Give & Take

Giver. Taker. Matcher. I first came across these terms in Adam Grant's Give & Take several years ago and found the ideas fascinating and have been sharing them in my classes ever since. The discussion always leads to introspection.

What do these terms even mean?

Have you ever met a person who sucked the air and energy out of the room? It was all about them, their needs, how much they could get; a zero-sum game where someone (they) had to win and someone (you) had to lose. Yes, you guessed it; this is a TAKER.

There is another kind of relationship based on the quid-pro-quo principle: you help me, and I will help you. No, there isn't a tally, at least not one on paper, but this person is always keeping count in their mind. Now you have met a MATCHER.

And then you come across a person who wants to help you, who simply wants to give with no score-card in sight. Perhaps, you are suspicious of this person, wanting to know their motives, or angle. But you discover they really do want to help you. Meet a GIVER

Here is what Adam Grant has to say: "It's tempting to reserve the giver label for larger-than-life heroes such as Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi but being a giver doesn't require extraordinary acts of sacrifice. It just involves a focus on acting in the interests of others, such as by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit, or making connections for others." 

It turns out that the "Giver" behavior is more readily found outside the workplace. At work, and in competitive situations, the fear of being exploited or taken advantage of, or of being left behind leads people more in the direction of Matching or Taking. 

All of us have these inclinations; there are no absolutes or purists. But we do have a tendency to be more of one of these. 

Which one are you?

Take this 5-minute quiz. ( It's free. It's only for you. And you will learn something about yourself. Oh, and be totally honest on the quiz. :D

Who is more successful?

The Takers always look out for themselves and Matchers get back what they put in so logically, it stands to reason that they do better than others. Does this mean that good guys really finish last? 

Adam Grant again: "So if givers are most likely to land at the bottom of the success ladder, who's at the top--takers or matchers? Neither. When I took another look at the data, I discovered a surprising pattern: It's the givers again...This pattern holds up across the board." So, Givers are the least successful and the most successful? Huh!

Successful Giving or how not to be a "Doormat"

Givers who do so unconditionally can burn out or get "giver fatigue." They are unfocused, and do not take care of their needs. An example: dropping your own work to help others and therefore always falling behind. Know anyone like that?

"If takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are OTHERISH: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests." 

My guess is that even Mother Theresa was an Otherish Giver. She wanted to help the needy and sick and built hundreds of hospitals in that cause. This meant that she could not help everybody with everything who came her way; she had to focus on the key goal she had set for her mission.

I am applying these principles in small ways. I am a Giver and love to help, sometimes even unasked. But experience has taught me that I cannot help someone who is not willing to help themselves, with actions not just words. Now, if someone comes to me for help - to get a job, say - I ask them if they will commit to developing a 12-week plan, executing it, and doing weekly accountability checkins. If this is deemed too onerous, I take a pass. 

Another example: often during a conversation people will express a desire to learn more about a subject, an idea or a book that we are discussing. I used to often send people a bundle of books or a series of articles. But I realized that most of that stuff went unread; perhaps people were just being polite and had no real interest in the material. Now when someone mentions that they would love to get a book or an article from me, I smile and ask them to send me an email. 80% of the time the email never arrives! When it does, I happily send them the requested material pronto.

What do you want to be in your life? Being a Matcher and keeping an eternal mental spreadsheet? Taking because you can? Or a thoughtful OTHERISH Giver, because you actually want to do some good?

Life is full of choices. Your move.

Verinder K Syal

PS: Want to dig deeper? Check out this article by Adam Grant: Givers Take All. And his book is highly recommended too. 

PPS: For more articles by author, visit the Knowledge Center.