The Power Of Giving

In the book Give and Take, Adam Grant talks about three types of people Takers, Matchers and Givers. Takers believe in the winner takes all world order. Either you win, or you lose. According to them, the world is a very competitive place. Takers are self-focused.

Then there are givers. Givers believe that there is enough in the world for everyone to thrive. They are other focused. Often they put the good of others above their own, though it is not a rule.

The differences are not necessarily reflected when it comes to money. It is more about an attitude towards others. Takers will help you, but it will be a strategic help, and they need to get more from it than you do.

For givers the mental model is different. They are willing to help even if the costs of help are higher than the benefits they personally get. The important thing is that the other person benefits.

Many of us are somewhere in between. We are matchers. We operate on the principle that “I will help you and I expect you to help me in the future.” Things should be in balance. We say things like, “I owe you one,” and we fully expect you will collect the debt. We are worried that the world is not fair and don’t want to lose, so we protect ourselves by using the principle of reciprocity.

The great news is that these styles are not genetically coded. They can be changed if only we want to change them. Each of us develops throughout our life a primary style, but we can use the other styles when we feel it is required. You may be a giver, but if you see that I’m taking from you all the time, don’t appreciate what you do for me, and even abuse your kindness you may switch the style towards me to a matcher. You will keep giving only when you see that I reciprocate.

Why do givers succeed?

As Grant describes, there is one style that is vastly superior to others when you want to achieve lasting success. As long as it is done correctly. Givers can enhance the success of everyone, but they need to do it in a way that doesn’t harm them personally. Too often givers sacrifice their own good for the good of others. They help you succeed while failing themselves. There is no need for that.

Successful givers have the same ambitions as takers, but their way to go about it is different. The way givers succeed is based on the network effect. The success spreads all around them. When takers succeed, others envy them and want to put them down. When givers succeed, others are happy for them and keep supporting them even more. This also works in the other direction as givers help those around them achieve their goals.

Unlike takers who often excel in independent roles, givers outperform them in positions where collaboration and interdependency are required. They pay it forward. They do so without the expectation of future benefit to themselves. They build communities and ecosystems.

Sociologist Fred Goldner came up with the term pronoia, the opposite of paranoia. Paranoia is the state when you feel others are plotting against you. As psychologist Brian Little says, pronoia is the belief that other people are plotting your well-being and saying nice things about you behind your back. It is often true about givers. Their reputation feeds on itself and people around them go out of their way to help these givers to succeed.

Even though takers are those who desire a high status in society, it is often givers who get it. Because of their willingness to volunteer, help, share their knowledge and skills they demonstrate value and are respected for it.

Givers in the workplace

Givers are the best collaborators since they will make decisions that are in the interest of the group, rather than in their own. The more giving the group, the better the performance the team has.

The National Outdoor Leadership School came up with the term “expedition behavior” as a way to describe putting the group’s goals and the mission first. You show the same care and concerns for others as you do for yourself. It encompasses such behavior as selflessness and generosity.

You can see this type of behavior in many situations when the group realizes that it is just them and they need to rely on each other. When I traveled through Africa, I was often amazed by the helpfulness of the people in remote areas. It makes sense. These people understand that if they don’t help you, you may not survive. They also know that it could be as easily them who need help. They pay it forward. When everyone does it, you have a great culture of giving and collaboration where people can rely on each other.

To succeed become otherish

There is a pitfall though. Givers have a bigger chance than takers to become pushovers. Because they care about others, they may forget about themselves. But successful givers are not only other-oriented, but they are also quite a bit self-interested. They are as ambitious as takers. They know that selfless giving is unhealthy. You can’t keep doing it as it means you focus on others to your own detriment.

As Adam Grant mentions, successful givers are not selfish or selfless, they are otherish. They care about others, but they also take care of their own needs and interests.

Successful givers learned how to identify the most significant threat, the agreeable takers also known as fakers. These people can charm their way into us trusting them and take advantage of us. They act as takers towards their subordinates, but they can fake being givers when dealing with more powerful people. They are able to charm their way into good graces with those above them.

By learning how to recognize these fakers, learning from our mistakes, we can protect ourselves quite well. When we know that that is the person we are dealing with we can adjust your reciprocity style and become a matcher. If you fool me once shame on you if you fool me twice shame on me.

How to help people switch to giving?

People often act as takers because they believe that everyone does that. If you show them that taking is not the norm, they are more likely to adjust and become givers. This is because deep down the majority of us are matchers and we will match the behavior of the others.

Leading by example has a powerful effect when you want to influence others to become givers. Things like paying it forward work precisely because of this effect.

To turn people into givers the easiest way is not to work on their attitude but on their behavior. Nudge them into giving. Ideally, into giving without a distinct advantage to them. If they do it consistently for some time, the cognitive dissonance will force them to change something. It won’t be easy to stop giving without looking bad and feeling like a hypocrite, so it is easier to start thinking about themselves as givers. It is now who they are, part of their identity.


Are you a giver, taker, or matcher? Or any of these depending on circumstances? What do you believe is the best style to succeed in life?

Photo: geralt /

Categories: Life

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