What do you do when someone pitches you a bad idea? Is there such a thing as a bad idea? The SmartStorming Blog sums it up well: “As Osborn (considered by many to be the father of brainstorming) put it, we should suspend judgment. He did not say to eliminate it, just to suspend it. This would imply that we will eventually evaluate and judge whether some ideas are unacceptable, impractical, or simply off-target. But we must suspend that judgment until an idea has had a chance to ‘percolate.’”
There are many sources and types of bad ideas, including those contrary to the natural law, common sense and (of preeminent interest to us) Catholic teaching. The three generally go hand in hand! But how do you show care and respect for the dignity of the person suggesting a "bad" idea, encourage growth in communications and relationship development, and maintain positive team/family dynamics while still saying No? Consider the following...
You Must Listen
First, listen to the idea in its entirety. Are you in a decision-making role, advisory role, or not the right person to engage? If you are the decision maker, ask clarifying questions. Try to understand WHY the person is proposing the idea. What aspect of the challenge at hand do they think it will address, or what benefit do they feel the idea will bring? Are they looking at the issues from a narrow, personal, or broader, inclusive perspective? Who are the stakeholders involved? Have similar ideas been tried and run into difficulties? How were they addressed? Are there inherent controversies or political agendas that don’t align with mission and purpose?
Consider the Proponent
Let me interject a word of caution here when following up to learn more about the idea and the motivation behind it, be self-aware of whether you are genuinely engaged in enabling a Better Yes, or just looking for justification to say No. How invested is the person themselves in the idea? Are they likely to change their mind if they sleep on it or have the task and expense of implementing it? Active listening, demonstration of respect, and encouragement to keep looking for ideas and solutions may be more important to the person than the acceptance of the specific idea itself!
Dissect the Idea
Once you actively listen and consider the proponent, can you provide a Better Yes by addressing the base need or achieving the desired benefit by suggesting alternatives, modifying the idea, or resolving apparent conflicts by separating parts of the idea spatially, temporally, or functionally? It’s okay if the answer is No. In Mathew 7:9, Jesus says: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” By the same token, what if someone asks for a snake, scorpion, or something harmful to them, the business, or the community? There are circumstances where a simple, clear, kindly spoken, no fuss No, enables the person to seek a Better Yes by facing a challenge or enduring a sacrifice needed for growth.
Prepare a Defense
So, what do you do if after you have listened, proposed modifications or alternatives, or politely explained why the idea is not tenable at this time, the person's ego and pride make them fixated, adamant on pursuing the idea and looking for conflict? First, buy yourself some time. Have you prayed for yourself and the person suggesting the idea? A confessor once gave me a suggestion I truly appreciate and find to be wise – pray to your Guardian Angel and theirs. Doesn't that bring a great image to mind? Our Guardian Angels can be engaged and cooperatively help us work through conflict? Second, objectively outline the pros and cons and review them with a trusted advisor before re-engaging the proponent of the idea. It will help your confidence and ability to articulate your position succinctly. Third, know your rights and who you can escalate to or request additional support from that may help tip the scale.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Anscombe Bioethics Center and similar organizations are fantastic resources for finding clear position statements for controversial issues (transgenderism, abortion, euthanasia, etc.). The Hour of the Laity: A Lay Catholic Conference by Tepeyac Leadership Inc. in November will also provide valuable resources for you! #THL2023 #WhyTHL.
If you have approached the situation with an open mind and prayerful heart, trust that God will walk with you on the journey, guide you and support you, for even He says No or Not Yet sometimes in order to enable a Better Yes!
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