like kindergartens.
I’m amused. According to one gossip, these people claim they want to help, while hiding the fact that they’re doing it to advertise their services. It’s called a professional prank or anything that struck you as truly hilarious when you’re looking for a comedy twist. But since you’re a mature professional, your wish is to put up a high-voltage fence to prevent nincompoops from attending meetings.
That’s why in journalism, the first thing we do when we need to come up with another story is to check out related stories and to find out what brought people to end the agony of others. Then of course, to know more details, we play the role of a Devil’s Advocate, except that this time, we would usually do it like a diplomat so as not to antagonize people.
So my thinking is that you – management professionals out there—should encourage people to voice out their contrary views. Industrial democracy is a healthy way for people to contribute in promoting their respective organizations.
The question is how are dictator-managers preparing their workers for this? The answer is simple: I have no idea. You are your own boss. And you must know what to do under different circumstances. But what I can tell you is this: If you want to have the best decision ever, hire the best people possible, pay them above-average industry package, allow them to question your ideas, and empower them to do what’s best for the organization.
So don’t tell me dog training is not worth it even if my wife is against it for at least 7,845 times.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant trying his hand in humor writing. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.