What is a Devil's Advocate and How to Face It?

The expression" Devil's lawyer "Is a popular appellation that applies to any person who during a discussion defends a position holding concepts, ideas or phrases in which he does not necessarily believe. However, this is useful, effective or timely to be victorious in any oral or legal contest in which you are involved.

On many occasions, the devil's advocate goes against another argument in which he may believe but opts to defend the opposite side for some kind of interest. Usually assumes the role of the"bad"within the some discussion, mainly because it is not right and happens to be a contradictor of good causes.

The devil's lawyer used by one of the couples

In the same way, the term devil's advocate (defender of the other side) was used for a long time for the so-called"promoter of the faith". This appellation was very popular and was used in the old trials or processes of canonization of the Catholic Church, this denomination later suffered a change to"promoter of justice".

How did the expression"lawyer of the devil"arise?

Its beginnings go back to an office established in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V and abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983. The term appeared for the first time in the Catholic Church and at that moment it received the name of"Promoter of the Faith"(promotor fidelis).

This promoter of the faith usually was a clergyman doctorate in canon law and was in charge to object, to demand tests and to discover possible errors within the same ones with the purpose of to indicate the merits of the probable candidate to the altars like blessed or santo.

This was to decide whether the person in question was granted the processes of canonization and beatification that were carried out in the Church.

In reality, the real purpose of the person who carried out this office or position was to promote the law, to propose animadversions, to defend and to demand the legitimacy of the virtues of what would be suggested as a model to be imitated by the Catholic people.

At that time the so-called advocate of the devil was a kind of prosecutor who had to control that all steps and procedures are in pursuit of objections.

This process gave greater power and credibility to the processes of beatification since this person was dedicated to the search for arguments against sanctity, presenting the"dark sides"of the life of the candidates for saints.

Finally it was abolished by John Paul II in 1983 and after this was allowed the realization of almost 500 canonizations and more than 1300 beatifications, unlike the 98 canonizations of their predecessors in the 20th century.

Until that time, this function of prosecutor in the process was realized by the general promoter of the faith and this one had its own office within the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. This is most similar to a"ministry"commissioned and charged with the affairs of holiness.

How to deal intelligently with a"devil's advocate"

It may be unexpected or even common that you get to meet some devil's advocate on any project, situation or moment in life.

In some cases, the devil's advocates can become a good, because at times they seek to measure and develop the other person's abilities, challenge assumptions, help sharpen certain thinking, teach some morals, and so on.

Likewise, it is always good to know how to react and defend against these cases, so it is good to keep in mind the following:

  • It is important to show that it is possible for everyone to win in some way, not to attack what the other says but to look for the positive and turn the matter around.
  • A good idea is to take into account the possibility of obtaining some statistical data that is helpful, refer to tests, figures, quantities, etc. Tangible data that can help formulate and defend a good point.
  • Sometimes it is advisable to learn to turn the questions that the other person makes using the same skills to prove that the issue in question is solvable, because for everything there is a solution in this life.
  • It is always good to analyze the other person, study possible reactions and get ahead of it.
  • It is important to address the issues head on and without taboos, predicts the consequences of this and show the possible alternatives.
  • The main thing in this case is, as far as possible and depending on the case, focus on the shared goals, the most important thing is not simply to win a discussion when we face someone like that, ideally to look for the form to match at some point or If this is not possible, find a workable solution.

At what point should we act as a"devil's advocate"?

Day by day we face endless situations and, on many occasions, it is normal for us to be presented with a case where we may not agree very much with something. But because of the circumstances, we must act as a sort of advocate of the devil for our own good.

These situations are usually presented by social or work commitments. For example: if during a brainstorm at work a project arises and our boss blindly believes in it (but you do not), the idea is discussed and you are required to perform a series of activities or give opinions, but you as a subordinate do not You have the right to change the course of ideas or decide.

It is not easy to prove that the other person is not correct when she believes blindly in what she says, so in some cases she will play the devil's advocate because, although sincerity is always a good virtue, how can you Tell him he is wrong? Or in any case let him see that there are better ways or alternatives.

Therefore, it is important to take into consideration the following suggestions in cases where we do not necessarily want to be a devil's advocate, but it is up to us:

  • You should always listen very well before you continue to act, do not do things lightly or impulsively.
  • You should listen carefully to each part of what the other person says before discussing, it is never good to make haste decisions because you can go wrong.
  • To discuss effectively first you must be aware of everything that the other person raises, not draw conclusions ahead of time.
  • Patience is a great virtue. In some cases, the idea of ​​which you differ will be something temporary and you should not follow it because the same person will realize their mistake or that it was not so great.
  • The precise moment in which you must begin acting as a kind of devil's advocate is when an idea is already based, but you still think that it is not the best idea in the world and that it is not viable or can be improved.
  • The next step is to start building on the basis of the idea.
  • Do not concentrate only on finding the errors and failures of the same, take the time to consider that maybe there are alternatives or suggestions that beyond eradicating the idea, allow rather modify it, enrich it and improve it. In such a way, perhaps the concepts raised above will be in the background thanks to the valuable contribution you made and this without endangering the author of the other idea.
  • The moment you begin to create and build ideas (from the preexisting one) what you bring will be perceived not as an unfounded criticism against the idea or the author, but as a valuable constructive contribution.
  • You must take care of your tone and the way you communicate things.
  • Your way of communicating says many things about you, through this you can denote aggressiveness, haughtiness or the opposite.
  • Maintain a pleasant and friendly tone so that your new ideas or contributions are taken in a better way but at the same time maintains the firmness to demonstrate seriousness without causing problems or disputes.
  • The idea under all this is to be able to prevent that the creation of a bad idea materializes and damages the image of a certain situation or company.
  • It is not an easy role, you must act with caution at all times because depending on how you decide to act you can be congratulated for your contribution or on the contrary, you can project an aggressive image, threatening the rest of your colleagues and bosses.

In the end, the important thing is to learn to communicate in a real and efficient way, providing something valuable indeed; In the same way it is relevant to emphasize that one must learn to accept a"no"for an answer and that one does not always win.


  1. How was the devil's lawyer born? Extracted from: bbc.com.
  2. Meza, Mariana (2014). Become the devil's advocate. Excerpted from: profesionistas.org.mx.
  3. Did you know the origin of the expression â??? diabloâ?? s lawyer????? Extracted from: aulafacil.com.
  4. López, Alfred (2015). What is the origin of the expression the devil's advocate? Extracted from: blogs.20minutos.es.

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