Are You a Giver or a Taker?

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in an online interview with a talented young research psychologist from Harvard called Adam Grant. Adam is the author of the best seller, “Give and Take”. His big question has been whether it pays in life to be generous. According to his research, there are broadly three types of people: Givers who genuinely try to make a difference; Takers who are basically just out for themselves; and Matchers (the most common type) who do a bit of both but generally try to act fairly. I found this question of whether it pays to be a Giver an interesting one because I know which type I think is the most successful in franchise communities.

It turns out that his research with engineers, doctors and sales people found the worst performers are Givers! In particular, those people who strongly agree with the statement “I love helping others”. However Takers are not the best performers because, although they tend to get some quick wins in organisations, they don’t succeed in the long term. The reason is they are taken down by the Matchers who act like a sort of karma police force.

Why just being nice is not enough

This makes sense because of a natural tendency in human relationships called “Tit for Tat”. I have written about this elsewhere when discussing the Psychological Contract in franchising. Most people have a strong sense of natural justice and get angry if they see others abusing this. Using Adam Grant’s terminology, the Matchers are offended by the selfish tendencies of the Takers to just focus on furthering their own interests. The most common strategy used to bring down a Taker is to damage their reputation by spreading the word about them.

So does that mean the Matchers are the most successful people? Actually no. The surprising finding from this research is that there is an over representation of Givers in the top 25% of performers. So Givers make the best and the worst performers. To explain this we need to look at another personality characteristic called “Agreeableness”.

People high on “Agreeableness” have a nice persona and like to be liked. Agreeable Givers tend to frequently do favours for others at the expense of looking after themselves or their own responsibilities. And they often burn out or fail to deliver on their objectives because they don’t know when to be firm and say no to unreasonable requests. For instance sales people who are Agreeable Givers easily fall into the trap of discounting their prices to keep customers happy — not good for the bottom line. On the other hand Disagreeable Givers are often very useful to others or to organisations because they challenge the status quo when things are not working and they give the tough feedback when it’s needed.

How to be an effective Giver

The message from this research is not that we should be disagreeable to be effective. It is more that we need to watch our motives. Successful Givers are more motivated to do the right thing for others or for the business than by pleasing others or being liked. Effective Givers also learn from experience to be good readers of other people. While this wisdom sometimes comes from being exploited by a Taker, they learn from this and develop a sense of who to trust and the signs of the “Faker Taker” — the person who sucks up to you if you have something they need, otherwise they’ll treat you with disdain.

Effective Givers also tend to chunk their giving, meaning when they decide to be generous they do it in quality bursts. This enables them to make more of a difference while being responsible and hitting their own targets. They understand they also need to pay their way to be a self-reliant, contributive member of their family or community.

So next time you get cheesed off or discouraged by a Taker franchisee who only participates in initiatives that benefit them, or a Taker franchisor who kisses or kicks depending on what’s in it for them, take heart. Success in business and in life is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s no doubt going to be a bunch of Matchers out there who’ll see that justice is done.

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