Give and Take: Why helping others drives our success
Orion Publishing Group
384 pages; Average reading time 5 hours 20 min
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Givers & takers
Conventional wisdom states that extremely successful people share three things in common: motivation, ability and opportunity. So if you want to succeed, you need a combination of hard work, talent and luck. However, there is a fourth component, one that’s vital but often ignored. Success depends profoundly on how we advance our interactions with other people.
Every single time that we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make. We must answer the question: do we attempt to claim as much value as we can, or instead contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return? Based on the answer to this question, there are two kinds of people who fall at opposite ends of the reciprocity band at work: takers and givers.
When you give more than you take
Takers like to get more than they give. They put their interests ahead of others’ needs. They feel that to succeed, they must be better than others. They self-promote and ensure that they get plenty of credit for their efforts. Givers are a comparatively rare breed in the place of work. They prefer to give more than they receive. Givers are other-focused. They pay attention to what other people need from them. Please note that these preferences are not about money. Givers and takers are not differentiated by how much they donate to charity or the salary package they demand from their employers. They primarily differ in their attitudes and actions toward other people. If you are a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you offset the personal costs. If you are a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefit to others exceed the personal costs. In short, as a giver, you help others without expecting anything in return. If you are a giver at work, you simply endeavour to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections with other people who can benefit from them.
Giving is especially risky when dealing with takers. Many of the world’s most flourishing venture capitalists operate like takers. They are adamant on taking unreasonably large shares of an entrepreneur’s start-ups. They assert undue credit when their investments prove successful.
And then there’s ‘Matchers’
Having said that, in the workplace, give and take becomes more complex. Few of us act purely like givers or takers. Many adopt a third style instead. We become matchers. We work to maintain an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers function on the principle of fairness. When they help others, they protect themselves by looking for reciprocity. If you are a matcher, you believe in tit for tat. As a matcher, your relationships are governed by even exchange of favours.
The world over, most people rate giving as their single most important value. They report caring more about giving than about power, achievement, excitement, freedom, tradition, conformity, security and pleasure. This is true in more than seventy different countries around the world. Giver values are the number one guiding principles in life to most people in most countries – from Argentina to Armenia, Belgium to Brazil and Slovakia to Singapore. Successful givers have unique approaches to interactions in four key domains: networking, collaborating, evaluating and influencing.
The way people build networks
Givers, takers and matchers develop characteristic networks, and their interactions within these networks have different characters and consequences. They build and manage networks differently. While givers and takers may have equally large networks, givers are able to produce lasting value through their networks.
Givers maintain large networks. This is one reason why they have a growing number of dormant ties – people they used to see often or know well, but with whom they have since not been in touch. Studies have demonstrated that these dormant ties provide more novel information than the current contacts. They have been exposed to new ideas and perspectives whereas the current contacts were more likely to share the same knowledge base and viewpoint.
Dormant ties are the neglected value in our networks and givers have a distinct edge over takers and matchers in unlocking their value. Reconnecting is a completely different experience for givers especially in a wired world. Givers have a track record of generously sharing knowledge. This enables the dormant ties to help them whenever they get back in touch. For takers, reactivating dormant ties is a herculean task. If the dormant ties are fellow takers, they will be suspicious and self-protective and withhold novel information.
The takers are black holes. They suck the energy from those around them. The givers are the suns: they inject light round the organisation. Givers create opportunities for their colleagues to contribute, rather than imposing their ideas and hogging credit for achievements.
Nice guys do come first
You can be a genuinely kind-hearted person and still get ahead in the world. Every time a giver generously shares his expertise or connections, he’s investing in encouraging the people in his network to act like givers. When the giver does ask people for help, he’s usually asking for support in helping someone else. This increases the odds that the people in his huge network will seek to add value rather than trade value. This opens the door for him and others to gain benefits from people they have never helped – or even met. By creating a custom of adding value, the giver transforms giving from a zero-sum loss to a win-win gain.
Giving can be infectious. It spreads quickly and widely across social networks. When people walk into a new situation, they look to others for clues about appropriate behaviour. When giving starts to occur, it becomes the standard and people carry it forward in interactions with other people. If you do something for somebody in the group, then when you need it, someone in the group will do something for you.
