Courtesy of Red Revival
Is it truly more blessed to give than to receive? Are there situations where we should not just give but receive?
Well, the answer as you would imagine is that it all depends.
In an episode of Social Triggers Insider, renowned organisational psychologist Adam Grant shared some interesting psychological insights on the art and science of giving. Let me now share some of the psychological insights taken from his book Give and Take.
Givers, takers and matchers
In this world, there are three types of people – Givers, Takers and Matchers.
Givers are altruists who love to help others. They are more likely to offer free advice or valuable information, and tend to be more generous with their time, energy and money.
Think Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, and Mahatma Gandhi.
Takers, on the other hand, are the manipulative and exploitative folks who sit on the opposite end of the spectrum. They love to self promote and are more self-aggrandising than givers.
Think Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, and Adolf Hitler.
Like their name suggests, matchers are those who will give when the occasion calls for it. However, they are more calculative than givers (though less so than takers), adopt a quid pro quo attitude, and have a mental slate at the back of their minds to “keep score”.
This is where the majority of us belong, with varying degrees of “giving” and “taking”.
Rich giver, poor giver
Research from Grant’s work revealed that givers tend to fall into two extremes when it comes to earning power. They either perform the worst or the best when it comes to generating income.
In other words, givers either sink or swim, and are over represented at the top and bottom quartiles.
Givers build a lot of social capital and goodwill in their daily lives. Therefore, they are likely to have a lot of people rooting for them. Thus, the best performing leaders tend to be givers. On the flip side, however, being overly generous to family and friends could result in one being taken advantage of.
While takers tend to have middling incomes, they may ascend more quickly and directly to the top of their jobs. After all, a person who constantly promotes himself above others is more likely to be noticed by the bosses and given favourable career paths.
However, takers burn bridges and destroy relationships in their bid to rise to the top. Hence, their career trajectories may be meteoric but short-lived.
What about matchers? Well, my guess is that such individuals may probably perform somewhat closely to takers, ie somewhere in the middle.
Give and take in marketing
On the marketing front, givers are those who offer help and utility to their customers and prospects without expecting a sale. They are highly client-focused, provide valuable free content and advice to their followers, and are mindful not to push a prospect to close a deal.
Takers, on the other end, are those who love to brag and boast about their company and its “world-class” products and services. Every message becomes a pitch to buy something or an “exclusive time-limited offer” that is targeted at getting their prospects to buy (and only buy). Customer service is only offered as an after-thought.
Over the long run, it is clear that marketers who give will build goodwill amongst their followers and fans. However, they cannot keep giving without asking for the sale ad infinitum. Meanwhile, takers will find that their spammy non-stop sales pitches are likely to drive their customers away.
Why do people give?
So what motivates people to give?
Self-interest spurs some folks to give hoping to receive an eventual return.
Other-interest, on the other hand, triggers altruists to give because of the greater need of others. Renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates suggests that a hybrid of self interest and other interest drives capitalism.
Striking the right balance
How then should one balance between giving, taking and matching?
Grant suggests that you should be clear who you’re helping. Focus your energies and resources on those who truly need the help and those whom you enjoy helping. More importantly, ensure that the help you give can be sustained over the long-term.
In other words, the people who do the most sustainable forms of giving in the long run are driven by both self interest and other interest. They often care about the person they are giving to while enjoying the act itself. Purely selfish or purely altruistic forms of giving are unlikely to last long.
It is also important for us to be genuine when giving. Those who give for image benefits, aka “fakers”, are likely to be sussed out sooner or later. This may result in a social backlash.
Helping those who help themselves
Interestingly, we are more likely to go out of our way to help people who are driven and motivated than those who do not help themselves.
Studies have also shown that those who possess grit are also more likely to succeed when given a leg up. This is a case of both giving and matching, since those who can pull themselves together are more likely to return the favour.
Thus, it is fine to give to people knowing that it will help you in the long run, even though the returns may not be immediate or beneficial on a quid pro quo basis.
Famous examples of givers and takers
So who are the givers and takers in the corporate world?
Well, some would say that Steve Jobs is a taker, because he takes ideas from others, is manipulative, and basks in the limelight. However, Grant feels that Steve Jobs is also a giver because he makes products which are truly useful and functional for Apple’s customers.
Bill Gates, on the other hand, is renowned for giving away 95% of his wealth through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While he is more likely to be fondly remembered as a giver with his strong philanthropic bent, one mustn’t forget that Bill used to be an aggressive taker in the early years of Microsoft, selling software for a profit when others bundled it for free with hardware.
Fortunately, one’s final legacy is more important than what one does during one’s lifetime.
Consider the example of robber baron Rockefeller who later became a great philanthropist and gave generously to American society.
Hence, people will forgive takers who become givers. However, they will be doubly harsh on givers who eventually become takers.
Who should we give to?
Finally, how do we decide who we should give to? Grant suggests that there are three factors at play here: equality, equity and need.
Equality is based on cutting the cake into exact slices regardless of who it is for. In a way, this is a twisted form of communism gone wrong.
Equity is based on giving people what they deserve. It is a case of matching output with input. Those who can produce the fruits of their toil will be rewarded more than those who are lazy. This helps to motivate people to work harder.
Need is based on the unique circumstances of the folks receiving the gifts. Those who are less fortunate will get a bigger slice of aid, and vice versa.
In general, giving based on equity and need may work better than equality. This is why the most successful organisations do not compensate their staff equally, but provide disproportionate rewards to the achievers.
Similarly, gifts which are targeted at those who need them most tend to generate far better outcomes in the long run. Doing so not only addresses their needs, it also fosters greater gratitude and reciprocity.
Are there other thoughts which you have on giving, taking and matching? I’d love to hear from you.