Editor's Rating


By Gloria Lombardi

“Focus attention and energy on making a difference in the lives of others and success may follow as a by-product.” – Adam Grant

When we relate to others at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to demand as much value as we can, or contribute value without being concerned about what we receive in return?

Takers, as described by Adam Grant in his new book, ‘Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success’, are the ones who think their interests are more important than others’ needs, and they want to get more than they give. They think that the workplace is a competition, and that in order to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they promote themselves and make sure they receive abounding credits for their efforts. When takers help, they do that strategically, when the benefits to them surpass the personal costs.

Givers instead orient themselves in the other direction, looking at giving more than they get. They are focused on others, guided by what other people need and help without expecting anything in return. Givers strive to share their time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections with other people who can benefit from them. Their focus is on making a real difference in their field and having a positive impact on others.

However, in the workplace, give and take tends to be more intricate. “Professionally,” Grant writes, “few of us act purely like givers or takers, adopting a third style…We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting.”

Matchers believe that relationships are driven by a fair transaction of favors and when they help, they do that by seeking reciprocity.

They do help when they know that this will be reciprocated. Who should we expect to be the least successful among the three types? The takers, givers or matchers? According to Adam Grant, “givers sink to the bottom of the success ladder.”

If that is true, then, who are the most successful? The takers or matchers? “It’s the givers again,” the author points out.

This unexpected combination makes it critical to understand what differentiates successful givers from failed ones.

Types of givers

According to Grant, there are two kinds of givers: the selfless (self-sacrificing) givers and the otherish (successful) givers.

Selfless givers suffer from “a form of pathological altruism”: they try to help others to the detriment of their own needs and eventually end up damaging themselves. Selfless givers exhaust themselves by neglecting their own needs and burning all their reserves. For this, they generally decline to the bottom of the success ladder.

Otherish givers, on the other end, are concerned about benefiting others while also maintaining aspiring goals for bringing forward their own interests. They are still looking at giving more than they receive but they keep their own interests in sight and use them as a guide for deciding when, where, how and to whom to give. Through giving they energise themselves, build up reserves of happiness and meaning that takers, matchers and selfless givers are less able to access. “And while otherish givers may appear less altruistic than selfless givers, in reality their resilience enables them to contribute more”, writes Adam Grant. Otherish givers “give more.”

In particular, what makes givers successful in the longer term is their unique approach to interactions in four key domains:

1. Networking: by seeing their networks as a mean of creating value for everyone, not just claiming it for themselves, givers instill light and spread energy all around themselves and are capable of earning people’s trust.

2. Collaborating: givers embrace tasks that are in the group’s best interest and expand the pie in ways that benefit themselves as well as their groups. They put the group’s goals and mission first and show the same amount of concern for others as they do for themselves. As a result, they gain their collaborators’ respect.

3. Evaluating: in their roles as leaders, managers or mentors, givers are inclined to see the potential in everyone. They focus and invest their time on gritty people – by virtue of their interest, focus and drive – on whom they have the greatest return on their investment and the most meaningful and lasting impact.

4. Influencing: givers earn prestige and admiration through the use of powerless communication. Because they value the perspectives of others and are interested in helping them, givers are more inclined towards asking questions, admitting their weaknesses and seeking advice. While takers are attracted to gaining dominance, givers are much more comfortable expressing their vulnerability. However, this way of influencing is only effective when their competence is also received by people.

Could we get everyone to act more like givers within our organisations and teams?

According to Grant, this is achievable. The author explains that a main feature of group settings where people are motivated to start giving is the power of a sense of community. People are stimulated to give to others when they identify themselves as part of a common community. However, while people want to fit in and seek a sense of belonging, inclusion and affiliation with others, , they also want to stand out, searching for differentiation and uniqueness. Therefore, a group can be able to activate a giving system by creating a common identity and opportunities for unique self-expression.

People want to feel that the group is a giving system and capable of helping them. This feeling create positive sentiments toward the group that fuels extra contributions.

How can organisations and teams accumulate the initial critical mass of giving? Through role models. To explain this better, the author recalls the concept of elevation, “the warm feeling of being moved by others’ acts of giving.” When people enter a group, they look for indications about appropriate behaviours. If giving is made visible, it is less complicated for people to see this as the norm. Therefore, to create a context that encourages takers and matchers to act like givers, the key lies in making giving public. “If success required benefiting others, it’s possible that takers and matchers would be more inclined to find otherish ways to advance personal and collective interests simultaneously,” the author reports.

This would be important to any individual and their organisations and eventually lead to “greater success, richer meaning and more lasting impact.”

Worth a read?

Grant’s book is ideal for anyone who is interested in workplace communications and relationships. Its insightful content brings the concept of attaining success in our professional lives to a whole new level. Potentially, by adopting a more giving approach, we might be better able to achieve enduring success while making a real difference and concrete impact on others, our organisations and broader society. And by paying attention to our daily interactions with colleagues and the reciprocity styles we adopt, success truly is attainable.


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate