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Giving and Taking: How to Get Ahead at Work

Are you a giver, a taker, or a matcher? What does it mean for career success?

In his recent book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Guide to Success, psychologist Adam Grant discusses three types of workers: Givers, those who are committed to helping others, Takers, workers who try to get as much as possible from others and give little back, and Matchers, who give only to the extent that they get something in return. Grant’s research suggests that Givers often get ahead in organizations because they make those around them better – they are helpful to the team’s performance, and they can reap personal rewards as a result.

Grant argues that in many organizations the Takers hog the spotlight and take credit for others’ work. Often, they may get personal recognition, but it doesn’t make the team or organization better. An obvious problem is that many organizations focus on personal accomplishments and encourage and reward the Takers. Grant suggests that allowing peers to recognize their outstanding colleagues will lead to recognition of the Givers in the organization.

Givers, however, need to be careful because they can be taken advantage of. Givers who self-sacrifice, and put other people ahead of themselves, are not usually successful. The Givers who succeed are careful to give only to other Givers or Matchers, who will reciprocate. [I’ve written elsewhere about the “nice guys who get ahead” phenomenon and the strategies that nice guys and gals need in order to protect themselves.] Another strategy is to identify and avoid the Takers in the workplace.

From the organization’s perspective, Grant’s research suggests that companies need to pay close attention to hire Givers, but more importantly, to screen out the Takers. One bad apple can spoil the barrel because if others see the taker getting ahead, they may follow suit.

Organizations can also foster a climate of giving by encouraging members to be clear when they have needs, and being open to help from others. Fostering a sense of helping and gratitude for one another’s efforts not only rewards giving behavior, but discourages one-sided taking. The result is a much better, less dog-eat-dog environment.

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