Recently I have read Give and Take: A revolutionary approach to Success by Adam Grant. It is an inspiring book and I found myself taking too many notes while reading it. Now I want to summarize my learnings, to internalize them, but also to give others access to it.
In his book, Adam Grant dives deep into the spectrum of altruistic to selfish personalities. Anyone, who reads the book, might be able to identify his or her own personal traits. It can differ in your personal and professional lives. Moreover, as Adam Grant shows, you can apply the principles of giving and taking even in companies or communities. The book shows and encourages the benefits of giving instead of taking. Furthermore it dives into the role of a giving personality and shows ways to avoid being exploited.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness” - Martin Luther King Jr.
You cannot apply it like a cookbook. Nobody wants to encourage a faking personality. But it certainly will help you to understand the principles of giving and taking personalities. Perhaps the book is a good incentive to change your behavior to the better.
The book had a lasting impact on me. I read it while I travelled Laos, got to know different volunteering projects and decided to donate money to it.
In addition, I was able to see the intersection of the topic to give and take and open source in software development. Contributing in open source can be a draining volunteering task. The book shows ways to prevent the burnout of giving that shows up too often for open source contributors.
Let’s dive into the learnings. Keep in mind that these notes are only a summary of my learnings from the book. They stand on the shoulders of interviewees, researchers, and obviously Adam Grant.
Givers and Takers
Adam Grant distinguishes the behavior of people into reciprocity styles. Two of them are givers and takers. The third one will be described as matcher later on. In addition, there are fine grained variations in each style.
Takers: “Takers have a distinctive signature: they like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interest ahead other’s needs. Takers believe that the world is a competing, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts.”
“If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs.”
“[Takers] feel entitled to pursue self-serving goals and claim as much value as they can.”
Givers: “[A giver is the] opposite of a taker […]. In the workplace, givers are a relatively rare breed. They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, offering to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them.”
“If you are a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs.”
“If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.”
“[Givers] might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return.”
On Being a Chameleon
Being a giver is quite common outside of the workplace. We act like givers in close relationships to our family and friendships. In the workplace, the principle of giving and taking gets more complicated. There a third reciprocity style emerges: the matchers.
Matchers: “[Matchers are] striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity.”
None of these reciprocity styles is fixed for yourself. When evaluating yourself, you will find yourself traveling across these styles. You will become a giver when interacting with your close friends yet become a matcher or taker in the workplace.
In the workplace itself, people find themselves traveling between these styles again. You might be a giver when mentoring others but be a taker when negotiating your salary. Yet you become a matcher when sharing experiences with a coworker.
“Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to make claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”
Givers and Takers on the Success Ladder
“[It’s] critical but often neglected: success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people.”
Research shows that givers are at the bottom of the success ladder. You might would expect that matchers or takers are at the top of the success ladder. Neither is true, because it is the giver again who is on the top.
“The worst performers and the best performers are givers: takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle.”
After all, there is a higher likelihood that givers end up at the top of the success ladder. One lesson by Adam Grant will show you how to become a champ and not a chump when interacting with takers and matchers.
The Long Run
A scenario from the book shows how a lawyer turned down to defend a client, because he knew that his client was guilty. In fact, he declined money by defending the client and walked away. Later on, people worried if he could make tough decisions, when he applied for a political position. They thought that he couldn’t be tough when he has concerns for others. But in the long run he earned respect for his decision.
People advocate you in the long run, when you are a giver, but they will be your enemies when you act as a taker. You want to collect allies in the long run and build up a reputation as a giver.
In the short run you make sacrifices for yourself for the greater cause. By giving and earning reputation and prestige, the giver style will play out to your favor in the long run.
In the book you will learn about remarkable people who were in the role of givers, acted to put the good of others or whole nations over their own ego, and succeeded in the long run. “It takes time for givers to build goodwill and trust, but eventually, they establish reputations and relationships that enhance their success.”
However, “In the long run, giving can be every bit as powerful as it is dangerous.” You will need to know how to prevent to end up at the bottom of the success ladder. Adam Grant gives plenty of advices in his book.
A connected World - Have a Marathon
“Being a giver is not good for a 100-yard dash, but it’s valuable in a marathon.”
Back in the days, it was more difficult to earn the fruits of being a giver. The environment was more slow paced and you had fewer connections to others. When you would send a generous or supportive letter to someone, no one would know and appreciate it. Most of the time your work dependent only on yourself, not on a team, like it works in companies nowadays.
