Givers vs. Takers: The Surprising Truth about Who Gets Ahead

Published in Knowledge@Wharton, Professor Adam Grant spoke about his research, which are explored in his new book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.  Some of his comments include:

[There are] two extremes: the takers and the givers. The “takers” are people who, when they walk into an interaction with another person, are trying to get as much as possible from that person and contribute as little as they can in return, thinking that’s the shortest and most direct path to achieving their own goals.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have this strange breed of people that I call “givers.” It’s not about donating money or volunteering necessarily, but looking to help others by making an introduction, giving advice, providing mentoring or sharing knowledge, without any strings attached. These givers actually prefer to be on the contributing end of an interaction.

Very few of us are purely takers or purely givers. Most of us hover somewhere in between. That brings us to the third group of people, who are “matchers”. A matcher is somebody who tries to maintain an even balance of give and take. If I help you, I expect you to help me in return. [They] keep score of exchanges, so that everything is fair and really just.

You look across a wide range of industries and even countries, and you find these three styles exist everywhere. Indeed, the givers are overrepresented at the bottom. Putting other people first, they often put themselves at risk for burning out or being exploited by takers. A lot of people look at that and say, “Well, it’s hard for a taker to rise consistently to the top, because oftentimes, takers burn bridges. So, it must be the matchers who are more generous than takers, but also protect their own interests.” When I looked at the data, I was really surprised to see that those answers were wrong. It’s actually the givers again. Givers are over represented at the top as well as the bottom of most success metrics.

eVo Associates: Takers tend to be aggressive, Matchers are focused on safety, while being a Giver is a risky proposition.  This data is a great jumping off point for reflecting on how we show up as givers, takers and matchers in our day to day business activities.

Michelle Salta says she strives to be a giver, but often falls into the trap of matching. “It used to make me feel like I wasn’t being taken advantage of,” she says. “But keeping score of who is giving you something in return for what you give is exhausting. And at the end of the day, it’s not the kind of person I want to be.”

John Mathers observes that if you are a Giver and a leader in your company or team, the best strategy is to be genuine: offer your support, give of your expertise, provide the best resources, but ask the recipient to track their results and share them with their peers.  As the old Russian saying goes: “Trust but verify.”

Are you primarily a giver, a taker, or a matcher? Is there anything you would change and why? Tell us your point of view in the comment section below.


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