Be a valued contrarian

July 5, 2018
in Managing & Communicating

Boat rockers, contrarians, call them whatever you like—sometimes these people become office stars because their courage naturally attracts followers and admirers. But how do you assert yourself and effect change without being a mere irritant?

1. Know your stuff. If you don’t understand your areas of concern inside and out, your complaints lose credibility quickly. Be especially careful when commenting about the work of other departments, or procedures you don’t completely understand.

2. Bullet-point your message. Effective contrarians know how to edit themselves. They collect their thoughts before speaking or writing and always stick closely to the point.

3. Keep it all about business. People stop listening the moment it seems you have an ax to grind, or you’re generally just unhappy with others without being able to express why. Those in charge want to hear that you care entirely about efficiency and the bottom line.

4. Speak to the right people. Many boat rockers develop a negative image because they direct their suggestions at the easiest, least confrontational targets. You have to develop a sense of who has the ability and willingness to make change happen, and leave others out of earshot.

5. Get ahead of the issues. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis to talk about solutions. The contrarian who gets the most done is the one who sees a problem coming and works on those solutions in advance. “I’ve spotted a potential issue,” they say, “and here’s what I think we should do about it.”

6. Understand workloads. It’s easy to suggest overhauling something you deem broken when you’re not the one who has to engineer it. Remember that workplaces change slowly because each employee has pressures coming from all directions day to day—so if you want them to suddenly stick an iron rod into the cog of a system, you’d better be willing to fix whatever breaks yourself.

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