The Givers and Takers. Are they different types of people, and are the outcomes in business the same?
Lyn Worsley,Clinical Psychologist
Researchers have recently discovered that there are three different types of people according to how they give or take from others. This is particularly evident in the business world and transferable to all parts of our lives.
Adam Grant (2013) researched a number of large companies and assessed the culture of people’s giving and taking styles. He found three styles of giving and taking. He also assessed their success in business as well as in their personal lives.
Firstly he found there were the givers who give more than they take and feel guilty if someone returns a favour. Then there were the takers who were very good at networking with people in order to gain. Thirdly there are those who are the matchers who match what they give by expecting a return or they match what they take by giving back the same amount.
Givers and takers choices:
Grant’s research revealed that in every successful person there are choices they make when they approach other people. The choices involve thinking about whether they should claim as much value as they can, or whether they contribute value to that person or whether they work out how much is owed for the service that is given. What was interesting is that Grant discovered there was a difference in how successful givers and takers were. He found that the most successful people in business were the givers and the least successful people were also the givers, leaving the takers and matchers in the middle.
Differences between successful givers and non-successful givers:
From the results of his first analysis Grant went to work out the differences between the successful givers and the not so successful givers and he found some very interesting results. There was a difference in how the successful givers gave. The successful givers had a style that genuinely sought the benefit of others. They were outward focussed, were excited about another’s success, and did not attribute the success to them-selves. Those who were the unsuccessful givers also looked outward however they gave because they felt obligated. They “should do this” etc. and they gave compulsively. This compulsive giving actually meant that they often gave inappropriately, or gave when it was not really all that helpful. So in essence the successful givers were more appropriate givers.
Differences with Takers in business.
Grant discovered takers appeared to like to get more than they gave as they enjoyed a bargain. Takers also put their own interest ahead of others needs. Takers appeared to believe the world was a competitive, dog-eat-dog place and felt that to succeed they needed to be better than others. To prove their competence, takers self promote and made sure they got plenty of credit for their efforts. Takers were not cruel or cutthroat, but they were cautious and over protective. The dominant thought was “if I don’t look out for myself first, others will take advantage of me, and no one else will look out for me.”
A number of years ago, I remember distinctly talking to a businessman who said we can be nice and caring in our personal lives, but business is business. He told me that if you want to succeed you have to play the game. At the time it didn’t sit right with me but he appeared to be a very successful businessman, so I assumed that I must be wrong. He certainly told people he was successful and drove a nice car, and lived in a nice house. A number of years later he poached staff from a reputable service company, rendering them insolvent. He had networked with the staff and led them to believe they would be a better off with him, rather than staying in the service company. Unfortunately a number of staff left their stable jobs, to find they were overworked and underpaid resulting in the severe burnout with two of the staff only 6 months later.
The costs of taking and giving:
If you are a taker, you help others strategically when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you are a giver, you might use a different cost benefit analysis, you help when ever the benefits to others exceeds the personal cost. Alternatively you may help others without the thought of personal costs at all. Furthermore if you are a giver at work you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills ideas and connections with other people who can benefit from them.
The difference in business and personal lives:
According to a Yale Psychologist Margaret Clark, most people act like givers in close relationships. She notes that in marriage and friendships, we contribute whenever we can without keeping score but in the workplace, give and take becomes more complicated. Professionally, few of us act purely like givers or takers adopting a third style of relating. Matchers operate on the principal or fairness. When they help others they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you are a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your business relationships are governed by even exchanges of favours.
You might find that you shift from one reciprocity style to another as you change your work roles. You can act like a taker when you negotiate your salary, a giver when you mentor someone with less experience, and a matcher when you share with a colleague. But the research shows that at work, people develop a primary reciprocity style, which captures how they approach most people most of the time. What is interesting is that this style of relating can play as much a role in the success in business as hard work, talent and luck.
Studies of success:
Grant studied medical students, and found that those with the lowest grades and the highest grades were the givers. He also researched sales people finding that the least productive salespeople had 25 percent higher giver scores, but so did the most productive salespeople who averaged 50 percent more annual revenue than the takers and matchers. His studies with engineers showed those who were least successful were the givers as they were more concerned about making sure they could help other which prevented them from completing their work on time, completing drawings and missing deadlines. However, those engineers who were successful had the highest giving scores and were known for their quantity and quality in their work. These conflicting results demanded further analysis and Grant continued to investigate the personalities and motivations behind the givers and takers.
Grant found that there was a myth around givers, that they are nice and altruistic people. He noted that the givers at the top of the success ladder had goals for their own achievement, and they were as ambitious as the takers and matchers however they had a different way of pursuing the goals.
The differences are clearer when the successful giver wins, or achieves success. When takers win, there is usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. So you often see someone who is going well in business for a while and then they collapse. It is likely they are a matcher or a taker rather than a giver in business. These differences are very subtle.
In contrast when successful givers win, people tend to cheer on and support them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. The differences lie in how the giver success creates value instead of just claiming it. It was also found in the research that those who were successful givers had taken longer to achieve the success than those who were takers, and when they achieved the success they maintained it because they had the supporters with them. So being a giver is not good for the 100 meter dash, but is valuable in a marathon.
Grant, as an organisational psychologist noted a number of changes that have occurred in the process of doing his research. He noted that in the 1980’s the percentage of people working in jobs that provided services to others was 50%, and that today, 80% of people are providing service sector work. He surmised that this would cause a shift in the expectations of the people you provide a service too. That is, since they are paying for more services they would expect a greater service (ie. if they are takers, they want more than they pay for and if they are matchers they will want a quality service)
This shift means that to succeed in business you will need to exceed the expectation of the general public. So for a successful business, you want to have people working for you with a giver style of relating, can see the best interest of others and see the benefit for others outweighs their personal effort. Basically he notes that if we want to do well in business we need to employ people who are givers. However to employ successful givers we too, need to be givers and not takers. The simple truth of this is that your business needs to work for the clients and serve the clients, and the measure of success for the business should be the gain for the client not the financial turnover.
If you give first, and people are out there seeing the value of your work and come away with feelings of satisfaction and value added, they will hold onto that feeling and either pay it forward or let others know.
If you give in both your work and your personal lives, the success will be slow but will be evident in your life through the close connections you have and the readiness of others to learn from you. After all, when our lives have a positive impact on others, we see our significance and purpose in this world.
Grant, A (2013). Give and Take: A revolutionary approach to success. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London UK
Clark, M.S. Mills, J. (1993). The Difference between communal and exchange relationships: What it is and is not. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 19: (pp 684-691)