Do you ever feel like your child is adding up the favors owed him/her? For example, s/he got ready on time, brushed his/her teeth and now has an expectation that you owe him/her something. Or do you feel that you’ve become your child’s ATM. What about your co-workers? Are they always expecting reciprocity? And/or are they always angling for their advantage? Do you know that rare child or adult who is a “giver” – that person who is more likely to give without any expectation of reciprocity or reward? If you know such a person, is s/he taken seriously or the brunt of derision?
Adam Grant, professor of organizational psychology at Wharton in his book Give and Take addresses these questions. His research divides people as givers, matchers and takers. He recognizes that at some times we each exhibit more than one of these behaviors, but he has found that usually one dominates. He links these characteristics to professional success. Givers are prone to give without expecting anything in exchange. Matchers expect reciprocity, and takers always look for their advantage. Most people have assumed that self-interest (characteristic of takers) and other-interest (characteristic of givers) are opposite ends of a continuum (with matchers in the middle). But an interesting finding about the success of “givers” motivated Grant to question if indeed a continuum was an accurate representation of these behaviors.
The most interesting finding is that the least successful and most successful people are “givers” while takers and matchers land in the middle all the time. Since this was an odd finding, Grant continued to probe to determine what separated the bottom “givers” from the top “givers”. He found that people could be both self-interested and other-interested. Givers who were successful scored high on both of these indicators. In contrast, takers consistently scored high on self-interest and low on other-interest, and unsuccessful givers scored high on other-interest and low on self-interest. Successful giver’s actions toward co-workers were motivated by other-interests. While they were willing to give more than they received, their self-interest determined the choices they made with respect to who, what, when and where to support others.
As we enter this season of giving, it becomes so important for us to model for our children the successful giver paradigm. Altruism must be a priority all the time – not just during Thanksgiving and winter holidays. But altruism needs to be balanced with self-interest too. Otherwise, we end up being that altruistic person who is worn out from helping everyone all the time – out of focus and thus not very successful.
Here’s to balanced giving!