Tips for communicating with a contrarian
Recently, I had…or, tried to have, a conversation with a contrarian: a person who says white if you say black, no matter how they really feel. It’s a power move. It’s a control move. It’s a way, they think, of keeping you off guard enough so that they feel superior in the conversation. No matter what, you will never be in agreement because that would be too scary for them. A level playing field must be tipped in their favor, in their own minds–at all costs.
Does this sound familiar? I’ve met three contrarians who were so overt that I had to spend time thinking about how to manage the relationship from my side. One of them I could simply dismiss. The chances of seeing the woman again were slim, unless I arranged a meeting. So, that was easy. I just never bothered to have one-to-one time with her. The second was a person on a team that I had been brought in help learn to communicate, manage conflict and collaborate in more effective ways. That’s where the ideas that I’ll share in this blog were born. And, the third woman is my new next door neighbor. We’ll see how that goes as it’s brand new just now.
Interestingly enough, all three are women. That shouldn’t be a surprise as women are more covertly competitive than men on the whole. Sorry, ladies, but that’s true. Did you know, for instance, that the term “frenemies”–those people who treat you like a friend when they see you and stab you in the back when you’re not looking–are exclusively women. Men either like, tolerate or ignore you. They simply don’t have frenemies. It would be too much trouble!
[tweetthis]”Men either like, tolerate or ignore you. They don’t have #frenemies they’re too much trouble!”[/tweetthis]
So, what do we do with contrarians? Here’s a few tips:
- Ask their opinion before you give yours. Then you can find something to agree with, no matter how small. It increases the chances of finding alignment earlier rather than later.
- When they contradict you, simply says, “Tell me more.” This way you’ll find out what’s driving them. It’s good to remember that you cannot learn anything when you’re doing the talking!
- When you recognize that the person is simply doing anything to one-up you, ask a question that steps outside the conversation, a process question, like: “Do you think there is value in our continuing this conversation?” This breaks the cycle and could move to a more collaborative interchange.
- If the person indicates they see value in continuing, ask another process question rather than returning to the main issue, “If we continue this conversation, then, how do you think it best to proceed to find a collaborative solution?” When you ask a contrarian a process question, they have to take some ownership of the direction of that conversation. In the workplace, it had better be going towards solution, creativity or productivity, otherwise, it’s not valuable, time- or cost-effective.
- If none of this works, simply describe the situation as you see it: “When I say white, you say black. When I move towards your opinion, you change it. Gray is nothing we seem to be moving towards. What do you suggest we do as we are charged with solving this problem or finishing this report?” This is a way of removing the power dynamic from the conversation by focusing on the desired outcome.
- No matter what, when dealing with a contrarian contriving for control, STICK TO FACTS ONLY. Leave all feelings, guesses and assumptions out of the conversation!
I hope that helps. Let me know if you have a specific question that I can help you with. If you’re ready for relationship help but you’re not sure where to start, click here for a free half-hour consult.