Adam Grant argues that “in today’s connected world, where relationships and reputations are more visible, givers can accelerate their pace”. In a work environment, “teams depend on givers to share information, volunteer for unpopular tasks, and provide help.”
Adam Grant sees the opportunities in a team, where givers can demonstrate their value and have more opportunities than in the old world. Even in a service environment people depend on each other. You can only be a good lawyer, doctor or teacher when you have the best interest of your clients at your heart.
“The further [students] advance, the more their success depends on teamwork and service. Whereas takers sometimes win in independent roles where performance is only about individual results, givers thrive in interdependent roles where collaboration matters.”
The Transition into Business
When researchers conducted experiments about giving and taking values, they found out that giver values are the most popular values across most of the countries. But how can we translate these values in the world of business?
“I’m not looking for quid pro quo; I’m looking to make a difference and have an impact, and I focus on the people who can benefit from my help the most.” - Sherryann Plesse
However, Sherryann Plesse also sees the problems arising with giving: “I want my primary skills to be seen as hardworking and results-oriented, not kindness and compassion. In business, sometimes you have to wear different masks.” To wear different masks prevents givers from being givers at work. They have to adjust their reciprocity style. Givers become matchers or even worse takers.
Givers are fearing exploitation by takers in business. Robert Frank says: “By encouraging us to expect the worst in others it brings out the worst in us: dreading the role of the chump, we are often loath to heed our nobler instincts.”
In his book, Adam Grant divides the interactions in the workplace into four key domains: networking, collaborating, evaluating and influencing. These domains happen to be the domains where givers can thrive. It all concludes to benefits that givers enjoy over matchers and takers. Maybe you are a matcher yet want to become a giver after reading the book. The next lessons learned will be about these key domains.
Givers and takers grow and manage their networks differently. “While givers and takers may have equally large networks, givers are able to produce far more lasting value through their networks.”
LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman once said: “It seems counterintuitive, but the more altruistic your attitude, the more benefits you will gain from the relationship.”
Reid Hoffman supports this perspective: “If you set out to help others, you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities.”
The Faker in the Network
How to approach networking, when you can’t distinguish a giver from a taker? The common sense is that givers protect their networks from takers. Takers know the strategy of protection of a giver and act as fakers: pretending good will to get access to a giver. They can become givers or matchers, but by faking it they are still takers.
“Although takers tend to be dominant and controlling with subordinates, they’re surprisingly submissive and deferential toward superiors. When takers deal with powerful people, they become convincing fakers.” says Adam Grant.
“Takers may rise by kissing up, but they often fall by kicking down.” Takers are worried how they are seen the upward management chain, but not how they are perceived from their coworkers or subordinates. “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
How to spot a Taker
Takers are more likely to use first-person singular pronouns: I, me, mine, my and myself. Givers use words like we, us, our, ours and ourselves.
In the past, for instance, it was possible to distinguish taker from giver CEO by comparing annual reports. They used first-person singular pronouns and used a larger photo of themselves than their giver CEO counterparts in the booklet.
In addition, the number of people in a network was relatively manageable compared to nowadays. The reputation of each person was transparent for everyone. Nowadays the networks got larger. By using social media and other networks, the interactions became dispersed and anonymous. Reputation became less visible.
Yet it became possible to track down the reputation from another person. All the information is available when the other person is not careful with his/her sensitive information. Howard Lee says: “Nowadays, I don’t need to call in to a company to find out about someone’s reputation. Everyone is incredibly connected. Once they make it past the technical rounds, I check their LinkedIn or Facebook. Sometimes we have mutual friends, or went to the same school, or the people on my team will have a link to them.”
Punishing the Taker
When working with identified takers, givers and matchers punish their behavior for being unfair. Before having an imbalance in a collaborative task, givers and matchers decline the cooperation in favor of punishing the takers. Adam Grant says that it is not about revenge, but about justice.
“If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed.” Whereas matchers punish takers for their behavior, they act generously when they collaborate with a giver.
Growing a Network
Networking guru Keith Ferrazzi has written: “It’s better to give before you receive.” The advice is useful for every reciprocity style, but takers exploit it by offering proactively “favors to people whose help they want in the future”.
Matchers are vulnerable in networking, because they act on quid pro quo. They have smaller networks than givers and takers. Givers and takers have equally large networks.
Takers grow their networks to shine and gather proactively opportunities to take. Givers grow their networks to help. They do it without potential payoffs. Adam Grant concludes that there is no prediction who can help us in the future.
