Publication date: 4/9/2013
“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”—Samuel Johnson, poet
Are you a giver? A taker? A matcher?
In his new book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, organization psychologist and Wharton professor Adam M. Grant cites research showing the majority of workers develop a primary reciprocity style: giving, taking or matching.
According to Grant, takers tend to get more than they give, while givers on the job are rare. He writes that outside the workplace, giving is common, but professionally we compartmentalize.
“We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting.”
Givers are generous with their ideas, time and skills and share with others who might benefit from them. Grant authored Give and Take to uncover whether givers are actually at a disadvantage because they make others better off while sacrificing their own success.
The fear of exploitation generally prevents many from operating as givers in the workplace. Grant cites Cornell economist Robert Frank, who proposes this fear makes us overly self-preserving, so we tap down our more magnanimous impulses.
Grant argues our impulses for giving are universal and cites the research of psychologist Shalom Schwartz, who studied the values that matter to people in Australia, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United States. Schwartz asked respondents in a survey to rate the importance of different lists of values.
Givers favored the list of values that include helpfulness (working for the well-being of others); responsibility (being dependable); social justice (caring for the disadvantaged); compassion (responding to the needs of others). Takers favored the list of values that include wealth (money, material possessions); power (dominance, control over others); pleasure (enjoying life); winning (doing better than others).
Schwartz found that the majority of people endorse giver values above taker values… in every country he surveyed. All of them. Giver values are the most important guiding principles everywhere on the planet.
Parents teach their children that giving and generosity are important guiding principles at home, at school, at play. Yet, we don’t see the importance of giving reciprocity styles in our professional lives. In the workplace, we hide our generosity to prove our competitiveness.
Grant argues that we can be both kind and competitive in the workplace and shows how successful givers are more champs than chumps and every bit as ambitious as takers.
In the chapter “The Ripple Effect,” Grant shares the story of George Meyer, comedy writer/producer at Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman and The Simpsons.
According to Grant, there is a reality of collaboration behind most brilliant work and Meyer is no lone genius generating great comedy in isolation. Because he is highly talented and might take sole credit for his work, Meyer risks being resented or undermined by other writers.
“Just as matchers grant a bonus to givers in collaborations, they impose a tax on takers.”
Instead, Meyer has become known for generously giving away credit for gags. In what Grant calls expedition behavior, Meyer also takes on tasks that are in the best interest of his team. He has earned idiosyncrasy credits, positive impressions accrued in the minds of other writers.
Meyer even has a giver’s code of honor:
(1) Show up.
(2) Work hard.
(3) Be kind.
(4) Take the high road.
Nothing objectionable about encouraging workers to become more otherish. Yet, the book winds up proving how matching is actually the more advantageous reciprocity style, particularly in the chapters on powerless communication, maintaining personal motivation for giving and avoiding exploitation by takers.
The title of the book is also a dead giveway. Through give and take, two parties show a willingness to reciprocate in a balanced discussion. Not to give more, not to take more, but to match.
Grant’s reading of data on reciprocity styles disguises his intention. Proposing that givers in the workplace tend to perform at the bottom, he reveals after a closer look at the data that the generous also perform at the top with takers and matchers landing in the middle.
“Why did the giver disadvantage reverse, becoming such a strong advantage?”
Grant argues that givers can learn “to harness the benefits of giving while minimizing the costs.” Givers can tweak their selfless reciprocity style with generous tit for tat, advocating for others in negotiations and expanding the pie for everyone.
In other words, high-performing givers in the workplace over time have grown comfortable with matching. Nudging other people away from taking and toward giving contributes to the perception that only through generosity can we flourish and draw satisfaction from our work.
Give and Take by Adam Grant is a worthwhile read on the social science of reciprocity styles, the benefits of giving over taking and how to encourage more generosity in the workplace.
Category: Nonfiction, Leadership