Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?


power of giversWhen it comes to getting ahead at the office, you’ve probably heard the adage, “Nice guys finish last.”

But Adam Grant, a Wharton professor and a researcher with a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, says that workers who only look out for themselves are playing a short game.

Instead it’s those who lend a helping hand—even when they have nothing to gain—who can see long-term benefits, long after the favor has passed.

In his book “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” Grant turns the typical ideas of the best way to climb the career ladder on their head, by showing how “givers” prosper.

He shared with LearnVest the key differences between givers and takers—and how to be a smart giver, instead of a garden-variety pushover.

The Difference Between Givers and Takers

Drawing upon decades of social-science research and his own studies, Grant divides workers into three categories: takers, matchers and givers.

It’s pretty easy to identify who the takers are in any given situation. The person who takes all the credit for a group project? He’s a taker. And the person who stopped answering your emails once you did her a favor? Ditto.

More specifically, Grant describes takers in his book as believing, “the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts.” Takers can be territorial and pushy, and often feel like they need to get the upper hand or the best deal in every situation.

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The second group, known as matchers, look out for their own interests as well but are also willing to lend a helping hand—as long as they know it will be repaid. For matchers, everything has to be squared away when it comes to doing favors, and they always know the score. The majority of workers fall into this category.

The third category, givers, helps others without thinking of repayment, or whether they already owe the person a favor. They don’t necessarily have to be the people who donate all of their worldly possessions to charity—or even those who volunteer weekly at the local soup kitchen. Instead, they’ll cover shift hours, finish a presentation or take notes at a meeting for a colleague. Simply put, Grant says givers act in the interest of others, “by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit or making connections for others.”

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When Giving Goes Wrong

In the workplace, the problem with being a giver comes in when your desire to be generous to others gets in the way of your own success. Or as Grant succinctly puts it, “Givers tend to be the best performers … and the worst.”