The Givers and Takers in our lives:

The Givers and Takers. Are they different types of people, and are the outcomes in business the same?


Lyn Worsley,Clinical Psychologist

What is the differences for those who are successful?

What are the differences for those who are successful?

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.

Changes in our society of giving and taking:

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.

 It comes all back to you:It is up to us

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)








Snakes and Ladders – A Client Perspective on Overcoming Depression


This week I take the opportunity to share a client’s journey through depression with you, through their eyes. The writing process itself was part of our therapy and provides a poignant reflection on the ups and downs of living with depression, or as she says, ‘Snakes and Ladders’. I will let her words do the talking and would like to thank her immensely for giving me the opportunity to work with her. It has been a priviledge.

Hazel McKenzie

Psychologist, Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre

View Hazel’s Profile here:

Snakes and Ladders

falldownIt’s a splendid winter day—perfect blue skies, dazzling sunshine. People rush past me, all of them seemingly with specific destinations in their heads. I stay at a small intersection amid the hustle, my feet glued to the ground, limbs lead-laden. My mind is in pain. My jelly-like brain is wrestling with a simple decision. Should I go to the weekly yoga class, have a long over-due haircut, see my GP or head back home and straight to bed? Have I slept two hours or two minutes last night? I can’t tell.

Less than a year ago, I was diagnosed with moderate depression, which soon became severe enough to cause anxiety attacks at work, disrupt my sleep, deplete my energy reserves and erode my motivation and joy to live. I was functioning (‘being on autopilot’ is a more precise expression): looking after my family, barely managing the very minimum of regular chores, and appearing at work, pressured to maintain the crumbling ‘façade’.

I had just returned from overseas visiting my parents and sisters. Nothing went according to plan during this much-anticipated trip. I was sick with severe sinusitis for the entire time, and we needed to organise citizenship papers for one of my daughters. Most of the four weeks was spent sitting in endless queues at public clinics, hospitals and institutions, taking in the suffering of ill elderly people and confronting bad-tempered bureaucrats. Out came my magnifying glass of negativity. Everything I saw and faced was blown out of proportion. In hindsight, I could clearly see the mechanism of my undoing: the physical challenges of travelling with two children while feeling unwell, the separation from my extended family, guilt, massive disappointment, changes at work that occurred during my absence and the relentless carrousel of family life as well as negative thinking. This is the default mode my mind operates in during challenging times.

Initially I put the overwhelming tiredness and lack of motivation down to jetlag and the recent infection and tension. However, a few weeks elapsed. There was no sign of improvement. The symptoms I experienced were severe enough for my GP to prescribe antidepressants. In combination with Buddhist meditation, which I discovered in my search for mental peace, half a tablet of the lowest dose did the trick. Within just a few weeks, I regained control over my life, and things improved at work and socially. Fortunately, I was already on the way up when my father passed away, two months after our return to Sydney.

After less than half a year, I concluded that a new, confident ‘Me’ had emerged from the dark just as a phoenix from the ashes. I felt invincible pleading with my doctor to reduce the dose (to a quarter)…and relapsed.

This time, nothing out of the ordinary preceded the new episode. On the contrary, my mum had come over to visit us for the first time. On my days off work, she and I would stroll through a museum, have a cup of tea taking in magnificent harbour views. Then out of blue an overwhelming sadness and vast emptiness would hit me. Such moments started occurring more frequently gaining intensity. It is possible that I felt stressed before my mum’s arrival – organising her visa and worrying about how she would manage a long trip without speaking a word of English, trying to make her feel comfortable, planning outings, feeling guilty about not doing enough and, deep down, being already afraid of her departure. We also talked a lot about my dad as well as my mum’s plentiful problems and concerns, which I soaked up like a sponge.

After she left, my thinking became increasingly irrational: even the simplest decisions like what to cook for dinner were agonising. I was helplessly sliding down the depression spiral, in disbelief that it was happening to me again. I felt tearful, empty and very raw inside. My reflection in the mirror said it all: dull eyes, the worry lines on my forehead, a sorrowful tight mouth.

Positive words deserted my vocabulary. Food tasted bland, colours lost their vibrancy, sounds their volume, as if all my senses went on a simultaneous strike. In weeks, I didn’t open a book—once one of my prime pleasures—or listened to music. Even going to the movies with a girlfriend felt like hard work. I felt detached from my family, as if separated from them by a thick glass wall. I could see their expressions, make out their words but felt miles away.

Needless to say, my sense of worth (shaky in better times) nose-dived again, undermined by self-defeating thoughts and self-talk. Absolutely nothing felt right. Life started appearing pointless like the Sisyphean labour. Insomnia plagued me, leading to further exhaustion and bleak views and becoming a vicious cycle. I was struggling to open my eyes in the mornings, let alone lift my head from the pillow. Soon I was dreading every day, every minute of interminable days that were presenting insurmountable challenges. I lost interest in the world around me – there wasn’t any need to follow news. All I wanted to do was to curl up in my bed, to be cradled like a baby, relieved of all obligations and chores.

