Being A Giver

A recent research paper published by Stanford University asked nearly 400 Americans whether they found their lives to be happy or meaningful, or both. The research found that where happiness is generally associated with being a ‘taker’, focusing on what one gets from others, meaning, on the other hand, comes from being a giver, contributing regularly and offering one’s services.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you fiercely pursue your own self-interests, you will be more successful in climbing the corporate ladder. Our society privileges individualism, and it’s widely held that the most self-serving individuals get ahead. But Adam Grant, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, argues this is untrue.

Grant’s book ‘Give and Take’, analyzes three types of people in the workplace; takers, matchers, and givers. Takers are always looking to squeeze as much as possible from others, while matchers aim to interact on a level playing field. Givers, by contrast, contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

According to Grant, most of us are matchers, willing to share as much time, resources and knowledge as the other person shares in return. There is a sense that contribution must be even; that things are only fair if everyone does their equal part. Whilst this seems like common sense (it’s the only way to ensure a just system), it also inhibits productivity, and prevents people from realizing their full potential. If like most people you think, “I don’t want to put in more effort than others”, then the logic follows that you aren’t working as hard as you can. You’re letting your perception of other people’s engagement restrict your own ability to flourish. Why not try working by your own yardstick, rather than by other people’s? Imagine what you might achieve.

Takers put themselves first, prioritize their own interests ahead those of the group, and act with a sense of entitlement. This gets them nowhere. By contrast, if you look at the upper echelons of corporate life, it is populated entirely by ‘givers’.

Being a giver cultivates a reputation for altruism and hard work, which wins respect and admiration, creating positive long-term relationships that enable you to reap enormous rewards. If you think putting in more than others will get you nothing in return, you’re not looking at the bigger picture.

You need to be careful to ensure that people think of you as a giver. Grant suggests that “one of the keys to being a successful giver is knowing how people see you.” It’s important to give generously and share credit when you collaborate, but you need people to see you as a giver, otherwise you’ll end up getting trodden on; giving endlessly without recognition. Givers can end up at the top, or the bottom of the pile, depending on how well they manage their image. You need to be identified as a giver, otherwise it’s not a technique of success.

Grant argues that giving fosters efficiency on a corporate level, and advocates that companies consciously cultivate giving as a “reciprocity style” across the whole organization by recognizing and rewarding givers, and weeding out takers. He suggests that for companies to identify givers, they must start by helping all workers to realize how their actions affect others. If you already do this, you’re one step ahead.

The power of giving is also explored in The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann, which frames active generosity as an effective way to get ahead. Mann argues that acting free from the expectation of reciprocity is a very savvy approach to career development. “Giving—putting the interests of others first, creating space for the other to succeed and flourish—is not just morally righteous, or philosophically nice. As an approach to business, it is highly successful.”

Furthermore, Burg argues that being a giver is tied up with recognising that value is not innate, but rather ascribed through social processes. By being generous, one can affect those social processes, and thereby actively create value. “Price is a dollar figure,” Burg says. “Value is the worth the end-user places on the service or the thing, and it is always in the eye of the beholder. If you can find what the other person finds valuable, you can create an experience that generates a positive feeling.”

This is a great skill. Grant argues that people who give more in the workplace tend to find not only success, but also meaning. Meaning stems from an entirely different form of interaction; giving to others, always seeking to offer your time, resources, and attention. So what is at stake is not only your ability to unlock success, but your capacity to find meaning in your work. Try being a giver; it might just change the way you work.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

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