The Importance of the Confrontational Colleague

A few years back I read a newsletter highlighting marketing leadership advice and came across a quote that really stuck with me.

“The colleague who agrees with everything you say does not care if you grow. It’s the colleague who challenges you that is best for the team.”

This got me thinking about my approach as a member of the team.

Naturally, there are two sides of the spectrum. As mentioned in the quote, you have your run of the mill colleague: a person who is almost too agreeable, saying yes to every idea you have and everything that is asked of them. This person most typically does not feel comfortable using their voice or frankly does not care.

On the other end of the spectrum you have the confrontational co-worker. This person will disagree with everything you say just for the sake of disagreeing. Your ideas are never good enough, and they will always think they have something better to offer. This person typically feels threatened by you or is overly-competitive; trying to cast a shadow on your ideas and put themselves in the spotlight.

Ultimately, neither of these are ideal. While the colleague may be well-liked for being agreeable, they are not helping you or themselves when they don’t speak up. Adversely, the confrontational colleague may get themselves in the spotlight for a moment, but management often notices belittlement and that’s not the way to grow or collaborate within a company.

Enter the Confrontational Colleague. This person is the happy medium, smack dab in the middle of the spectrum. The Confrontational Colleague is the ideal member to have on your team. They respectfully challenge other teammates to be more competitive and think harder. They make everyone feel the need to contribute something and heighten the sense of urgency and thoughtfulness on the team. They play devils advocate, challenging ideas to ensure the ability to execute is there, too.

When trying to become a confrontational colleague, it may seem difficult to find the balance. It’s easy to end up leaning further in one direction than the other, and being thoughtful about what you say and how you say it is most important. Here are a few helpful tips on how to find the happy medium and become a more valuable asset to your team.

  • Read the room. There is a time and place for this type of conversation to occur, and it’s not during a company-wide presentation by one of your colleagues. Assert this type of thinking during brainstorming sessions or behind closed doors.
  • Always maintain respect. Never belittle someone for an idea, that’s how you halt growth and get a bad reputation. Maintain respect by listening and understanding the ideas that come across, appreciating what they’re adding to the conversation.
  • Play Devils Advocate. It’s OK to start a statement following an idea with ‘playing devil’s advocate for execution purposes…’ This will let your team know that the challenge you’re presenting is a question of ‘what if’ and cause them to think as a group.
  • Don’t get defensive. Delivery is everything; how you say things will measure how effective your challenge is. If someone get’s defensive with your opposing question, let them know you like and understand the idea, but you want to think through every possible scenario.

When done correctly, this approach to team dynamic and brainstorming should help your team find their voices and add a healthy hint of competitiveness. Most importantly, it will increase the quality of the work produced because every detail is being thought through. After all, an idea is nothing without execution!

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