Naysayers are a gift

change practitioner change resistance change skills stakeholder management Nov 10, 2022

Naysayers are a gift.

They have the courage to say what others are thinking.

But not every naysayer needs to be converted into an evangelist.

I made this misstep early in my career. It wasted a lot of energy and time.

With experience, I've learned which naysayers DO need to be onboard, those who:

  • Serve on the project implementation team
  • Lead or manage the teams most impacted
  • Influence others within a key stakeholder group

The system architecture for humans

How do you figure out whose opinions need to be shifted? A good stakeholder analysis early in a project.

This exercise can feel tedious for those who've never taken the time to map the relational aspect of their teams. It always becomes more clear on why it's important later on because it sets the stage for involvement and communication activities. Stakeholder analysis involves:

  • Categorizing groups of people
  • Assessing current understandings and beliefs
  • Targeting understandings and beliefs needed for the change to be adopted
  • Documenting who influences those groups
  • Identifying how information flows to and between groups

A stakeholder analysis is the system architecture for human beings!

The two best ways to influence naysayers

  1. Listen and acknowledge the feedback
  2. Get them involved

Fight the instinct to shut down negative feedback, especially early on in projects. It takes courage to speak up. Encourage any and all feedback so that perspectives can be understood. Often the person who speaks up is the naysayer who has influence with peers. This is a strategic opportunity to ask for more and get them involved.

How to respond

Here's an example of how to respond to negative feedback and turn it into an involvement opportunity:


Early feedback often involves addressing past change failures:

"The last time we put a system like this in place it resulted in a ton of extra work for our team."


Acknowledge and thank the individual for the feedback: 

"I hear your frustration. Yes, that last system change wasn't easy. This one won't be either, but we're starting prep work earlier. Including getting your feedback so we can anticipate what we might need after go-live to make it easier to use."

This opens the door to ask for more involvement:

"We'd love to have you involved in the previews and even testing the system to help us figure out those needs. Is that something you'd be willing to contribute a few hours towards?"


The acknowledgement diffuses the anger and the involvement request shows that you mean it. 


Within a team meeting this influences the individual AND the entire group that witness it. The negative feedback turns into a proof point that "this change will be different." It can be a huge credibility and trust enhancer.

Be ready for it by knowing which stakeholders will make the biggest difference in adopting the change Do your homework in the form of a stakeholder analysis.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash 

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