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Are You A Giver Or A Taker? – The Coaching Room

Are you a giver or a taker? | Adam Grant

The following article is derived from the accompanying video. It is provided as an additional resource for your reading convenience


Psychologist Adam Grant tells his Ted Talk audience that “In every workplace, there are three basic kinds of people: givers, takers and matchers. Organisational psychologist Adam Grant breaks down these personalities and offers simple strategies to promote a culture of generosity and keep self-serving employees from taking more than their share.”


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“I want to talk about what it takes to build cultures where givers actually get to succeed. So I wondered, then, if givers are the worst performers, who are the best performers? Let me start with the good news: it’s not the takers. Takers tend to rise quickly but also fall quickly in most jobs. And they fall at the hands of matchers”, Grant explains.

He continues by saying, “If you’re a matcher, you believe in “An eye for an eye” — a just world. And so when you meet a taker, you feel like it’s your mission in life to just punish the hell out of that person.  And that way justice gets served. Well, most people are matchers and that means if you’re a taker, it tends to catch up with you eventually;  what goes around will come around. And so the logical conclusion is: it must be the matchers who are the best performers. But they’re not.”


“In every job, in every organisation I’ve ever studied, the best results belong to the givers again. Take a look at some data I gathered from hundreds of salespeople, tracking their revenue.  What you can see is that the givers go to both extremes.  They make up the majority of people who bring in the lowest revenue, but also the highest revenue.  The same patterns were true for engineers’ productivity and medical students’ grades”, Grant says.

“Givers are overrepresented at the bottom and at the top of every success metric that I can track.  Which raises the question:  How do we create a world where more of these givers get to excel?  I want to talk about how to do that, not just in businesses, but also in nonprofits, schools –even governments. Are you ready?”, Grant asks his audience. “The first thing that’s really critical is to recognize that givers are your most valuable people, but if they’re not careful, they burn out. So you have to protect the givers in your midst.”


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Grant explains, “I learned a great lesson about this from Fortune’s best networker. His name is Adam Rifkin. He’s a very successful serial entrepreneur who spends a huge amount of his time helping other people. And his secret weapon is the five-minute favour.  Adam said, “You don’t have to be Mother Teresa or Gandhi to be a giver.  You just have to find small ways to add large value to other people’s lives.”  That could be as simple as making an introduction between two people who could benefit from knowing each other. It could be sharing your knowledge or giving a little bit of feedback.  Or It might be even something as basic as saying, ‘You know, I’m going to try and figure out if I can recognise somebody whose work has gone unnoticed’”.

He continues by saying, “Those five-minute favours are really critical to helping givers set boundaries and protect themselves. The second thing that matters if you want to build a culture where givers succeed, is you actually need a culture where help-seeking is the norm; where people ask a lot.”


Grant says he always assumed that agreeable people were givers and disagreeable people were takers. “But then I gathered the data, and I was stunned to find no correlation between those traits, because it turns out that agreeableness-disagreeableness is your outer veneer: How pleasant is it to interact with you? Whereas giving and taking are more of your inner motives:  What are your values? What are your intentions toward others? The agreeable givers are easy to spot: they say yes to everything. The disagreeable takers are also recognised quickly, although you might call them by a slightly different name”, Grant states.

“We forget about the other two combinations. There are disagreeable givers in our organisations. There are people who are gruff and tough on the surface but underneath have others’ best interests at heart. Disagreeable givers are the most undervalued people in our organisations, because they’re the ones who give the critical feedback that no one wants to hear but everyone needs to hear. We need to do a much better job valuing these people as opposed to writing them off early, and saying, “Eh, kind of prickly, must be a selfish taker.” The other combination we forget about is the deadly one –the agreeable taker, also known as the faker. This is the person who’s nice to your face, and then will stab you right in the back”, Grant tells his laughing audience.

“And my favourite way to catch these people in the interview process is to ask the question, ‘Can you give me the names of four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?’ The takers will give you four names, and they will all be more influential than them, because takers are great at kissing up and then kicking down”, Grant says.


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He explains, “Givers are more likely to name people who are below them in a hierarchy, who don’t have as much power, who can do them no good. And let’s face it, you all know you can learn a lot about character by watching how someone treats their restaurant server or their Uber driver. So if we do all this well, if we can weed takers out of organisations, if we can make it safe to ask for help, if we can protect givers from burnout and make it OK for them to be ambitious in pursuing their own goals as well as trying to help other people, we can actually change the way that people define success. Instead of saying it’s all about winning a competition, people will realise success is really more about contribution.”

Grant wraps up his Ted Talk by saying, “I believe that the most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed. And if we can spread that belief, we can actually turn paranoia upside down. There’s a name for that.  It’s called “pronoia.” Pronoia is the delusional belief that other people are plotting your well-being. That they’re going around behind your back and saying exceptionally glowing things about you. The great thing about a culture of givers is that’s not a delusion — it’s reality. I want to live in a world where givers succeed,and I hope you will help me create that world. Thank you.”


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Adam Grant is an American author and is a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania


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