Waking the Sleeping Giants
But what are the benefits of being a giver in a network of people? When speaking about relationships, Adam Grant distinguishes between strong and weak ties. Strong ties are your family, close friends and colleagues. Weak ties are the people you know casually. From whom would you expect more in return? Research shows that people benefit more from weak ties than from strong ties.
Strong ties stay in the same social circles. They share the same opportunities. Weak ties give us access to different perspectives and opportunities. “It’s possible to get the best of both worlds: the trust of strong ties coupled with the novel information of weak ties.”
The important strategy is reconnecting: “It’s the major reason why givers succeed in the long run.” Dormant ties, as Adam Grant explains it, are connections from the past that are inactive.
In a research experiment, executives had to contact dormant ties that were not active since 3 years to seek advice. Afterward they had to rate the advice. The advice by dormant ties was rated higher than the advice from current ties. “The dormant ties provided more novel information than the current contacts. Over the past few years, while they were out of touch, they had been exposed to new ideas and perspectives.”
Since dormant ties are inactive, the amount of them grows over time. Eventually the pool of dormant ties gets bigger than weak ties and enables givers to access these opportunities. “Dormant ties offer the access to novel information that weak ties afford, but without the discomfort.”
“Dormant ties are the neglected value in our networks, and givers have a distinctive edge over takers and matchers in unlocking this value.” It is fairly difficult for takers to activate dormant ties, because people might be suspicious of their reputation and actions from the past. Instead they might punish the taker. “If a taker’s self-serving actions were what caused a tie to become dormant in the first place, it may be impossible to revive the relationship at all.”
Matchers have it easier than takers to reconnect, but they are uncomfortable doing so. Because of their reciprocity style, they would owe one back. In addition, their connection relied on a transaction rather than trust.
Dormant ties of givers appear to be more grateful for the reconnection. It turns out that generosity and kindness earns trust.
When plotting takers and givers on a network map, “takers were black holes. They suck the energy from those around them. The givers were suns: they injected light around the organization. Givers created opportunities for their colleagues to contribute, rather than imposing their ideas and hogging credit for achievements.”
Entering the 5-Minute Favor
One strategy of being a giver in a network was revealed by Adam Rifkin who has written 265 LinkedIn recommendations for others. It summarizes as: Instead of trading value, givers aim to add value. The rule: “You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody.”
Another strategy, when someone seeks advice from a giver, is to delegate it to another person who might be able to help out. It turns out well, because the giver doesn’t claim any value for himself/herself but connects people.
It prevents burnout as a giver too, as you will learn later, because you have a tool to say no when too many people seek your advice. In addition, it spreads the norm of giving to other people.
According to Keith Ferrazzi, there is only one key to success: generosity. “If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.”
The differences between givers and takers can affect group success.
When givers succeed, it spreads and cascades to close people, the team in a company and whole organizations. Adam Grant coins it as the ripple effect, because it enhances the success of others.
“When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses.” Because of that effect, research shows that other people support givers and try to knock down takers. Adam Grant says that “the difference lies in how giver success creates value, instead of just claiming it”. As Randy Komisar says: “It”s easier to win if everybody wants you to win. If you don’t make enemies out there, it’s easier to succeed.”
Superstars vs. Rockstars
When speaking about superstars and rockstars, takers are superstars and givers are rockstars.
Takers are confident in their skills, they are confident to perform well on their own. But research shows that superstars, even though they trust their individual skills, had a decline in their performance when changing their employer. In conclusion, the performance always depends on the team. Even superstars rely on the expertise, creative ideas and information of their colleagues.
Independence is seen as symbol of strength, whereas interdependence is seen as a weakness. Takers lean towards independence, because they perceive themselves as superior and separated from others. “Givers reject the notion that interdependence is weak. Givers are more likely to see interdependence as a source of strength, a way to harness the skills of multiple people for a greater good.”
Putting the Group first
Givers expand the pie of success when they put the group first. A team that is contributing towards one goal will grow the pie of success for everyone that it can be shared afterward. Since givers don’t put themselves first, they often volunteer for unpopular tasks and offer feedback.
“When givers put a group’s interests ahead of their own, they signal that their primary goal is to benefit the group. […] Takers no longer feel that they need to compete […], matchers feel that they owe […]” and givers are even more encouraged to contribute.
