Finding a Balance Between Give and Take

Turns out, there aren’t two kinds of people, but three: Givers, people who help others with no expectation of receiving something in return; takers, who focus exclusively on their own interests and desires; and matchers, or people who believe that giving and taking should come in equal amounts.

Adam Grant discovered through years of research that the least productive and successful people were typically givers. Too often givers will overextend themselves to others and not have time or energy to finish their own work. Sometimes they’re burned one too many times by takers and simply give up.

What may surprise you, however, is that givers are also the most successful of the three groups. Givers help foster a workplace community of reciprocity and comradery. They make helping others the rule, not the exception. They make good leaders because they focus on the needs of others rather than themselves and treat all their peers with respect and compassion. Givers help themselves by helping their entire team and giver-heavy organizations are overall more successful as a result.

So how do we foster a community of givers?

Grant emphasizes the importance of protecting givers to prevent them from burning out.

Provide givers with opportunities to give in small ways and encourage them to set boundaries for themselves. He refers to these as “Five-Minute Favors,” which givers can do freely without fear of exceeding their own limits.

Givers also need to feel like it’s acceptable to receive, too. Encouraging others to seek out help does two things: It allows givers to clearly see where and how their skills can be useful and it grants givers permission to ask for things in return when they normally wouldn’t.

Weed out takers

Finally, to truly have an environment of giving that allows everyone to succeed, organizations must weed out takers. Takers discourage givers from contributing, Grant explains, and can have double or triple the impact on a group of people than a giver would. Givers who can’t or don’t set boundaries for themselves may fall prey to a taker’s nature. Matchers, who follow the norm, will also grow more self-focused and isolated.

Takers can be difficult to notice, particularly agreeable takers who may seem nice but still only care about their own success. Even these fakers, as Grant calls them, have telltale qualities. Takers focus exclusively on themselves and their interests; they talk about themselves more than about others, take personal credit for group achievements, and brag about influential people they know and scorn people beneath them. Grant quotes Samuel Johnson: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

The Takeaway

Creating a space where givers can contribute meaningfully to their team without fear of being walked on is the easiest way to allow all of us to succeed. At the end of the day, success is not a competition to be won, but a measure of our contributions to the world in which we live.

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