Giving or taking? It depends on your mindset

Next, let’s move from the Theory X or Y employees, and Hyatt’s scarcity and abundance thinkers, to the givers, takers, and matchers from Wharton professor Adam Grant’s research (from his book “Give and Take – Why helping others drives our success”). Which worldview and associated behaviors prevail in your workplace?

Grant: Taker, Matcher, or Giver

According to Grant, there are two extremes in how we relate to one another.
On the one end of the spectrum is the Taker. Takers like to get more than they give; they are self-focused because they expect others to act selfish, too. They believe that the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. “If I win, you lose.” If they give, they do so strategically. They believe that “the pie” is fixed. So they’d better get the largest piece of it…

Givers are on the other end of the relationship spectrum. Givers like to give more than they get – they simply want to help others. They are other-focused and trust people up front, assuming the best of them. They believe that people are good and that there is abundance – there will be enough for everyone. “If I win, you win, too! We can all win together.”

They give with no strings attached, expecting nothing in return. But by giving generously in time, advice, efforts – they seem to enlarge “the pie” for everyone. Because people copy their generous behaviors and pay it forward, they trust each other more and come up with innovative ideas that eventually enlarge the pie.

Somewhere in between these extremes, we’ll find the matchers. They prefer balance. They value fairness, reciprocity, and equality. They have a norm of quid pro quo. If they give, they’ll expect some favor in return, sooner or later.

Do you recognize these styles at work? Most people act like givers outside the workplace (research by Yale psychologist Margaret Clark). Worldwide, people value “giver values” such as helpfulness, responsibility, social justice and compassion.

Worldwide, people value “giver values” such as helpfulness and responsibility Click To Tweet

But in the workplace, most of us become matchers – probably because we get cautious. Giving to a taker can be risky – it may cost you energy and time and prevent you from getting your own work done – while you get nothing in return.

Workplaces and schools are often designed as zero-sum environments with fixed rankings that put members in win-lose relationships or situations. That’s why people will lean towards taking, so everyone withholds giving. People anticipate self-interested behavior from others and that’s why being competitive seems the rational thing to do, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Do you see the associated worldview of givers? They embody parts of Eisenstein’s Interbeing, Hyatt’s abundance, and McGregor’s Theory Y.

If your inner critic dismissed these mindsets as too positive to be true, please note that Grant’s research shows that many givers are very successful at work. That’s because they are realistic as well. In a way, they hold both the conventional cautious mindset and the positive mindset of possibilities at the same time.

Stay grounded in Reality

Grant’s research shows that successful givers are just as ambitious as takers. Takers score high on the dimension self-interest and low on other-interest. But successful givers also scored high on self-interest, in addition to a high score on other-interest. They give generously and with no strings attached, but they are careful not to overextend. They tend to balance interests between self and the other. Their motto seems Trust-But-Verify. They check if others are genuine by asking them to pay favors forward to others – and gauge the response. Is the receiver willing to give to others? Successful givers do sincerity screening; who is worthy of receiving help and who is a taker in disguise? Successful givers adjust their strategy to their counterpart: they are collaborative until they find out they’re dealing with a taker – then they become more competitive.

My plea is not to adopt a naive positive mindset without staying grounded in reality, without staying open for contradictory information, without mindful observation and critical thinking. We need to stay open and welcome the paradoxical nature of reality. Both sides of a coin are always present even if you can see only one at a time.

The either/or thinking that we have learned with our conventional mindset could be extended to both/and thinking. Just like what happened in the sciences that moved from “absolute certainty” to probability when Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle described that the more certain you are about the position of a particle, the less you are about its momentum, and vice versa.
You flip a coin and it can land on either of its sides. Heads or Tails? You will see one but the other is present, too.

We need to stay open and welcome the paradoxical nature of reality Click To Tweet

When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.

This is book post #23 – ME

Here‘s the earlier post
Here‘s the next post

If you’re confused – please start with post #1 or check the Positive Power overview and read the Positive Agent Manifesto.

Leaders, employees, consultants, citizens – everyone can make a positive difference from any position, without needing permission or resources from others. This blog will help you see positive possibilities and (re)claim your positive agency. Unstuck yourself and engage others via your interaction and actions. Transform into a positive organization where people and performance thrive.

I’m blogging my next book: “Positive Power at Work – How to make a positive difference from any position.” Your feedback is appreciated!

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Marcella, and Stefano; How could I not respond to this question, moving the discussion beyond “Theory X and Y” , and especially discussing “dividing up a fixed sized pie” versus one reflecting growth economics – where the “pie gets larger.” The pie grows with attempts to participate and engage (be giving), and thereby is able “to add to (grow, and I don’t mean fat)” economic prosperity. Thanks for the post, and OD has to “include these facts”, or there is no purpose for OD, Leadership, and/or Culture Management via affordable, functional Changes.

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