Do You Play Devil’s Advocate? You May Want to Reconsider


By: Contributing Partner Judy Ryan

Too often I hear people say, “I’m going to play Devil’s advocate now” to which I quickly reply, “Please don’t. The Devil has too many advocates as it is.” Or they say, “I know you’re not going to like this, but I’ve just got to be brutally honest with you” to which I quickly interrupt saying, “no, you really don’t. In fact, you don’t ever need to be brutal with anyone, over anything.” Both these and other similar sayings are a big part of today’s massive interpersonal and intra-personal struggles seen in every corner of life; politics, religion, health, money, emotions, mental states and organizationally; in any situation in which two people can engage in conversation or behaviors that impact one another. Too often tendencies to be righteous, aggressive, pushy and to think it is our job to change and even save other people, are promoted as if normal and acceptable. Activism is much needed today but not the activism with these destructive rules in which: 

  •         Anything goes, including name-calling, hatred, closed hearts 

  •         Judging that others are wrong, inferior, stupid and bad 

  •         Trying to fix, convert, change and heal without invitation or permission 

  •         Punitive and painful behaviors launched as if viable and justifiable

There is a place for debate and intelligent dialogue but not when they are more important than the people and their worthiness, or their right to be respected and honored, one and all. Too many people associate being open, influential, and authentic with being mean, confrontational, and aggressive. They also frequently mistake respect, dignity and honoring with passivity. A commitment to maintain common courtesy and firmness while being respectful and purposeful, is always possible.

 I recently watched RBG, a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg as well the movie “On the Basis of Sex” on her life too. In both, I was struck by the fact that the people of greatest influence (whether you believe in their politics, philosophy or choices) have also been people who are strong in their convictions while refusing to aggressively dehumanize or bulldoze over anyone in order to live up to their convictions. Take Ginsburg’s friendship with fellow judge Scalia, including the warmth and professionalism they both have exhibited for years, despite traditional divides that remain between them. Consider her marriage to Marty Ginsburg, in which two such different people made sure to help one another become wildly successful, despite conventional norms of the day.


I would love to see activism (so important in our world) that follows guidelines proven to bring about positive changes that are powerful and lasting while being harmless, with the following non-negotiable guidelines. Thinking of the hallmarks of powerful, courageous activists who are emotionally intelligent, names like Ginsberg’s, Winfrey’s, Covey’s, Maxwell’s, Sinek’s, and Brown’s of today and the Gandhi’s, MLK’s, Mother Teresa’s, Dalai Lama’s and Nelson Mandela’s, to name just a few who immediately come to mind. These people seem extraordinary, but they are not.

They are:

  •          Mentally and emotionally mature and well, committed to be consistently strong and loving

  •       Seeking to understand 

  •        Resisting judging, fixing, healing, converting and over-powering people without invitation or permission 

  •        Respecting, acting trustworthy, and offering compassion and curiosity no matter what someone shares, believes or does

  •        Listening without arguing and refusing to exercise power-over, power-under; win/lose behaviors

  •         Fully informed and well-educated on the issues that matter to them

  •        Asking respectfully to be heard by others, without demands

  •         Regrouping again and again (with those who agree and those who do not) until trust is strong and solutions organically emerge

 The world needs emotionally and socially responsible leaders. These leaders are sometimes students in grade school or high school or those cleaning the bathroom every day. In fact, every one of us is called to be the best leader and the best follower too, so that together, we are able to build courage in one another. We need each other to face today’s challenges, speed of change and uncertainty.


Join me in being an advocate for good and encouraging ways that build up the people in your workplace, home and communities.

Contact me and let's discuss how we can partner to positively impact your Work Place Culture.


About Judy Ryan

Judy Ryan has been CEO and founder of LifeWork Systems, an award-winning training and consulting company specializing in culture transformation since 2002. She is author of the book, “What’s the Deal With Workplace Culture Change?”, a columnist on Emotional Intelligence in The Women’s Journals, a columnist on The Extraordinary Workplace in St. Louis Small Business Monthly, and a columnist on 21st Century Systems for Hispanic Chamber of St. Louis. Judy is also a human systems developer and consultant, trainer, coach, and keynote presenter, with guest appearances on TV, podcasts and radio.

Why People Hire LifeWork Systems?

Business owners, community leaders, and educators hire Judy Ryan and Lifework Systems because they want the advantages of an extraordinary workplace and recognize that a systems approach ensures consistency and sustainability. We have created assessments, a digital online training platform, processes, and systems integration to create the winning ticket for your business. Take our culture assessment and schedule your first consult session at no cost.  You can also contact Judy at 314-239-4727 or  

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