Hi – another one of my musings. Let me know if you read this as I’m pretty sure I’m writing to myself most of the time. If you like this then please do help to spread the word!
I’m fascinated by how people manage (or don’t) to strike that balance between helping others and helping themselves. There’s no doubt that helping people has benefitted me in my career. Numerous contacts, friendships & professional relationships as well as involvement in surprise initiatives that would never have come about if I’d not helped or assisted someone else with whatever mattered to them. But sometimes I get the sense that maybe, not everyone is operating on the same page. Maybe some people aren’t as interested in returning favours, or *shudder* are actually out to get what they can at the expense of others.
Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist and professor at Wharton, has an interesting take on the reciprocity of people in the typical workplace. Grant divides people up into 3 categories.
- Takers– Takers are focused on themselves. They’re interested only in what they can get out of a situation and try to gain as much ground for as little reciprocal help as possible.
- Matchers– Matchers like it equal. They’ll help you if you help them. They’ll take from you if you take from them.
- Givers– Givers are focused on others. They love to help other people and don’t expect anything in return. They want to add value to others and don’t expect the favour to be returned. The act of helping is enough for them.
Most people tend to be matchers. They respond to fairness and expect people to be fair to them.Takers are less represented but also have less willingness to identify themselves as takers as most people see such behaviour as undesirable and once rumbled, a taker tends to fare poorly.
So which one should you be? If you indeed can choose your inherently natural behaviour.
Grant’s studies have shown that takers, matchers & givers inhabit very distinct zones of the workplace success scale. Takers & matchers are bang in the middle, so givers must be at the top, right? After all, givers build great networks, relationships and add value to the mission of their organisation. Well that’s correct, givers are indeed right at the top of the success scale – but they’re also right at the bottom.
How can that be? Can being super-helpful be detrimental to your career? Well turns out there are two distinct types of giver – the “Selfless Giver” and the “Otherish Giver”.
Selfless Givers are all about the giving. They’ll help others regardless of their own situation or workload. They rarely say no. And what happens? They end up helping others to the detriment of their own work. Suddenly they’ve been too busy helping others to meet their own deadlines. Selfless givers are also prime prey for takers, who know how to exploit their generosity,
Otherish Givers help loads as well but crucially have a key difference. They set boundaries, so that they will say no to helping if say that deadline is pressing, or they’re busy on crucial projects. They also understand how to recognise and respond to the takers, so don’t get exploited.
I’ve seen both throughout my career. And I’ve managed to make my own transition from selfless giver to otherish giver, which has helped me progress, without compromising my willingness to help people.
Grant suggests a number of ways to proactive being a successful (otherish) giver.
- Use 5 minute favours – lots of quick gestures of help is a great way of strengthening relationships, without costing yourself too much time
- Ask for help – Asking for advice gives the recipient a warm feeling, and is a great relationship builder.
- Give all at once – Grant suggests devoting a block of time to a bunch of giving acts, “chunking” your giving. There’s psychological evidence that this provides the most mental benefit.
- Specialise – Pick an area of expertise rather than trying to be a jack of all trades.
- Learn to spot the takers – Spot those on the take, and apply more of a matchers attitude to them. That way you can still help, but make sure you get something in return.
I hope that helps. I found my understanding of the workplace dynamic went through the roof once I learned to recognise these reciprocity traits in clients, peers and reports. And as a result I was able to focus my own giving to be more effective.
And I always like to refer to Tanmay Vora’s sketchnotes for a visual summary.
Adam Grant TED talk – https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_grant_are_you_a_giver_or_a_taker?language=en
Interview with Adam Grant on the Tiffani Bova podcast – https://podbay.fm/podcast/1262213009/e/1530788400
Tanmay Vora’s summary – http://qaspire.com/2019/02/05/the-art-of-successful-giving-adam-grant/