When takers or matchers offer constructive feedback, they can make others stressed or jealous. But when givers give feedback, “they no longer have a target on their backs. Instead, givers are appreciated for their contribution to the group.” In collaboration, people tend to keep track of each members credits and debits. When acting generously as a giver, you earn a higher status and can deviate from group’s norms and expectations.
Matchers and takers miss out to give credit to others work. Because of that, they have a hard time in the long run. Givers tend to put the team first, they will mention every member’s contribution before they, when they do, mention their own contribution.
“When giving starts to occur, it becomes the norm, and people carry it forward in interactions with other people. […] When groups include one consistent giver, the other members contribute more. The presence of a single giver was enough to establish a norm of giving.”
Overcoming the Responsibility Bias
People tend to estimate their own responsibilities in a project as too high. On the other hand, the value contributed by others will be underestimated. This responsibility bias is a major source of failure in a collaboration. It happens often in the professional world, when a researcher doesn’t give credit for his colleagues or a team lead doesn’t credit the team but himself/herself.
As mentioned, all reciprocity styles, especially matchers, track credits and debits in collaborations. But givers don’t act with the intention to get credit in the first place. The focus lays on collaborative achievements. It shows that givers not even remember all the things they contributed.
“The key to balancing our responsibility judgements is to focus our attention on what others have contributed. All you need to Dosis make a list of what your partner contributes before you estimate your own contribution.”
As a giver, it is most often the modus operandi: “[givers are] incredibly tough on [themselves] when things go badly, but quick to congratulate others when things go well.”
In positive work environments, there exists a psychological safety that allows people to take risks and to fail. Research has shown that people in such environments learn and innovate more.
Givers encourage an environment of failing yet innovating at workplaces, because they don’t claim credit as takers or matchers.
When too many veteran givers or matchers are superiors, people are intimidated by them. But when givers lead the way, and they earned the role through generosity, people are not intimidated anymore. There is no feeling of competition and everyone contributes to a greater objective.
Beyond the Perspective Gap
Adam Grant argues that givers get beyond the perspective gap. Their empathy and the act of giving itself supports givers to put themselves into the state of someone else.
Takers on the other hand focus on their own viewpoints and contributions. They don’t reach beyond the perspective gap.
“Successful givers shift their frames of reference to the recipient’s perspective.” They ask themselves: “How will the recipient feel in this situation?”
Givers succeed by seeing the potential in others. Believe is one of the core concepts in mentoring and teaching. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Research with students and teachers showed that when teachers believed in their students, their students performed better. It didn’t depend on the intellectual level of a student. Even though the students made mistakes, teachers acting as givers created a climate of taking risks. It improved the learning and confidence of the students.
Givers encourage others to believe in their potential and set high expectations for them to succeed. By seeing the potential in everybody, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Takers are in no good position to teach others. “Takers harbor doubts about others’ intentions, so they monitor vigilantly for information that others might harm them, treating others with suspicion and distrust. These low expectations trigger a vicious cycle, constraining the development and motivation of others. Even when takers are impressed by another person’s capabilities or motivation, they’re more likely to see this person as a threat, which means they’re less willing to support and develop him and her.” It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy the other way around.
Matchers are more likely to use the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, but only when they see the potential in someone. They miss out all the people that don’t show the potential in the fist place.
Since givers treat everyone equally, they are optimistic and create a greater pool of potential people in their network. Adam Grant says that they see everyone as a rough diamond.
Chris Granger, executive at the NBA, says: “Talented people are attracted to those who care about them. When you help someone get promoted out of your team, it’s a short-term loss, but it’s a clear long-term gain. It’s easier to attract people, because words gets around that your philosophy is to help people.”
Each year companies spend huge amounts of money to identify potential in their future leaders. It builds up on the flaw that talent comes first followed by motivation. But as research shows, by seeing potential in everyone, the pool of talent gets bigger and by encouraging everyone the is potential to grow is unleashed. “It turns out that motivation is the reason that people develop talent in the first place.”
“As Malcom Gladwell showed us in Outliers, research led by psychologist Anders Ericsson reveals that attaining expertise in a domain typically requires ten thousand hours of deliberate practice. But what motivates people to practice at such length in the first place? This is where givers often enter the picture.”
In the end, it is not the talent or abilities of a person. It is the grit. It is the grit that givers see in their students. But as George Anders notes: “You can’t take motivation for granted.”
“Grit is a major factor to predict how close they get to achieving their potential.” In conclusion, gritty people are “where givers have the greatest return on their investment, the most meaningful and lasting impact.”