The nature of teamwork
When givers put a group’s interests ahead of their own, they indicate that their main goal is to benefit the group. So they earn the respect of their collaborators. Givers get extra credit when they offer ideas that challenge the status quo. When takers present suggestions for improvement, colleagues are sceptical of their intentions, writing them off as self-serving. However, when ideas that might be threatening are proposed by givers, their colleagues listen and reward for speaking up, knowing they are motivated by a genuine desire to contribute.
The responsibility bias is a major source of failed collaborations. Professional relationships get ruined when executives feel that their partners are not giving the credit they deserve or doing their fair share. In Hollywood, between 1993 and 1997 alone, more than 400 screenplays went to credit mediation. If you are a taker, your primary motivation is to make sure you get more than you give. It means you are carefully counting every contribution that you make. You believe that you have done the lion’s share of the work. You overlook what your colleagues contribute.
Seeing beyond the perspective
The key to balancing our responsibility judgement is to focus our attention on what others have contributed. Givers like George Meyers, the writer of The Simpsons, do this naturally: they take care to recognise what other people contribute. In the Simpsons rewrite room, being more forgiving of others than of himself helped Meyer get the best ideas out of others. This is known as psychological safety – the belief that you can take a risk without being penalised or punished. In such psychologically safe environments, people learn and innovate more.
Sharing credit and creating a psychologically safe environment are only one piece of successful group work. There is another important step givers take in collaboration: seeing beyond the perspective gap. When we are not experiencing a psychologically or physically intense state, we severely underestimate how much it will affect us. For instance, without being in a state of pain themselves, physicians cannot fully realise what it is like to be in that state.
In collaborations, takers rarely cross this perspective gap. They are so focused on their own viewpoints that they never end up seeing how others are reacting to their ideas and feedback. Givers are motivated to help others, so they find ways to put themselves in other people’s shoes. To effectively help colleagues, people need to step outside their own frames of reference.
Spotting and refining talent are indispensable skills in just about every industry. As with networking and collaboration, when it comes to discovering the potential in others, here too reciprocity styles shape our approaches and effectiveness. Research has proven that teacher expectations are important for improving the grades and intelligence test scores of students. When teachers believed their students were bloomers, they set high expectations for their success and created self-fulfilling prophecies. They engaged in more supportive behaviours that boosted the students’ confidence and enhanced their learning and development.
Evidence shows that leaders’ beliefs can catalyze self-fulfilling prophecies in many settings. When managers were randomly assigned to see employees as bloomers, employees bloomed. Givers are inclined to see potential in everyone. This is exactly what has enabled C.J.Skender, a renowned accounts professor, to develop so many star students. He starts by seeing everyone as talented and tries to bring out the best in them.
How to influence people
Research suggests that there are two primary paths to influence: dominance and prestige. When we establish dominance, we gain influence because others see us as strong, powerful and authoritative. When we earn prestige, we become influential because others respect and admire us.
These two paths to influence are closely tied to our reciprocity styles. Takers are attracted to and excel in gaining dominance. They strive to be superior to others. Takers specialise in powerful communication: they speak forcefully, raise their voices to assess their authority, express certainty to project confidence and promote their accomplishments. Dominance is a zero-sum game: the more power and authority I have, the less you have.
By contrast, prestige is not a zero-sum game. There is no limit to the amount of respect and admiration that we can give out. Prestige usually has more lasting value. Givers exhibit powerless communication. They speak less assertively, express lot of doubt and depend largely on advice from others. They talk in ways that show vulnerability. They reveal their weaknesses and make use of disclaimers. In Western societies, people expect us to communicate powerfully.
The power of powerless communication
But it is time to defy traditional assumptions about the importance of assertiveness and projecting confidence in gaining influence. Givers adopt a powerless communication that is effective in building prestige. They value the perspectives and interests of others. They are more disposed toward asking questions than offering answers. They talk tentatively than boldly. They acknowledge their weaknesses than displaying their strengths. They seek advice than forcing their views on others. Givers develop prestige in four areas of influence: presenting, selling, persuading and negotiating.
Takers worry that if they reveal their weaknesses, it will compromise their dominance and authority. Givers are very comfortable expressing vulnerability because they are interested in helping others, not gaining power over them. So they are not afraid of exposing chinks in their armour. By making themselves vulnerable, givers can build prestige.
