Project Management

The Hunt for the Disagreeable Giver

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By Cyndee Miller

“Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”

This seriously ranks as one of the world’s worst management dictates. And finally—to my eternal appreciation—someone is calling out all those folks who have uttered the phrase.

“If people only bring up problems when they have solutions you’re never going to hear about problems,” said organizational psychologist Adam Grant in the opening keynote at PMI Global Conference.

Squashing any mention of issues creates a culture where people doubt themselves. And in that kind of environment, bold ideas are left to die—or they’re taken elsewhere.

So how do you build a culture where the next great idea is pushed forward instead of put down?

A lot of it comes down to who you hire, according to Mr. Grant. You’ve got to seek out the givers and avoid the takers. “Givers are trying to figure out, ‘What can I do for you?’”

Takers, on the other hand, are the ones who steal all your ideas and take credit for all the work. “If you let even one taker onto a team, paranoia will start to spread and the givers will stop caring,” he warns. “The negative impact of a taker on a project or team is usually triple the positive impact of a giver.”

Think the Lannisters on Game of Thrones.

But how do you suss out the takers? I mean, it’s not as if they self-identify in the interview process.

Mr. Grant’s advice? Ask the right questions. Think about the behavior you’re most worried about on projects—team members taking credit from others, for example—and ask candidates how often they think that happens. If a person’s answer is something to the effect of “deep down I think people are fundamentally selfish,” that typically means deep down they’re fundamentally selfish.

But don’t confuse being agreeable with being a giver. Agreeable takers are usually the people who avoid conflict. They may be nice to your face, and then stab you in the back.

In theory, agreeable givers may seem like the best allies. But in reality, they’re often too afraid to rock the boat when an idea strives to push the status quo. In reality, it’s the disagreeable givers who make the best champions of new ideas. They may seem gruff and tough. But they’re the ones who will play devil’s advocate, who will challenge and poke holes in your brilliant ideas—all because they have your best interest at heart.

Think Sherlock.

And once you get them on board, they’ll run through walls to make it happen.

“Disagreeable givers can’t wait to fight for a new idea and they’ll be more credible advocates,” Mr. Grant says.

Have you found your disagreeable giver?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 05, 2019 09:52 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Thanks for the support for what I felt was one of the stronger points in Adam's keynote presentation yesterday, Cyndee!

I found much alignment between his model of givers-takers/agreeable-disagreeable and Kim Scott's Radical Candor model.

Just as it is hard to create a culture which appreciates and recognizes the value of disagreeable givers, it is challenging to create one which safely cultivates radical candor.


Wow powerful notes love it, thank you Cyndee!

Great notes Cyndee, thank you for sharing this.

The agreeable giver starts from within because I believe it is a mindset where you believe that finding a solution is better than sitting and complaining about the problem. One should encourage a culture of coming with Solutions and when people have enough confidence it will become the norm and at that point everyone will be an agreeable giver. I am not sure if I was able to properly reflect what I meant but we are definitely on the same page.

A great post Cyndee, thank you...… but who is Professor Moriarty within that team...

Great article Cyndee, I am awed by how you can bring out all the key points of any session so well :)
Coming to the article, how can we bring out that disagreeable givers in our teams once they are hired?

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Very funny, Scotty. Now beam down my clothes.