Devil's Advocate Details

Devil's advocate is an idiom referring to somebody who takes the opposite view of conversation for debate. They provide opposition to test the strength of an argument and expose weak points. A devil's advocate doesn't necessarily believe the view they present, nor are they trying to win an argument. They are trying to see the situation from all perspectives.

Example Of Devil's Advocate

Companies can use a devil's advocate in high-performance teams for positive results. During meetings on workplace issues, having a devil's advocate can help team members process information more deeply. It prevents everyone from agreeing to the first idea that sounds like a good solution.

The goal is to be courageous in presenting opinions but remain respectful when playing devil's advocate. For example, challenge ideas, not team members. Instead of saying, "Your idea won't work," say, "Based on the last project we tried that idea, I don't believe it will work this year." If you do end up hurting someone's feelings, be sure to apologize afterward.

Significance Of Devil's Advocate

Playing devils' advocate can be important to identify flaws in theories or ensure you consider every perspective of a situation. For example, a group of marketers may have what they believe will be a successful commercial. By applying a devil's advocate perspective, they can remove themselves from the bias they have to the project. As a result, they might see how one commercial aspect can be offensive to certain people.

Playing devil's advocate can also help with anticipating problems before they occur. A presidential candidate preparing for a presidential debate can benefit from practicing with a devil's advocate. This process can uncover what the opposition might say and prepare them for the actual event. Lawyers can benefit from a similar practice before presenting a case in court.

History Of Devil's Advocate

Devil's advocate is from the Latin term advocatus diaboli and came into English in the 1700s. In 1587, The Roman Catholic Church would appoint someone the Advocatus Diaboli to examine an individual who the Church has proposed for canonization. Canonization refers to the official admission of a dead person into sainthood.

The Advocatus Diaboli's role was to identify and present facts against their candidacy, such as character flaws or misrepresentations of their life that made them eligible. This process exists to justify the candidate's merits. Pope Sixtus V was the first to establish the position. In 1983, Pope John Paul II removed the Advocatus Diaboli position from within the Church.

Although it used to be considered a prestigious position, today, the term suggests mischief and contradictory behavior. The expression used with the connotation we now associate it with first appeared in print in the 1760 humorous text Impostors Detected.

Devil's Advocate vs. Contrarian

Both devil's advocate and contrarian refer to providing opposing opinions to something. Still, there are slight differences in connotations and use.

A devil's advocate generally has the connotation of someone who is just arguing for argument's sake. They don't believe in the views they present but want to explore all perspectives of a topic.

A contrarian is someone who opposes or rejects popular opinion. They often believe in the views they present. The word contrarian can also be used to describe someone who acts in opposition to others. In contrast, a devil's advocate is limited to conversations. For example, in business, people who buy stocks when most others are selling can be called a contrarian.