When you have an employee who questions your decisions, you can choose to see them as a negative grump, or you can follow the advice of famed organizational psychologist Adam Grant and generously reframe their perspective as one coming from a “disagreeable giver.”
This is the recent advice Grant gave a reader named Fortuna about their question, “Do you think you should hire only or mainly people who are aligned with your purpose?”
Grant’s response? Not every hire should be a skeptic about your mission, but it behooves you to hire some of them. “Hire too many people who are passionate about your mission, and you’ll end up more vulnerable to groupthink and tunnel vision, and more resistant to change. You get zealots and evangelists with blind faith in your purpose, who never question the side effects and unintended consequences,” he cautioned.
Why being disagreeable at work is a good trait to have
Grant is suggesting that being disagreeable at work means that you are an independent thinker who will not follow the status quo. Disagreeable employees are likely to be the employees who are going to spot problems before a people-pleaser will. They may be more willing to sacrifice likability with doing the right thing.
“Every workplace needs at least a handful of people who aren’t committed to the organization’s mission. They’re the ones we can count on to anticipate the harm the mission might do—and take action to prevent it,” Grant wrote. He cited the tobacco company Philip Morris as a company that could have been helped by disagreeable givers helping the company make the pivot to a “smoke-free future” sooner.
Why being disagreeable is still a risk
One word of caution before you start challenging your manager to a dual to show your commitment to integrity: there is still a risk of being seen as disagreeable. One reason why more employees are not disagreeable givers, even if their thoughts are one big question about the company’s mission, is that it can look good if your boss thinks about organizational psychology, but it can also backfire based on who you are. One 2012 study found that being disagreeable helped men get seen as a “tough negotiator” at work, while women who did the same behavior in the office were seen as “control freaks,” as lead author Timothy Judge, put it.
Until the advantages of being disagreeable are distributed more fairly and are recognized by more open-minded managers, proceed with caution, disagreeable naysayers. The world is still catching up to the important value your criticisms bring to the meeting.