Turning Naysayers Into Allies: How Successful Leaders Do It


Learn a new approach founded upon one simple question that can turn naysayers into allies.


Let’s Talk About Leading Those Disagreeable People

Inevitably, somebody isn’t going to agree with your decisions.

If you’re a leader, you’ll make lots and lots of decisions. Some will be easy, while others will be quite challenging.

Ironically, in both cases, there will be naysayers.

The easiest way to handle these people is to free up their future by inviting them to leave.

I say that with a healthy dose of sarcasm, knowing I’ve wanted to do exactly that dozens of times—maybe hundreds.

Play this option out a bit, and you quickly realize you’ve invited almost everyone to leave, leaving you without anyone. Of course, this also leaves you without anyone to naysay, but regardless, this is a terrible solution.

Let me suggest another option. But first, a quick example from my leadership life.

Pushing Back on a Volunteer Change

At Woodstock City Church, where I served for 13 years as lead pastor, we had many volunteers. For a long time, we had an “agreement” for volunteers working with children, students, and as adult small group leaders. This agreement was important as it clearly stated our expectations for the roles. It included things like social media expectations, substance abuse, lifestyle stuff, etc.

The most challenging expectation was for couples living together. We didn’t allow these individuals to serve in the aforementioned areas. 

Yet in children’s and student ministry, we had many volunteer roles that weren’t spiritual leadership roles—things like greeting new families, checking children in, and such. With this in mind, we decided to rethink our volunteer agreement, delineating between “leadership” and “volunteering.” Leadership roles were spiritual oversight, while volunteer roles were more guest services or production-related.

Before implementing this, we announced the pending change to our current volunteers. There were certainly some questions, but most people understood why we were making this change. However, not everyone was on board.

We had some skeptics, and I understood their concerns. Yet I didn’t believe their concerns were significant enough to warrant keeping people from “volunteering.” Serving is an integral part of growing in our faith. Opening up opportunities for people to serve while holding to our theological convictions was important.

I met with several of the most outspoken cynics. But rather than work to convince them they were wrong or afraid for nothing, I took a different tact. One that you should consider.

A New Solution: Try a Six-Month Trial Period

When facing a decision they don’t like, most people will simply take their preverbal ball and go home. “If this is the direction we are going, I’m leaving.”

I’ve heard that many times. 

Let me give you a new response.

Rather than escorting them out the door or trying to convince them they are wrong, ask them to give it six months before forming their final opinion.

This is precisely what I did with the volunteers who were frustrated with our volunteer and leadership agreement change.

Specifically, I said,

“I understand why you’re skeptical. I may be making the wrong decision. But after plenty of prayer and discussions with our leadership team, we believe this will work and will benefit many people in our church. Here’s what I’d love for you to do, though. Will you be willing to continue volunteering in our church in your role and watch how this goes for me? I need people watching closely to help me evaluate what’s working and what’s not. I need you to be my eyes and ears after this change. But, if you’re still skeptical after six months and believe we did the wrong thing, I’ll understand your leaving. But please don’t leave before we give it some time.”

Most people took my challenge to heart and gave it six months.

After six months, nearly every naysayer stayed.

More than that, one of my volunteer pessimists, whose primary concern was about couples living together and serving as greeters with children, was approached by two new volunteer couples (who were living together) three months into their tenure with a request: “Will you and your wife mentor us and consider marrying us?” 

Under our previous agreement, they would never have met the established volunteer who became their marriage mentor.

I know. This story is unique and won’t always happen.

However, what I do know is that most naysayers are afraid of something they think may happen. In most cases, their fears aren’t founded in experience but in the unknown. When we ask them to give it six months, we’re allowing the unknowns to become known. Moreover, we’re asking skeptical people to keep a close eye on the change for us so we can continue leading well.

Give It a Try

There’s no guarantee that everyone will give you six months, and there’s no guarantee that after six months, everyone will agree. But one thing I can promise is that this approach is far superior to showing people the door when they complain or attempting to convince them you are right.

Great leaders aren’t afraid to make hard decisions and allow people to evaluate the ramifications. We need to help people move past their fears of what might happen and focus more on what is actually happening.

If You’re A Church Leader, This May Help…

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