4 Steps to Stop Your Rebuttal Brain


“You’ll never guess where I’m going next month!” my friend exclaimed with delight. She was right. Although we had been friends for nearly 15 years, I never would have guessed.

As she provided the details, my mind reeled with responses:

It’s not safe to travel to that part of the world alone!

Of all the beautiful places in the world, why would you pick that country to visit?

Do you know how many hours you’ll be stuck on an airplane?

What if you get sick?

What if you get lost?

You don’t speak the language…

This is not a good idea!

And on and on, my Rebuttal Brain ticked off all the reasons she shouldn’t go.

We all have a Rebuttal Brain. It comes with our human nature. Sometimes it’s driven by caring and concern. Sometimes it’s driven by wisdom and experience. Sometimes it’s driven by less than virtuous motives. All of the time it’s a stumbling block to open dialogue.

In our personal lives, it gets in the way of sharing, understanding, and support. At work, it gets in the way of teamwork, morale, and productivity.

Imagine a co-worker sharing an idea during a staff meeting. Your co-worker hasn’t even fully expressed the idea, and the Rebuttal Brains in the room are evaluating and shooting holes in it.

No way. Won’t work. We tried that.

In fact, some of us formulate the words to break the bad news while our co-worker is still talking.

Rebuttal Brains at work breed exclusion instead of inclusion, and stifle creative thinking. Employees are less likely to continue to offer ideas if their ideas are not given a fair shake or if they are not being heard. A “why bother” mentality seeps into the work culture, cracking the team’s foundation. They're also an example of immediate bias.

So, what can you do to wrestle your Rebuttal Brain into submission?

Try these four tips:

  1. Pause your thinking and reserve judgment. Relax and turn off your Rebuttal Brain. Turning off your Rebuttal Brain doesn’t mean that you stop thinking critically, or analyzing the information before you. It means you turn off the negative talk and reserve judgment while the other person is speaking.
  2. Actively Listen. Stop and listen with genuine interest. Seek to understand. Offer your full attention. If your mind is formulating a response about why an idea won’t work, you aren’t giving your full attention to what the other person is saying.
  3. Ask questions. Periodically ask questions to gain insight and understanding about the idea.
  4. Follow up with a W.E.T. test.  After the other person has fully expressed an idea, ask three simple questions to determine whether the idea holds water. Ask: How would your idea Work? Can you give me an Example? Can we Test your idea?

It’s never too late to stop our Rebuttal Brain. If you notice your Rebuttal Brain in action, pause your thinking and refocus your attention on the other person. Keeping our Rebuttal Brain in check begins with a decision to do so, and it becomes easier the more we do it.

As for my friend, I quieted my Rebuttal Brain and listened. She expressed her reasons for wanting to travel alone and her destination choice. I expressed my concerns for her safety. When we finished talking, I became excited for her adventure too – and, adventure it was. When she returned, she regaled me with stories of zip lining through a jungle canopy, getting lost in the countryside on a moped, and eating fried insects, monkey brains, and exotic seafood. She was delighted to cross an item off her bucket list.

While my friend would have gone regardless of my protests, stopping my Rebuttal Brain allowed for a meaningful, constructive conversation instead of a negative one in which I inadvertently dashed her enthusiasm. There are many opportunities in a day to turn off our Rebuttal Brain. Give your loved ones, friends, co-workers and colleagues time and space to fully express themselves. Turn off your Rebuttal Brain, encourage their ideas, open your mind, and really listen. At work and at home, we will all be the better for it.

Media Partners' How Was Your Day? highlights other ways to embrace diversity and inclusion, as well as overcoming unconscious bias, preventing harassment, and standing up to bullying. Click HERE for a preview.