Tension was inevitable. The stakes were high. We all wanted to be accepted into this coveted fellowship program, yet only 20% would. After a series of intensive interviews, much depended on how we played this game. The rules were odd. Eight strangers, all high-achievers, were seated at a round table, with five flat cardboard pieces in various shapes in front of each of us. Ten other just-formed teams of applicants sat at different tables in the same large meeting room. Observers with notepads were standing right behind us around each table.
Become More Beneficial With Savvy Prosocial Support
When the bell rang we were to give a piece to someone else in the group who would then be expected to give some piece back. We could not ask for a certain piece from someone else. All of us could be giving and receiving at the same time. The goal of each team member was to create a complete triangle shape out of the pieces they received. The winning team would be the first one in which every member had a completed triangle of pieces in front of them. Soon after the bell rang one team member was grimly grinning at me as she took one of my pieces and gave another back. While not violating the rules like her, most of us were also looking at everyone’s pieces to find the ones we needed.
Yet the man on my left was on a different path. He carefully looking around at each teammate’s set of pieces and then at his own. He would then give one of his pieces to someone, and put the one he received to one side. I was slow to understand his strategy but when I did I felt a surge of warmth towards him and imitated his approach. You see, instead of figuring out how fast he could complete his triangle by pulling the right pieces from others, he was helping them complete theirs by seeing which if his pieces would help each of them. Inevitably the leftovers in front of him would eventually form a triangle too.
Our “team” won because of him, and I am certain I got accepted to the program on his coattails of connective leadership. Meeting him was a life-changer for me. That was years ago and Jim remains a hero and a friend of mine to this day. Organizational psychologist and Give and Take author Adam M. Grant would call him a successful giver and he has certainly proven to be. Jim is widely admired and sought-after in many realms of work and life. From his studies, Grant would say that Jim, with practice in strategically helping others, has strengthened that selfless “giving muscle” we all have, thus also boosting his willpower and focus, becoming more productive in the use of his time and energy. (See the chocolate cookie/handgrip squeeze test described in Grant’s book).
Not all givers are successful. In fact some are the least productive, most unhappy people, according to Grant’s research. Most of us learn that lesson the hard way, and keep re-learning it.
Become the Kind Of Giver Who Gets the Most Success and Satisfaction
The priceless core lesson of Grant’s extraordinary book (my favorite on behavior since Quiet) is that we can become successful and lead a satisfying life with others if we learn the right way to give. This talented, widely-liked and introverted social scientist divides the world into givers, takers and matchers:
• The majority of us are givers, according to Grant, yet “are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success.”
• “Takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf.
• Matchers expect some kind of quid pro quo, “with a master chit list in mind.”
What makes some givers successful and sought-after is that they have both a deep, evident caring for others, yet they also attend to their own self-interest. They are not “doormats.” Grant cites three relevant behaviors for being productive, happy givers:
- Be judicious about giving to takers
- Give in ways that reinforce and support your most vital relationships. (You can’t serve everyone extremely well and care for yourself)
- Consolidate your giving into chunks of time with an individual or group so your support has a more substantial, meaningful impact
From my experience a fourth point is also vital to delivering the most helpful value for others, and yourself:
Recognize the Need to Feel Needed and Connected
In art as in life it is often a matter of where you draw the line, the saying goes, and to succeed at work you need to draw a line to create healthy boundaries. Sacrificing your precious time with closest friends, colleagues and family members because you are devoting it to too many others may not be judicious choice for the self-care that Grant advocates.
As Susan Dominus observed in her New York Times article, Grant has a traditional marriage where “his wife “who has a degree in psychiatric nursing, does not work outside the home, devoting her time to the care time of their two young daughters and their home” and “works at least one full day on the weekend, as well as six evening a week, often well past 11.”
As an alternative model of healthy giving that reflects Grant’s definition of also taking care of oneself and “chunking” the helpful time with others, serial investor, Brad Feld has often written about how he gives and sets boundaries, becoming a role model in productivity. Feld helps many in the locally-based TechStars start-up communities, the start-ups in which he and his business partners invest, and boards on which he sits. He also scales his knowledge in his blog and co-authored books, and by providing open “office hours” to help most anyone.
In his self-caring approach to giving, he resolutely and publically sets aside specific vacation and other times with his wife, and for visiting with his parents, and closest friends – and for reading and running. A core theme running through Brad’s approach is connective, collective giving. That often means apt teams help others. This models behavior for those who receive to emulate, spurring them to enjoy the camaraderie of collectively giving, using their complementary talents with and for others an each other.
Help Others to Become More Helpful
We can feel that heady, immediate hedonic high each time we help someone who seeks our advice or an introduction, yet there may be surer ways to both support others and ourselves while also spurring them to emulate the giving behavior they receive. Those who continue to keeping getting the help they ask for, without any explicit expectation of reciprocity, may become habituated to asking for help; and thus inadvertently be turned into takers. Over at Forbes, see the rest of this column, including three kinds of behaviors that I have experienced that spur a natural balance of give and take…