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Adam Grant is known as being the most popular full-time professor at the Wharton School. His popularity has gone far beyond educational institutions, as he managed to win accolades from Business Week and even Malcolm Gladwell.
Apart from being one of the best writers and sociologists of today, Grant has also shown himself to be a highly successful director of commercials, a talented ski jumper, and an extremely able and experienced magician.
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Give and Take
Adam Grant believes that success, development, and financial well-being is usually divided into three factors – motivation, ability, and opportunity. But, he goes a step further and identifies a fourth component – the ability to interact with people.
Adam Grant classifies people into takers and givers. The first category of people attempts to maximize profits in transactions, agreements, and other working points. They work exclusively for themselves.
The latter may put other interests ahead of their own. Takers are accustomed to working on themselves, they believe that taking care of themselves is the only way.
Depending on the situation, people can adopt different behaviors – they can take, give, or exchange. But usually, everyone has a dominant model that determines their behavior.
All three models have their advantages and disadvantages. However, the author believes, and his view is supported by real-life experiences that givers receive fewer benefits, as they are guided by the interests of others and forget about their own interests.
Giving and Positive Emotion
The link between giving and positive emotion is a cornerstone of Positive Psychology. Giving makes us happy. Studies have shown when subjects are given $5 with instructions to give the money to a stranger, their happiness increases more than subjects who are given $20 to spend on themselves (Dunn et.al. 2008).
Giving and Career Success
Perhaps a lesser known benefit is ‘givers’ enjoy more career success. At work, givers are the supportive people who enjoy sharing their expertise and helping the careers of others. They share their networks and business contacts and give their time in mentoring people. And because ‘what goes around comes around’ everybody wins in the long run. Studies by Adam Grant, have shown the higher we look up the corporate ladder the more givers we find.
The Problem With Giving
Giving brings with it one significant risk. While more givers are found at top of the corporate ladder, a lot of givers also end up at the bottom of the ladder.
Sometimes it’s because they give too much. Often it’s because they give to the wrong people;– the ‘takers!’
‘Takers’ are those who exploit others for their own personal gain. Takers are the people who compete against their colleagues and are ruthless in business. For them, short-term gains are better than long-term relationships.
Other people exist for them to use. It’s all about them. In your personal life takers are the people who always expect favors, dominate conversations, or seek attention or support without offering the same in return. Again, it’s all about them.
The most common mistake, Adam Grant warns us, is assuming polite, agreeable people are the givers while disagreeable people are the takers. This is a common mistake. In hindsight, we can all think of someone who has been polite to our face but being self-centered when it suits them.
Alternatively, we can also think of the loud and boisterous person, the ‘rough diamond’, who would give you the shirt off their back and insist it was nothing. Politeness and manners are not the point. ‘Otherness’ is.
So whether it’s your personal life or at work, when your intuition or ‘gut feeling’ tells you ‘it’s all about them’ it may be time to stop being a doormat or a pushover.
But how do you stop being a pushover when you are accustomed to putting others first?
Assertiveness for Givers 101
One trick is to remember your time, your energy and financial resources belong, first and foremost, to the people who genuinely love you.
For example, Adam Grant reports on studies with recent MBA graduates participating in interviews to negotiate their starting salaries. When the givers were reminded their eventual income would impact the lives of their family they negotiated significantly higher pay deals. In another variation, givers did better in salary negotiations when they pretended they were negotiating, not for themselves, but on behalf of a friend they had recommended for the job.
A Take Home Message
The ultimate recommendation is, in the first instance, we should extend kindness and generosity to most people most of the time. Giving promotes happiness and promotes win-win outcomes. Giving is our best ‘default’ setting.
But when you sense you are being exploited by a born ‘taker’ it’s time to stop being a pushover. It’s time to play what Adam Grant calls ‘generous tit-for-tat.’ That is, matching the competitiveness of the other person while remaining open to switching back to being generous at the first opportunity. This gives you the best of both worlds. Altruism-coupled with a dose of self-care as required.
The last word on giving goes to Professor Martin Seligman. In his book ‘Flourish’ he tells the story about being inconvenienced at an Airport, along with a lot of others, due to an unexpected increase in the cost of postage stamps.
“I fumed, as I stood with so many others in the enormous line for forty-five minutes, just for the needed one penny stamps. The line moved glacially with tempers rising all around me. Finally, I made it to the front. I asked for ten sheets of one hundred stamps. All of ten dollars.
“So who needs one-penny stamps?” I shouted. “They’re free.”
People burst into applause and clustered around me as I gave away this treasure. Within two minutes, everyone was gone, along with most of the stamps. It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.”
Seligman is perhaps the most important figure in modern psychology. If someone with his far-reaching achievements can experience a simple act of kindness as one of the most satisfying moments of his life it shows how ‘otherness’ can make anyone’s life better.
At the moment, Adam Grant has more than 60 publications on various aspects of management and psychology; his work is regularly published in prominent journals around the world. Thanks to his revolutionary research, Adam Grant has managed to seriously increase the efficiency of labor and reduce the ‘burnout‘ among engineers and sales professionals. To add to this, Adam Grant has also suggested techniques that significantly improve the efficiency of doctors and professional rescuers.
Adam Grant videos
- Dunn. L., Aknin. L., Norton. M.,(2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. Science, March 21.
- Grant.A., (2013). Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. Orion Books. UK.
- Grant.A., Schwartz. B. (2011). Too Much of a Good Thing: The Challenge and Opportunity of the Inverted U. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 61-76.
- Seligman, M. (2012) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. Free Press. NY.