Don’t you just love it when someone takes the Devil’s Advocate position? Most of the time they will say: “Just to play the Devil’s Advocate…..” yet sometimes they won’t share that tidbit. Then we are “off and running”!
What does Devil’s Advocate actually mean? It refers to someone who, given a certain argument, takes a position they do not necessarily agree with (or simply an alternative position from the accepted norm), for the sake of debate or to explore the thought further. In taking this position, the individual taking on the devil’s advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative discussion process. The purpose of such a process is typically to test the quality of the original argument and identify weaknesses in its structure, and to use such information to either improve or abandon the original, opposing position.
When used in a healthy manner, it can be exceedingly helpful in capturing most of the information necessary to make an informed decision. It can be an intense yet exhilarating experience. However, when used merely to debate or argue a point, it can be harmful and create riffs between individuals which often are irreparable.
People who need to justify their position, and have no factual information to support same, often will use this technique in that harmful manner. Those dealing with ethical, moral or addictive issues may utilize that technique to change the focus of the discussion in order to avoid examining their own actions….often like the sleight of hand of a magician.
Make sure when you utilize the Devil’s Advocate technique that it is used for healthy purposes. Pay attention to how and when others use the technique around you and become familiar with those times it is used in an unhealthy manner. Be aware of what the individual is truly attempting to accomplish. By keeping your focus on the topic at hand, you will be better able at deflecting the unhealthy interaction and solidifying your position.
Now, “just to play Devil’s Advocate”…….
“It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.” – Barbara Jordan