Investing on behalf of Others
Research shows that people “make more accurate and creative decisions when they’re choosing on behalf of others than themselves”.
Takers are more vulnerable to an escalation of commitment, because of their ego. Even though a project seems to fail and it gets harder to turn the ship around, takers invest even more into it regardless of the initial investment. In studies, it shows that takers in charge are willing to follow suggestions more likely when they feel less criticized. However, their ego takes over when they get criticized.
“Whereas takers often strive to be the smartest people in the room, givers are more receptive to expertise from others, even if it challenges their own beliefs.”
Givers see a responsibility towards their team, because they are dedicated to others. They are willing to work harder and longer, committing to grunt work if it needs to be done. “Givers focus more on the interpersonal and organization consequences of their decisions, accepting a blow to their pride and reputations in the short term in order to make better choices in the long term.”
Research “reveals that givers don’t excel only at recognizing and developing talent; they’re also surprisingly good at moving on when their bets don’t work out.”
Adam Grant argues that “there are two fundamental paths to influence: dominance and prestige. When we establish dominance, we gain influence because others see us as strong, powerful, and authoritative. When we earn prestige, we become influential because others respect and admire us.” While the first path of dominance ties to takers, the second path of prestige is favored by givers.
Dominance and prestige can be created by powerful and powerless communication.
Our communication is powerful when we show confidence. It can be expressed by how we choose our words or body language. After a while, powerful communication can be resisted by others, because they get skeptical. In addition, it gets more difficult for powerful communicators when other competitors - other powerful communicators - show up.
Powerless communication is the opposite: “Powerless communicators tend to speak less assertively, expressing plenty of doubt and relying heavily on advice from others. They talk in ways that signal vulnerability, revealing their weakness and making use of disclaimers, hedges, and hesitations.”
Adam Grant mentions several language basics in powerless communication.
- Hesitations: well, you know, …
- Hedges: kinda, probably, …
- Disclaimer: it might be not the best approach, but …
- Tag questions: that’s a good approach, isn’t it?
- Intensifiers: very, quite, …
Powerless communication earns prestige: “There’s no limit to the amount of respect and admiration that we can dole out. This means that prestige usually has more lasting value, and it’s worth examining how people earn it.”
Adam Grant recommends, but I can only agree, to read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. Powerful and powerless communication play a major role in the world of extroverts and introverts.
Sometimes it is hard to earn credit in audiences of knowledgeable, most of the time older, people. Whereas powerful communication can lead to even more scepticism in the audience, powerless communication gives you access to the people.
“Takers tend to worry that revealing weaknesses will compromise their dominance and authority. Givers are much more comfortable expressing vulnerability: they’re interest in helping others, not gaining power over them, so they’re not afraid of exposing chinks in their armor. By making themselves vulnerable, givers actually build prestige.”
In addition, the psychological pratfall effect can be used to gain prestige over dominance. Quoting Wikipedia: “The pratfall effect is the tendency for attractiveness to increase or decrease after an individual makes a mistake, depending on the individual’s perceived ability to perform well in a general sense. A perceived highly-competent individual would be, on average, more likeable after committing a blunder, while the opposite would occur if a perceived average person makes a mistake.”
It supports the notion to appear approachable for the audience, even though you are an expert in your field. Instead of widening the distance between you and your audience, you get closer to them. The effect is one of the strategies to create a Psychological Safety in collaborations when being the expert in a team.
Regardless of a personal conversation or discussion in a group, takers are more likely to talk. When takers try to sell something, people get suspicious by their powerful communication and get defensive to avoid being tricked.
Givers lean towards listening instead of talking which establishes the opportunity to get to know the needs of others. Givers naturally adopt the listening aspect in in powerless communication.
In the service industry you can see the difference. Salespeople who are takers are more likely to talk in order to sell their product. Salespeople who are givers will listen and adjust the product to your needs.
An optician who sells glasses ones said: “I don’t look at it as selling. I see myself as an optician. We’re in the medical field first, retail second, sales maybe third. My job is to take the patient, ask the patient questions, and see what the patient needs.”
Instead of telling people what they want, givers ask questions about their needs. “By asking questions and getting to know their customers, givers build trust and gain knowledge about their customers’ needs. Over time, this makes them better and better at selling.”
Givers are not concerned about the credit. That’s why they have an easier time to persuade others. Instead of rushing into a situation to convince someone by using powerful communication, givers take the approach of helping and using powerless communication.
Establishing dominance will not work to persuade others, but having prestige by using powerless speech is supporting it.
