Is there a word that describes someone or something that provokes indecision? "Divisive" is close to what I'm looking for. But that is generally used to describe a person or topic that splits people. The word I'm looking for is one that describes a person (or thing, I guess) who causes people to feel indecisive about something. Is there a good word for this?

For example, a person who might fit this description is a counselor who unhelpfully (or perhaps too helpfully) continuously causes someone to rethink a decision by presenting the positive and negatives of both (or many) sides.

  • 2
    "incites indecision" is an oxymoron; causes indecision would be better.
    – TimR
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:11
  • @TRomano, sorry, how is that an oxymoron? I don't see it. Indecision is a personal issue. Inciting indecision could be to create (or cause) indecision externally. Could you explain further?
    – eatonphil
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:18
  • To incite means to stir things up so as to cause someone to act in a harmful or aggressive way or in a violent manner; appealing to the passions: the opposite of the paralysis of indecision.
    – TimR
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:25
  • Haha I feel silly now. Thanks for pointing that out. I always assumed incite could be used neutrally.
    – eatonphil
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:34
  • 1
    “What’s the counselor doing?” ... “The counselor’s going to defocus.” ... “Both of us?” All seriousness aside, to the extent that such a person or behavior causes one to lose (or never gain) focus, perhaps some form of the word ‘defocus” would work: The counselor’s indecisiveness was contagious and defocusing.
    – Papa Poule
    Feb 12, 2015 at 16:48

5 Answers 5


Devil's advocate??



They might be called a muddler

A person who creates muddles, especially because of a disorganized method of thinking or working.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

ODO defined muddle as

Bring into a disordered or confusing state: they were muddling up the cards

You might also consider the verb obfuscate

Bewilder (someone): it is more likely to obfuscate people than enlighten them


The fairly obscure noun form is obfuscator, although that term is more commonly used for a software program that deliberately tries to make analysis more difficult.


Such a person can be said "to sow doubt" or "to sow the seeds of doubt".

  • While perhaps appropriate, this sounds really (KJV-esque) outdated.
    – eatonphil
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:16
  • Maybe to you, but not to a lot of people. It's a commonplace even if it had biblical roots. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – TimR
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:18
  • Haha I guess I was mistaken...
    – eatonphil
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:19
  • Here's a modern use: books.google.com/…
    – TimR
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:20

Probably confuse is close to what you are looking for:

  • To cause to be unable to think with clarity or act with intelligence or understanding; bewilder or perplex.

I'd say this person is hesitant or irresolute:

  • lacking decisiveness of character; unable to act or decide quickly or firmly - inclined or tending to hesitate.

  • wavering, hesitating, or irresolute


  • That is almost there. Irresolute is nice. However I don't think it completely captures the feeling of inciting irresolution.
    – eatonphil
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:10
  • @eatonphil - 'incite irresolution' suggests the idea of somenone actually telling you not to decide. I understand you are looking for a word to describe a behaviour that may affect people compromising their ability to decide. An irresolute or hesitant behaviour may cause that effect.
    – user66974
    Feb 11, 2015 at 15:15

Although your use of "inciting" in your question (and in one of your comments so far) implies that you view "indecision" as necessarily/always a bad thing to be avoided, I'll nevertheless risk the negative consequences of offering my opinion (and answer based thereon) that sometimes "indecision" is a good thing, especially when it causes one to think and reflect further before taking a dubious course of action or formulating a questionable opinion or "answer".

Your interesting question makes me think of two different teaching/learning styles. On the one hand, there's the "sage on the stage," who always gives the decisive, non-optional "answer" (Yes, it will be on the exam!), and then there's the "guide on the side," who rarely provides the "answer," but instead gives multiple options to think about as the Students are guided to formulate their own "answers." (I had mostly "sages on the stages," most of whom were truly awe-inspiring "sages" in every sense of the word, and personally, I prefer that style of teaching).

Anyway, in this positive, "guide on the side" sense of "inciting indecision," I imagine that the "too helpful" counselor described in your question had the intention of "provoking thought" by "inciting [your] indecision": = "thought-provoking."

(and regardless of the merits of my answer, feel free to consider "provoking indecision" as perhaps a suitable replacement for "inciting indecision" in your question)

  • While you are right that causing someone to reflect is not inherently a bad thing, I did mean to ask for a word/phrase that described a person who does this to such an extreme that this can reasonably be considered negative.
    – eatonphil
    Feb 11, 2015 at 20:16
  • 1
    Yes, I must admit that "provoking" looks much better in your question than it does in my "answer"! @eatonphil
    – Papa Poule
    Feb 11, 2015 at 20:25

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