3 Approaches to Handle the Naysayers on Your Nonprofit Board of Directors or Leadership Team

We’ve all met them, been in meetings or on committees with them, and worked with them - the naysayer, the nitpicker, the Eeyore. Our initial reaction might be to ignore, resist, or remove them as quickly as possible so that we can move forward. After all, we have a world to save!

Remember, the Eeyores among us have good hearts and want to save the world, too. They just think it will take longer or be more difficult. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, nothing comes easy, and not all risk comes with reward. The naysayers and nitpickers aren’t necessarily bad news for a nonprofit organization, deserve to be heard, and could help us be better prepared to handle issues we might otherwise have anticipated.

Three simple steps can help to reap the benefits of the naysaying nitpickers.

1. Absorb the friction:

The naysayer can help to slow the big-idea, skies-the-limit attitude of the ‘do-gooder’, but that isn’t always bad – as long as you have plenty of enthusiasm and vision to embrace the hesitation and devil’s advocate opinions. When ideas begin to surface and the resident nitpicker chimes in to shoot down each idea with what might go wrong or why it won’t work or has a negative attitude in general – don’t ignore them, but be sure you have enough big-picture, yay-sayers to cushion the blow.

2. Offer equal time:

If you have established a discussion culture that allows and encourages equal time to all members to voice opinions, the negativity or hesitation of the perpetual critic will not lead to immediate deflation or abandonment of the idea on the table. Instead, it will be heard as one view among many. Consider asking these individuals to speak in the middle of the conversation, not at the beginning or very end. This allows for equitable, respectful consideration of everyone’s ideas without letting the natural negativity be the overriding atmosphere.

3. Focus on solutions:

While it may be easier to hear a concern or criticism from an otherwise positive person, allowing anyone to offer point-blank problems without presenting a positive comment and proposing an alternative approach, limits the creativity and problem-solving of the team. By creating a culture of solution-focused discussion, the entire team benefits.

Implementing these three techniques will ultimately create a culture of positivity and constructive criticism and lead to a more collaborative, respectful approach to discussions without putting undue burden on the individual whose mind jumps to the less than positive eventualities of any given idea.

Of course, sometimes one bad apple does spoil the whole bunch and we need to toss it out to protect the other apples, the barrel, and the pie.

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