When speaking to subordinates, research shows that there are particular places for powerful speech: “when most employees […] are dutiful followers, managers are well served to speak powerfully. But when most employees are proactive, generating new ideas […], powerful speech backfires.”
Imagine you have to negotiate with your manager about a promotion. It is always a difficult topic. “Research shows that advice seeking is a surprisingly effective strategy for exercising influence when we lack authority.” Seeking advice is a one form of powerless speech, because a person shows vulnerability and wants to learn something.
Givers put the other person in their shoes. The other person has to consider it from a different perspective. Givers are able to change the point of view of the other person. Whereas a manager would have seen the best interest for the company in the beginning of the conversation, the manager would see now the benefits and opportunities for the employee. The manager puts himself or herself as mentor of a mentee.
“When we give our time, energy, knowledge, or resources to help others, we strive to maintain a belief that they’re worthy and deserving of our help. Seeking advice is a subtle way to invite someone to make a commitment to us.”
“When persuading and negotiating, givers speak tentatively and seek advice because they truly value the ideas and viewpoints others.” That should make it fairly easy to fake it as a taker, but research shows that takers who become fakers fail most of the time.
“When we ask people for advice, we grant them prestige, showing that we respect and admire their insights and expertise.”
On being a successful Giver
After you have learned about the 4 key domains where givers can thrive, the question in the room stays: How do givers end up at the top instead of the bottom of the success ladder.
A lot of givers burn out at some point, because they are not avoiding the pitfalls of giving. “If people give away too much credit and engage in too much powerless communication, it’s all too easy for them to become pushovers and doormats, failing to advance their own interests. The consequence: givers end up exhausted and unproductive.”
Research shows that “successful givers weren’t just more other oriented than their peers; they were also more self-interested. Successful givers, it turns out, are just as ambitious as takers and matchers.”
Entering Self-Interest and Other-Interest
Takers have a high self-interest, but low other-interest. Givers have a high other interest, but vary in self-interest. That’s the crucial point in the personality of a giver.
It leads to two types of givers: selfless givers (low self-interest, high other interest) and otherish givers (high self-interest, high other interest).
Adam Grant found out that self-interest and other-interest are independent motivations. These motivations are not competing with each other. Bill Gates once said: “There are two great forces of human nature: self-interest, and caring for others”. He calls it a hybrid engine and concludes that people are successful when they make use of both.
How to prevent Giver Burnout?
Barbara Oakley, researcher, once said that selfless giving, or pathological altruism, is “an unhealthy focus on others to the detriment of one’s own needs”. Adam Grant concludes: “Since givers tend to put others’ interests ahead of their own, they often help others at the expense of their own well-being, placing themselves at risk of burnout.”
The question is: How can givers prevent burnout?
Impact of Giving
Research shows that givers need a motivation aspect behind their giving. “They [need] a stronger emotional grasp of their impact.” For instance, when donating, they want to see the impact. When teaching, they want to see the progress of their students.
Adam Grant says that giver burnout “has less to do with the amount of giving and more with the amount of feedback about the impact of that giving”. Giver burnout is linked to givers who feel that they make no difference. Companies build up on this knowledge to show their employees the impact they have, regardless of where they are working.
Seek Social Support, Change the Domain
Burnout expert Christina Maslach and their colleagues say that “there is now a consistent and strong body of evidence that a lack of social support is linked to burnout”. By giving, givers build up a network of supporters. These supporters can be accessed any time to get encouragement or advice. Research shows that otherish givers access their pool of supporters more likely than selfless givers.
Another strategy to prevent giver burnout can be to change the domain. Instead of giving more to one and the same group of people, expanding the giving to other groups of people can be rewarding for givers.
Chunking vs. Sprinkling
Research shows that people gain more happiness when they chunk the act of giving rather than sprinkle it over time. For instance, it has a greater impact to perform multiple acts of kindness in one day than doing the same amount of giving sprinkled over one week. Selfless givers perform giving after work, whereas otherish givers get recharged during the week to be able to give during the weekend.
The technique of chunking gets adopted by companies too. They slice their weekdays into productive quite time and giving time to help or to seek advice. More research shows that giving during work time only affects productivity when the giver lacks skills of time management.
The 100-hour rule of Volunteering
Experiments have shown the best amount of time to spend on volunteering regarding happiness. It seems that people who volunteer more than 100 hours but less than 800 hours are more satisfied than people volunteering outside of these time constraints. The 100-hour rule of volunteering is “the range where giving is maximally energizing and minimally draining”. 100 hours a year breaks down to only two hours a week.
