7 Ways To Handle ‘The Naysayer’

Last week, I was at a great networking event in the Boston area.  The people who attended were my ideal clients.  Everyone I met was engaging and genuinely interested to learn about the other people in the room.  The food was fantastic.

I was really enjoying the event until ‘The Naysayer’ showed up.  Within 30 seconds, she told me I was in the wrong business and that I needed to watch this great video on why I was in the wrong business.

What the…???

I was floored.  She didn’t know me, my business, or anything about me.  I’d be surprised if she could pick me out of a line-up today.  But there she was eating crab rangoons, passing me her business card, telling me all the reasons why I was in the wrong business.

You see this Naysayer is an “expert” in organizational strategy.  She specializes in taking companies in new directions and I innocently told her that I had recently transitioned my business.

Big mistake!  This little bit of information gave her the right (in her mind) to tell me why I had done it all wrong.

Because I had transitioned my practice from one service business to another similar service business, I was doomed to failure.  In her opinion, the same reasons that I was unhappy in my last practice would follow me to my new practice.

Really?  I beg to differ.

What this woman couldn’t possibly understand in less than 1 minute of conversation is that I love intellectual property.  I love the law.  I want to help small businesses with their IP needs, and I know how to do that.

I just didn’t like how I was delivering my services, so I changed that.   Now, I am happier, and more energized and excited about my practice than I have been in years.  I love my business.  I love talking about my business.  I speak with more confidence now than I ever have before.  Why?  I believe in what I’m doing.

Even though I’m still fine-tuning my product offerings and I’ve hardly made any money, I know it’s a work in progress.  I know it will take me some time to get my message out to the right people.  Heck, it’s only been 2 months, but I’m starting to see where this thing can go and how it’s going to get there.

What the Naysayer didn’t know when she sat down at my table was that people at that event were responding to my message.  People wanted my business cards.  15 minutes before I met her, I was asked if I could hold office hours with college students at an entrepreneurship workshop in Boston (and that’s where I’ll be this Wednesday afternoon.)

She doesn’t know my history or why I do what I do.  She knows nothing about my business, so I ignored her.  I won’t be watching her video.  I won’t be calling her for advice.

When it’s a complete stranger telling you that you are doing it wrong, it’s easy to dismiss them.  Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not a stranger offering you unsolicited advice.  So, here are a few pointers on dealing with naysayers:

1. Ignore.

If you can do it, ignore the naysayer. It’s the easiest way to handle. If the person deflates you whenever they are around find a way to disconnect.  Lifting yourself up is hard enough without having anchors attached to your feet.

2. Don’t Discuss Business Details.

One of the most insidious questions is, ‘How’s your practice doing?’ The more you tell them the more opportunity you give them to find problems and the greater the chance they will.  These knit-picking naysayers are the worst because the negativity in their questions is usually disguised under a mask of ‘being helpful’.  Decide the amount of information you are going to share and base this upon any historical experiences you have with the individual.

3. Divert and Disarm.

It’s not a big secret. When you start building your practice it’s going to take time to earn money and build clientele.  However, everyone feels it’s their business to know how quickly you are turning a profit. It isn’t.

Change the direction of the conversation. If the conversation is heading towards,  “So how much have you made this year?“, ask them how their vacation was?  How is their newborn? Did they get that new client they were working so hard to get?  That should do the trick.  Divert and disarm often enough and you’ll become a master at this sleight of hand.

4. Is it Legitimate Interest? Grow Your Supporters.

Not all negative people are naysayers. Sometimes questions are inartful but the person is genuinely interested in you and your solo practice. If you do choose to tell them about your business share your journey in a positive way. By being optomistic you may also be inspirational and rally supporters (and possible referrals) because this person sincerely wants to see you succeed and believes in you.

5. Network With Positive People:

This is self-explanatory.

6. Share Your Successes However Small

The more optimistic you are when you talk about what you are doing, the quieter naysayers will become until they just about stop talking, at least negatively.  When you share your triumphs, whether a new paying client, negotiating your office space for a truly affordable rate, making a great connection, or presenting for the first time in court, these successes all matter and will start to matter to those around you, too.

7. Convince ‘The Naysayer’ They’re Off Base

I could have stayed and told this person she was totally off base, that my business was going well and I was the happiest I’ve ever been professionally, but she wasn’t worth my time.  However, there may come a time when I will have to do just this, let a naysayer know they aren’t exactly right. This may ultimately stop the naysayer from pressing their point and get them to back down or off.

This is sometimes a difficult tact to take and could go terribly wrong if the other person has a closed mind.  Choose wisely when you use it.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, a lot of you newly minted JDs and new solos will be sitting around the table with friends and loved ones who will (kindly) be giving you their opinion on your career.

They know you.  They can point to concrete examples from your past (i.e., remember that paper route when you were 12). They will be talking about the election, the economy, and why it’s bad for solos and small business.

They mean well, but they are talking about their own fears of the future, and trying to project them on you.

Even though it’s a little harder, try some of the tactics above.

Remember that no one really understands your career and the path that has led you to this moment like you do.

My advice is to thank them for being concerned for your future.  Tell them you’ll think about it.  If it’s appropriate, judicially fill them in on everything you are doing and what you have planned and do so in a very positive manner.  If they really want to help you, tell them what kind of clients you’re looking for and ask them for referrals.

Don’t let their fears be yours.  No one has a crystal ball that can tell you whether you will succeed or not. But you can control how you handle those around you and their impact on your goals.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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