Category Archives: Leadership & Management

Eight ways to be a “Giver”

Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Fortunately for those of us with massive amounts of student loan debt, it turns out that giving is also the best route to professional success.

In his new book, “Give and Take,” Adam Grant describes how Givers, people who help others without worrying about what they’ll get in return, are often wildly successful. In fact, they’re more successful than Matchers, who give with the expectation of receiving an equal amount in return, and Takers, who seek to receive more than they give.

It’s a great book overall, and an easy read. Grant repeatedly makes the point that giving has to come from the heart: if you do it just to get ahead, it probably won’t work. Once you start giving, however, it can become a habit.

But Grant essentially ignores one critical question: does gender matter? In other words, do women gain the same benefits as men from being givers?

It’s possible they gain more. My guess is that “taking” is a particularly unsuccessful strategy for women. For instance, we know that women are much less likely than men to negotiate for promotions or higher salaries. There’s a good reason for this: when women negotiate, people like them less, according to research described in the Washington Post:

Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more — the perception was that women who asked for more were “less nice”.

Perhaps Grant’s research found no gender differential at all – but the book would have been stronger if he had addressed the question.

It still had valuable lessons, however. Here are 8 ways to be a Giver.

  1. Build weak ties. Weak ties “provide more efficient access to new information. Our strong ties tend to travel in the same social circles and know about the same opportunities as we do. Weak ties are more likely to open up access to a different network, facilitating the discovery of original leads.” Givers regularly reconnect with weak ties, even if they don’t think they’ll get anything in return. And their weak ties tend to be responsive and willing to help, because they trust that Givers don’t have ulterior motives.
  2. Do five-minute favors. Be willing to do something that takes five minutes or less for anyone.
  3. Share the credit. Always give credit to other people; use “we” instead of “I.” People tend to overestimate their own contributions, and underestimate the contributions of others. Studies show that when star analysts move to a new firm, their performance drops; that’s because their success usually depends more on their team than is generally recognized. (If they bring their entire team to a new firm, they can maintain their performance.)
  4. Exhibit “expedition behavior” (i.e. behavior you’d exhibit on a trek up Mount Everest). In other words, do what’s best for the team, not what’s best for you. “Studies show that people actually make more accurage and creative decisions when they’re choosing on behalf of others than themselves.” This will help you avoid common biases. “Escalation of commitment” bias, for example, is the tendency to continue following a losing strategy, because otherwise you’ll have to admit that your strategy was wrong. By focusing on the needs of the team, and not their own egos, Givers avoid this common trap.
  5. Use powerless communication… “Powerless communicators tend to speak less assertively, expressing plenty of doubt and relying heavily on advice from others. They talk in ways that signal vulnerability, revealing their weaknesses and making use of disclaimers, hedges, and hesitations.” This style is “surprisingly effective in building prestige.” (Here’s one area where an analysis of gender would have been useful: Do people respond differently to women using powerless communication than they do to men?)
  6. …but establish credibility. “Expressing vulnerability is only effective if the audience receives other signals establishing the speaker’s competence.” If you’re a bungler, people will see your vulnerability and like you less. But if you’re competent, people will see your vulnerability and like you more.
  7. Talk less, listen more. People will like you, and you’ll learn stuff. This is particularly helpful in negotiations: Givers are very effective negotiators because they take time to learn others’ point of view.
  8. Ask for advice. “Seeking advice is a subtle way to invite someone to make a commitment to us.” When you ask someone for advice, you flatter them. And once they’ve given you advice, they have a stake in your success. If you succeed, it demonstrates that they made the right decision to invest in you. “When we give our time, energy, knowledge, or resources to help others, we strive to maintain a belief that they’re worthy and deserving of our help.”