Giving and Taking in Relationships

How we approach our relationships can be a significant determining factor for a range of outcomes relating to personal and professional success.

What are the three types of individuals in relationships?

Giving in relationships can vary; an individual may approach giving in their professional life differently to giving with friends or family. Although research does suggest that giving behaviour is normally consistent across different areas of life. According to Organisational Psychologist Adam Grant there are three types of individuals when it comes to giving in relationships:

Givers: These are individuals who are happy to help or support others with no strings attached. They do not keep score on their giving behaviour and are not acting out of their own interest when they give to others.

Takers: These are individuals who look at giving from the perspective of “what’s is in it for me?” They may provide help or assistance to others but only because they think it will benefit them in some way.

Matchers: This is the most common form of giving. These are individuals who are happy to give as much as they are given. They reciprocate the style of giving they receive from those around them.

What are the Pros and Cons of being a Giver?

Research examining a range of productivity and success metrics in the professional world has identified that Givers consistently score the highest. They demonstrate high scores for achievement and contribution to the organisations of which they are apart. Interestingly, Givers also appear at the bottom of these measures. Givers can be more likely to miss deadlines, make errors and display poor job performance.

If certain Givers are leading the pack in performance but others are performing the poorest, this leads us to wonder what is happening? Research indicates the vital difference is how Givers behave. If Givers do not behave with intention, they can be taken advantage of, or have their productivity diminished by overcommitting to too many tasks that benefit others. Givers are in danger of running out of time and energy to do their job. Therefore, Givers need to work towards using some guiding core principles.

The 3 questions successful Givers answer:

Why? If we are helping out of a sense of joy or purpose this can be energising and have a range of positive psychological outcomes. In contrast, if we are giving out of a sense of duty or obligation this can lead to negative psychological outcomes and potential burnout. Successful Givers are focused on giving to tasks and people that they see as important and in line with their values.

When? Successful Givers do not give away their time freely. They have boundaries and block out set times when they work on their own tasks and goals. They then schedule in time for intentional giving activities. Research shows it is much better to chunk giving together as this has positive psychological outcomes that energise your mindset. By batching giving together, successful Givers can be more focused and productive. Task switching has been shown to decrease efficiency and effectiveness. Doing a lot of nice things all at once also makes giving seem more significant, providing a better sense of contribution and increased energy. In contrast, freely giving your time away is a killer to productivity and does not allow for the focused deep work required for long-term success.

Who? Successful Givers are clear on who they are helping with their actions. Constantly giving to Takers will quickly diminish productivity and lead to being taken advantage of. We need to be wary of people who may be Takers and give them a chance to prove themselves as contributors. If they prove to be a Taker we must be willing to part ways. Takers only care about themselves and do not pass on the help given to them. This is bad for all involved long-term.

How can we recognise a Taker?

It is important to know that we cannot always identify a Taker in a short time frame. Takers can be friendly and kind, they are willing to use a whole range of behaviours to advance their own agenda. However, there are several means by which we can identify an individual who may fall into the Taker category:

  • They use the pronouns “I & Me” more often as compared to “Us or We” when talking about group success.
  • Their online presence and social media accounts may portray them in an inauthentic manner. Takers can make themselves appear more successful or attractive. If you notice that an individual seems fake online compared to in-person they may be a Taker.
  • Takers treat people differently depending on the hierarchy. They will often be overly kind to the managing director or CEO and rude to people below them in the organisation such as a new hire or an intern.

What actions can we take to build on our success?

Some actionable tips to help your success include:

  • Keeping in mind that giving without keeping score is be the most successful way to approach your professional life. Just make sure you answer the three key questions of Why? When? Who? first.
  • Encourage help-seeking behaviours in people around you. Make people in your professional circle aware that it is not embarrassing or vulnerable to ask for help.
  • Change your professional meaning of “success” to be more about contribution as compared to winning a competition.
  • Make “five-minute favours” a habit in your professional life. If you can help someone else and it will only take you a few minutes act on it straight away. Examples can be making a quick introduction to help someone network or sending a helpful reference report. Practising small ways to add value to others can lead to future success in ways you cannot foresee at the time.
  • Get the right people on the bus. Be aware of the negative impacts of Takers in your professional environment. The negative impact of a Taker is much greater than the positive impacts related to having any single Giver. We need the right people in our working environments if we are going to have long-term success.

Overall, being a Giver is how we want to approach our personal and professional relationships. The important part is how we give. By following the tips listed above we can be comfortable to give freely without worrying about limiting our personal success.

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