The act of volunteering has a lasting impact, because the satisfaction of people goes up one year later. Other research shows that the energizing impact of giving wasn’t felt during but after the act of giving. Is the act of giving itself a flow activity?
Companies, who struggle to give their employees time for volunteering, should learn about these benefits. But the act of volunteering has to be meaningful to the employee without being an obligation. It shouldn’t be enforced by the company.
Meaningfulness and Happiness
All these strategies help otherish givers to keep up their commitment and stamina. By making use of them, they outperform takers, matchers and obviously selfless givers. “Otherish givers may appear less altruistic than selfless givers, but their resilience against burnout enables them to contribute more.”
Giving is associated with a meaningful act that activates the feeling of purpose in our lives. “[Givers] build up reserves of happiness and meaning that takers and matchers are less able to access. Selfless givers use up these reserves, exhausting themselves and often dropping to the bottom of the success ladder. By giving in ways that are energizing rather than exhausting, otherish givers are more likely to rise to the top.”
How to be Champ and not a Chump
As you know by now, givers end up at the top or bottom of the success ladder. Givers can burnout when they don’t follow the strategies of an otherish giver
But there are more pitfalls for givers. For takers, it can be easy to exploit givers as doormats. “Trust is one reason that givers are so susceptible to the doormat effect: they tend to see the best in everyone, so they operate on the mistaken assumption that everyone is trustworthy.” The question is: How to protect from a taker as a giver?
Multiple authors (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman) have revealed that the first impression of another person can be very important to distinguish givers from other reciprocity styles.
If you take more time, by listening to a person, you can wait for clues that reveal the person as a taker or giver. Takers are more likely to use first-person pronouns. In addition, they use more time in talking than listening. They are not listening to your needs.
The Spectrum of Agreeable and Disagreeable
“Agreeable people tend to appear cooperative and polite - they seek harmony with others, coming across as warm, nice, and welcoming. Disagreeable people tend to be more competitive, critical, and though-they’re more comfortable with conflict, coming across as skeptical and challenging.” It would be too obvious now to say that takers are disagreeable and givers are agreeable. It turns out that takers can be agreeable and givers can be disagreeable.
Start out as Giver, Become a Matcher
Once you revealed a person as a taker, it makes sense to shift the reciprocity style to a matcher when being a giver. The strategy is called tit for tat by game theorists: “Start out cooperating, and stay cooperative unless your counterpart competes. When your counterpart competes, match the behavior by competing too. This is a wildly effective form of matching that has won many game theory tournaments.”
An advanced strategy is called the generous tit for tat: “Never forget a good turn, but occasionally forgive a bad one.” You should be generous in a third of your actions, even though the counterpart acts as taker. “Generous tit for tat achieves a powerful balance of rewarding giving and discouraging taking, without being overly punitive.”
Don’t put yourself on the spot, but others when negotiating. Act on behalf of your team, when your boss sets impossible deadlines or expectations. Or act on behalf of the companies best interest when negotiating.
Don’t carry the burden alone when someone seeks your advice. See with whom you can connect the person. It would turn out as a win-win situation for everyone. You can keep giving and the other people create a giving culture too. A rippling effect will evolve and you make the pie bigger to give and take.
Embrace Giving in Collaborations
The ripple effect when a giver collaborates with a group of people was already mentioned. Knowing about this effect, makes it possible to let everyone in the group act more like givers. “If a group develops a norm of giving, members will uphold the norm and give, even if they’re more inclined to be takers or matchers elsewhere. This reduces the risks of giving: when everyone contributes, the pie is larger, and givers are no longer stuck contributing far more than they get.” Companies can make use of this knowledge and embrace collaborations in groups where givers are active.
The Giving Community
Research has shown that when takers and matchers are in a sharing community of givers, they will experience the feeling of oneness. They belong to the sharing community and will act as givers. Even though they might have started the collaboration out of selfish interests.
In a sharing community, people develop a feeling a responsibility, while in other communities there is only the atomic transaction without a lasting impact. “People are motivated to give to others when they identify as part of a common community.”
Attracted to a Common Ground
A common ground can be a perfect foundation in a giving culture. People from the same city, with similar preferences or even the same name can experience a feeling of oneness. In general, people like to be reminded of themselves.
