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Don’t Dismiss the Chronic Challenger on Your Team

05 Mar 2013 Posted by Ben Snyder CEO

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We’ve all encountered them: the chronic challenger. They don’t like this or that. Or maybe they do like this but don’t like that. They cause us angst because they don’t go with the flow and we can’t imagine how anything they say can be of benefit. We wonder why they have such a bad attitude all the time. 

You may think you understand  the chronic challenger type but you might actually be missing something. Chronic challengers have passion and seek a better way. When they complain their intent is not to sabotage your strategy or  immediate plans, they just see things differently. Their views are not those of the conformist and they aren’t inclined to go with group thinking. 

Finding Value in the Chronic Challenger

As a leader your job is to find the golden nugget of validity in what challengers are saying as every message has some truth. Think about our major societal issues: gun control, abortion, sexuality, and social programs – they are very polarizing. But, each side has some points that are valid or carry some weight. You don’t have to agree with the entire message; you just need to understand the golden nugget of validity. 

No position, decision, process, or strategy is without its imperfections. If you adopt this mindset,  you can gain value from the chronic challenger. Their perspective has insight that can season your thinking and let you know how solid the ground is you are standing on. 

To practice finding value in a challenger’s message, try this:

  1. Interview someone that thinks differently than you on a major subject.
  2. Seek to only understand. Do not try to convince them of your way of thinking.
  3. Try and understand their thinking from their point of view without any judgment.

This exercise takes a lot of effort and discipline but it will reveal information you previously never thought about. 

Dealing with the Chronic Challenger

Another thing to consider regarding chronic challengers is how leaders tend to discount their character, thus destroying the credibility of anything they say. This allows leaders to not take anything the challenger brings up seriously. This may make the leader’s job easier but here again it isolates them from different perspectives. 

Think about who you have discounted personally because of their frequent opposition. Can you remember saying to yourself “I’m not going to listen to Bob. He’s the one who uses up his vacation in the first half of the year and never has any for the holiday season”; “Why are you telling me this Susan? Blah, blah, blah. Everyone thinks you talk too much. Tell it to someone who cares.”

So how do you deal with a chronic challenger?  Recognize, from their perspective, that a portion of their view is valid. You don’t have to always change your thinking based on what they say but you do have to listen to them and understand their perspective. If you do this you have earned the right to have them listen and understand your perspective in return. Eventually the challenger will either back off or you will change your position. 

When the Chronic Challenger Stops Challenging

What happens if a chronic challenger goes quiet? Take notice and be alarmed, it’s not a victory. It means they have given up caring. They have been worn down and have decided to just go with the flow and will no longer give you a different perspective.  This is a true loss. Talk with your challenger and see if you can get them to care again. 

As a leader, being right is not as important as being aware. It’s kind of funny; the more aware you are the greater chance you have of being right. If you want the best for your organization or project put the time and energy into listening to your chronic challenger.

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