However, expressing vulnerability is only effective if the audience receives other signals establishing the speaker’s competence. In an experiment, when an average candidate was clumsy, audiences liked him even less. But when the expert was clumsy, audiences liked him even more.
Asking questions is a form of powerless communication that givers adopt naturally. By asking questions and getting to know their customers, givers build trust and gain knowledge about their customer’s needs. Over time, this makes them better and better at selling. Hence, contrary to popular belief, givers also succeed in sales jobs where customers are more sceptical such as insurance. Questions work particularly well when the audience is already doubtful of your influence, like when you lack credibility or status or when you are in a highly competitive negotiation situation.
Many people assume that the key to persuasive skills is to deliver a confident, assertive pitch. However, in daily life, when we hear a powerful, persuasive message, we get suspicious. We raise concerns about being manipulated by a taker. When givers use powerless speech, they indicate that they have our best interests at heart. Speaking dominantly convinces group members that takers are powerful, but it stifles information sharing, preventing members from communicating good ideas.
Similarly, advice seeking is an effective strategy for exercising influence when we lack authority. Asking for advice encouraged greater cooperation and information sharing. It turned a potentially controversial negotiation into a win-win deal. Studies have shown that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence colleagues, superiors and subordinates. It is more persuasive than the taker’s preferred tactic of pressuring subordinates.
Why some givers succeed but others fail
Givers rise to the top of the success ladder through the exceptional ways that they build networks, collaborate, communicate, influence and help others achieve their potential. But givers are also more likely to end up at the bottom of the success ladder.
Success involves more than just capitalising on the strengths of giving. It also requires avoiding the pitfalls. If people give too much time, they end up making sacrifices for their collaborators at the expense of their own energy. If people gave away too much credit and engaged in too much powerless communication, it is easy for them to become doormats, thus failing to advance their interests. The consequence is that givers end up exhausted and unproductive. It is critical to understand what differentiates successful givers from failed givers.
Highly successful givers talked about a quest for power and achievement. They were not just more other-oriented than their peers; they were also more self-interested. They are just as ambitious as takers and matchers. Look at the interplay of self-interest and other-interest. Takers score high in self-interest and low in other-interest. They want to maximize their own success without caring much for other people. By contrast, givers always score high on other-interest, but they vary in self-interest.
Selfless givers & success
There are two types of givers, and they have spectacularly different success rates. Selfless givers are people with high other-interest and low self-interest. They give their time and energy without regard for their own needs, and they pay the price for it. In the process of helping others, they end up harming themselves.
If takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefitting other, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their interests. Selfless giving, in the absence of self-preservation instincts, easily becomes overpowering. Being otherish means being willing to give more than you receive but still keeping your own interests in sight, using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how and to whom you give.
Being otherish is very different from matching. Matchers expect something back from each person they help. Otherish givers help with no strings attached; they are just careful not to overextend themselves. They are less prone to burning out and getting burned and better positioned to flourish.
Whereas takers tend to care most about gaining personally from their jobs, givers care deeply about doing jobs that benefit other people. Across occupational sectors, teaching has the highest rates of emotional exhaustion. To avoid burnout among the teachers, they need to have a stronger emotional grasp of the impact of their work. In one experiment, teachers were shown how their work was helping many scholarship students. By spending just five minutes reading about how the job helped other people, the givers among the teachers were motivated to achieve higher levels of productivity. They even ceased to feel mentally exhausted from the additional work. They proved that the greatest motivation is a sense of service to others.
Teachers are vulnerable to giver burnout because it typically takes many years for their impact to be visible. By then, the students have moved on, and the teachers are left wondering if their work mattered. With no clear proof of the benefits of their giving, the effort becomes more tiring and harder to sustain.
The compassion fatigue
Researchers have drawn the same conclusion in health care. In health care, the burnout is described as compassion fatigue, the stress and strain of caring for others. Givers do not burn out when they devote too much time and energy to giving. They crash out when they are working with people in need but are unable to help effectively or to gauge the impact of their giving, or when there is no feedback mechanism in place.
The perception of impact serves as a buffer against stress. It enables employees to avoid burnout and maintain their motivation levels and performance. Some organisations have designed initiatives to connect employees to the impact of their products and services. For example, at Wells Fargo, they created videos of customers talking about how the company’s low-interest loans helped them reduce and eliminate their unwanted debt.
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