For instance, research shows that more people with the name Jack live in Jacksville and more people with the name Georgia live in Georgia. Names can be associated to professions as well. Like someone with the name Dennis is more likely to become a dentist than a person with the name Jack.
But seeking for Distinctiveness
On the other hand, people want to be unique even though they value common ground. Marilynn Brewer, a psychologist, calls is optimal distinctiveness. Her theory says that “we strive for connection, cohesiveness, community, belonging, inclusion, and affiliation with others. On the other hand, we want to stand out; we search for uniqueness, differentiation, and individuality. As we navigate the social world, these two motives are often in conflict. The more strongly e affiliate with a group, the greater our risk of losing our sense of uniqueness. The more we work to distinguish ourselves from others, the greater our risk of losing our sense of belongingness.”
In conclusion, when joining a group with a shared interest, but the group is unique in itself, the more likely it facilitates a bond. It creates a shared identity and can apply for giving communities too.
The Ripple Effect in Communities
Research shows that there has to be a critical mass of givers in a sharing community. When people get reminded continuously of the act of giving, because others do it, they will give too. Takers will adopt the behavior as well. At least because it might be embarrassing not to give.
In an experiment, people where reminded annually of their energy consumption and the average energy consumption of the community. Over time, the takers adopted their behavior and used less energy. In conclusion, it helps to show people how they perform relative to the community.
Too often our environment is designed to be a win-lose contest. It starts in our education, in schools and universities, yet continuous during our professional live. People become naturally takers because of the competition. Giving becomes a minority and it is a uncommon thing to do. Even though people are givers, they don’t want to be mistaken because other people don’t share their reciprocity style.
A win-lose contest can poison a company culture. “If many people personally believe in giving, but assume that others don’t, the whole norm in a group or a company can shift away from giving”. Adam Grant believes that it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, because “when people assume that others aren’t givers, they act and speak in ways that discourage others from giving”.
The reciprocity ring is a strategy to disrupt the self-fulfilling prophecy. In the real world “people feel pressured to look successful all the time. There can’t be any chinks in their armor, and opening up would make them vulnerable”.
Reciprocity rings embraces this vulnerability. People gather and ask for help. They make themselves vulnerable but offer others the opportunity to give. The requests can be surprising and emotional; even among powerful CEOs and managers. You should definitely read the book to hear their stories.
Since there are no transactions in a reciprocity ring, matchers cannot give back directly. But they can give back indirectly to others that leads to a ripple effect. Takers on the other hand don’t want to be seen as selfish. They even enjoy it to give when it is publicly. “By making contributions visible, the reciprocity ring sets up an opportunity for people of any reciprocity style to be otherish: they can do good and look good at the same time.”
How do I know who I am until I see what I do?
In the end, I want to ask you: What is your reciprocity style? The writer E. M. Forster once wrote: “How do I know who I am until I see what I do?” Independent of the reciprocity style, when people start to give continuously, it becomes part of their identity.
Adam Grant calls it “an active process of cognitive dissonance: once I’ve made the voluntary decision to give, I can’t change the behavior, so the easiest way to stay consistent and avoid hypocrisy is to decide that I’m a giver.”
Studies have shown that when people start to join volunteering organizations, even when it is for selfish reasons, they become more of a giving individual over time. It becomes a part of their identities. It is a pattern seen by researchers that evolves out of repeated acts of voluntary efforts.
Even in companies, when people help their colleagues, it gets branded into the identity and giving becomes a norm in the company. “Because of their tendencies toward powerful speech and claiming credit, successful takers tend to dominate the spotlight. But if you start paying attention to reciprocity styles in your own workplace, [Adam Grant has] a hunch that you’ll discover plenty of givers achieving the success to which you aspire.”
In addition, Adam Grant says: “Focus attention and energy on making a difference the lives of others, and success might follow as a by-product.” Similar to a flow activity where success follows eventually.
Last but not least, I want to mention the call to action for companies by Adam Grant: “[Givers] see success in terms of making significant, lasting contributions to a broad range of people. […] Taking this definition of success seriously might require dramatic changes in the way that organizations hire, evaluate, reward, and promote people. It would mean paying attention not only to the productivity of individual people but also to the ripple effect of this productivity on others. If we broadened our image of success to include contributions to others along with individual accomplishments, people might be motivated to tilt their professional reciprocity styles toward giving.”
As I said, these are only my lessons learned. I encourage you to read Give and Take by Adam Grant, because it is insightful, inspiring and can have a lasting impact.
“[Successful givers] get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and people around them”.
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