Sceptics are often seen as bright individuals ready to critically analyse any argument brought before them and using their skills at detecting patterns of behaviours to spy anyone attempting to deceive them. While a small amount of scepticism can help to save an individual from falling head first into every Ponzi scheme or ill-considered plan, scepticism in the workplace can be a particular challenge for management.
A sceptic will defend their perspective in any debate with skill and conviction, whether or not they have actually researched the topic in question. These difficult employees regularly question managerial decisions and actively resist changes to the status quo, turning meetings meant to be brief updates into drawn-out arguments. When job tasks or organisational culture must change, stressed out sceptics often become suspicious and cynical, reducing the moral, engagement, and job satisfaction of everyone they work with.
Managing a sceptical employee must begin with direct communication. Whether their scepticism stems from an over-inflated ego convinced that they are in the right or an innate desire to resist change, achieving an open dialogue is an excellent way to curb disengaging behaviours. Sceptical employees should be told that experiencing concerns over managerial decisions is acceptable, but should be addressed privately with management. If the sceptical attitude of the employee has already begun to sow the seeds of cynicism in the office, then the need for professional discussion regarding concerns with managerial decisions should be addressed with the entire staff.
When a sceptic feels that their concerns have been heard, they are more likely to listen to the fact-based research used to back managerial decisions. Of course, the facts presented should be as logical as possible, and whenever possible, free of loopholes that would allow a cynic to justify their resistance to the idea. Managers should remain prepared for the sceptic to present counter-arguments that will need to be further defended, and should provide sceptical employees with an appropriate forum for debate.
Presenting a new idea or task to a sceptical employee, and achieving engagement, is a delicate dance. The main message of the conversation must be clearly outlined and rebuttals formed for as many potential objections as possible before the conversation begins. Starting with a brief explanation of the goal and a breakdown of why the anticipated objections are incorrect can leave the sceptic with no choice but to listen.
Managers may have a significant amount of success if they simply ask the sceptical employee to justify their own position with verified facts. If they are unable to do so, the exercise may prove to be a humbling experience that will improve their attitude in the future. If they are able to provide evidence for their perspective, it may prove an equally valuable lesson to management regarding the need for employee input in decisions.
While it may seem easier to just give up than actually handle a sceptical employee, persistently working to increase their constructive communication will pay off in the long run. Asking the sceptical employee to actively work on their ability to take on a neutral position can go a long way toward curbing the negative behaviours associated with scepticism, and will increase the likelihood that they will engage with the organisational mission and use their reasoning skills for the good of the team.