I was fortunate to have love and the great support of my husband, children, other family members and close friends. I was also fortunate to find a caring psychologist at Alpha Psychology. This time around, the ‘magic pills’ didn’t do the trick, at least not instantly. I have developed much deeper appreciation of the healing process, which has been gradual; a battle or a ‘journey’ in my psychologist’s words. Hazel pushed me to scrutinise and challenge my negative thinking patterns and deep-seated beliefs, to force myself to do things that I didn’t feel like doing including swimming outside on a chilly winter day, to appreciate small joys and to focus on positives, to not write off whole days as bad and to be kind to myself. Buddhist meditation showed me how important it is for one’s inner peace to accept our imperfect world including oneself and to live in the moment. My Buddhist teacher once compared life to the snakes and ladders game: one moment you cruise along, so close to the end of the board, and the next you come across a ‘snake’ and slide down, needing to start over again from scratch.

I’ve just managed to come up to the surface, and the medication I’m taking daily is still niggling at the back of my mind. I’m also well aware of my emotional frailty, of how one negative thought leads to another forming a never ending train. Depression is so adept at tricking you, incessantly whispering in its sufferers’ ears nasty ‘truths’. But for now, I am glad to be rid of the horrible whisper that made me doubt every decision, every step and ultimately myself. ‘Great’, ‘awesome’, ‘fantastic’ and ‘beautiful’ are in my vocabulary again, and I want to proclaim that life is worth living after all. I look at my children feeling gratitude and joy. It’s a work in progress but I view it as a great challenge, not a tedious chore!


Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Everyone has experienced tossing and turning at night or having unwanted broken sleep! We sometimes go through periods where we just can’t get to sleep or have trouble staying asleep and it is really frustrating, especially in our society where our lifestyle is packed with so many activities and we feel the pressure to be alert and clear minded for the next day.

What are some of the contributors to insomnia or sleepless nights?

• Lifestyle – I believe that this is becoming a major contributor to sleep issues because we just try to do too much!!! Does this sound familiar? Whether it’s working and taking care of kids or trying to balance a busy social life as well as maintaining work or study commitments. We just don’t slow down enough for our bodies and our mind to wind down.

• Internet/Social Networking – Do you use a lot of your free time at night on the internet instead of resting? This form of time out from our busy day is actually stimulating our brains and not helping us to wind down. You may have experienced this when you decided to check your emails before bedtime and found yourself responding to it for the next ½ hour or so only to find that you then couldn’t fall asleep!

• Irregular Sleep routines – This is when you go to bed at different times and your body is not able to get into a routine which enables you to wind down mentally and physically.

• Stress – this is a major contributor to sleeplessness and can lead to secondary issues such as Anxiety or Depression which can then add another layer to sleep issues.

• Illness – Sometimes we may go through periods of insomnia which are related either directly or indirectly to health issues. When this occurs it is important to seek medical advice.

• Poor Sleep Hygiene – These are the habits that we adopt that unknowingly may lead or contribute to sleepless nights. When we are not stressed these habits may have minimal effects on our ability to sleep but when we experience times of stress these habits do more harm and may exacerbate any sleep issues.

What can you do to maintain a healthy sleep routine and enhance your ability to get sleep?

• Try to create a routine each night which includes at least one hour of wind down time before you plan to go to bed. For example wind down time can include watching TV, listening to relaxing music, reading a book, having a bath and so on.

• Try to go to bed roughly at the same time daily and go to bed when you feel tired. Listen to your body! Likewise try to wake up at roughly the same time.

• Don’t watch TV or browse the net in your bedroom. It is important to create a different environment for activities and for sleeping. In other words your bedroom should be your sleep sanctuary and it is important to not confuse your mind into thinking it is also a place of mental activity.

• If you go to bed and cannot sleep within 30 minutes it is important to get out of bed and go into another room (with dim lights!) and do some light activity such as reading which may induce sleepiness as well as take your mind away from ruminating thoughts about your day or stressing about the fact that you haven’t fallen asleep yet! Of course go back to bed when you feel tired again. Keep doing this until you fall asleep.

• Try not to eat too much before bedtime. It is hard to fall asleep when our bodies are trying to digest food.

• Try not to use alcohol as a sleep aid. Even though it initially may contribute to feelings of drowsiness it actually has proven to create a more disruptive sleep especially during the latter part of your sleep cycle.

• Anxiety and stressful thoughts need to be dealt with and if possible during the day. Set aside some time in the day to problem solve and if you feel that you need extra help it is important to work through issues with a friend/family or with a professional.

• Try not to nap during the day as this can interrupt your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.

• Do not count how many hours you have slept. This can cause you to have unnecessary stress about sleep which in turn can make you feel too anxious to fall asleep again. Everyone is unique and needs a different amount of hours to feel good during the day.

• Make sure you eat healthy (cut down on caffeine if needed especially if you are anxious or stressed), get regular exercise (this can help your body to feel more tired and rested at night which are prerequisites to drifting into sleep more easily) and get a daily dose of sunshine. This is important because it helps our bodies to differentiate between day and night and can help produce hormones that induce sleep. For example melatonin which is a sleep promoting hormone gets produced when it is dark (so no bright lights from your computer at night!).

Remember a few sleepless nights on occasion happens to all of us so try not to stress about this. It is important to create good sleep habits for general health but if you feel that this is not occurring and would like additional help a Psychologist may be able to work through some issues with you. This may involve teaching you about how to challenge unhelpful thinking patterns, learning to manage stress better, and learning some relaxation skills. These are all valuable lifestyle skills.

Ivette Moutzouris

Registered Psychologist, Alpha Psychology


The Insomnia Workbook by Stephanie A. Silberman.

Treating Insomnia: What Health Professionals Need to Know, Australasian Sleep Association handout.