Adam Grant: How Nice Guys Finish Last…and First

Give and Take

“Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?” (p. 4).

“In the workplace, givers are relatively a rare breed.  They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get….According to Yale psychologist Margaret Clark, most people act like givers in close relationships.  In marriage and friendships, we contribute whenever we can without keeping score.  But in the workplace, give and take becomes more complicated.  Professionally, few of us act like givers or takers, adapting a third style instead.  We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting” (pp. 4, 5).

“The worst performers and best performers are givers; takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle” (p. 7).

“[There’s] something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades….Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them….’It’s easier to win when everybody wants you to win'” (p. 10).

“[Takers] and matchers also give in the context of networks, but they tend to give strategically, when an expected personal return that exceeds or equals their contributions….Instead of just reactively doing favors for the people who have already helped them, takers and matchers often proactively offer favors to people whose help they want in the future….[When takers and matchers give to receive, they do so with different aims.  Takers are equally looking to get as much as possible, whereas matchers are motivated to maintain equal exchanges” (p. 43).

“At its core, the giver approach extends a broader reach, and in doing so enlarges the range of potential payoffs, even though those payoffs are not the motivating engine” (p. 45).

“‘I believe in the strength of weak ties’….Weak ties are more likely to open up access to a different network, facilitating the discovery of original leads….The key is reconnecting, and it’s a major reason why givers succeed in the long run” (p. 47).

“Dormant ties are the neglected value in our networks, and givers have a distinctive edge over takers and matchers in unlocking this value….According to networking experts, reconnecting is a totally different experience for givers, especially in the wired world.  Givers have a track record of generously sharing their knowledge, teaching us their skills, and helping us find jobs without worrying what’s in it for them, so we’re glad to help them when they get back in touch with us” (pp. 51, 52).

“‘You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody” (p. 55).

“Giving, especially when it’s distinctive and consistent, establishes a pattern that shifts other people’s reciprocity styles within a group.  It turns out that giving can be contagious” (p. 56).

“Geniuses tend to be takers: to promote their own interests, the ‘drain intelligence, energy, and capability’ from others.  Genius makers tend to be givers: they use their ‘intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities’ of other people” (p. 63).

“In a classic article, the psychologist Edwin Holder argued that when people act generously in groups, they earn idiosyncrasy credits — positive impressions that accumulate in the minds of group members.  Since many people think like matchers, when they work in groups, it’s very common for them to keep track of each member’s credits and debits.  Once a group member earned idiosyncrasy credits through giving, matchers grant that member a license to deviate from the group’s norms and expectations….In line with Meyer’s experience, research shows that givers get extra credit when they offer ideas that challenge the status quo” (p. 76).

“To help colleagues, people need to step outside their own frames of reference….[They] need to ask, ‘How would the recipient feel in this situation” (p. 90).

“Teachers’ beliefs created self-fulfilling prophecies.  When teachers believed their students were bloomers, they set high expectations for their success.  As a result, the teachers engaged in more supportive behaviors that boosted the students’ confidence and enhanced their learning and development.  Teachers communicated more warmly to the bloomers, gave them more challenging assignments, called on them more often, and provided them with more feedback.  Many experiments have replicated these effects, showing that teacher expectations are especially important for improving the grades and intelligence scores of low-achieving students and members of stigmatized minority groups” (pp. 99, 100).

“Givers don’t wait for signs of potential.  Because they tend to be trusting and optimistic about other people’s intentions, in their roles as leaders, managers, and mentors, givers are inclined to see the potential in everyone….The identification of talent may be the wrong place to start….It turns out that motivation is the reason that people develop talent in the first place….In roles as leaders and mentors, givers resist the temptation to search for talent first.  By recognizing that anyone can be a bloomer, givers focus their attention on motivation….The psychologist Angela Duckworth calls this grit: having passion and perseverance toward long-term goals.  Her research shows that above and beyond intelligence and aptitude, gritty people — by virtue of their interest, focus, and drive — achieve higher performance….One of the keys to cultivating grit is making the task at hand more interesting and motivating” (pp. 101, 103, 104, 105, 106).

“The opposite of a taker’s powerful communication style is called powerless communication.  Powerless communicators tend to speak less assertively, expressing plenty of doubt and relying heavily on advice from others.  They talk in ways that signal vulnerability, revealing their weaknesses and making use of disclaimers, hedges, and hesitations” (pp. 130, 131).

“It’s the givers, by virtue of their interest in getting to know us, who ask us the questions that enable us to experience the joy of learning from ourselves.  And by giving us the floor, givers are actually learning about us and from us, which helps them figure out how to sell us things we already value” (p. 137).

“By asking people questions about their plans and intentions, we increase the likelihood that they will actually act on these plans and intentions” (p. 142).

“[When he no longer sounds dominant and opposing, they] don’t feel he’s trying to convince them, so they lower their resistance” (p. 146).

“New research shows that advice seeking is a surprisingly effective strategy for exercising influence when we lack authority….Advice seeking is a form of powerless communication that combines expressing vulnerability, asking questions, and talking tentatively.  When we ask others for advice, we’re posing a question that conveys uncertainty and makes us vulnerable.  Instead of confidently projecting we have all the answers, we’re admitting that others might have superior knowledge” (pp. 150, 151).

“When we ask people for advice, we grant them prestige, showing that we respect and admire their insights and expertise.  Since most people are matchers, they tend to respond favorably and feel motivated to support us in return” (pp. 152, 153).

“Success involves more than just capitalizing on the strengths of giving; it also requires avoiding the pitfalls.  If people give too much time, the end up making sacrifices for their collaborators and network ties, at the expense of their own energy.  If people give away too much credit and engage in too much powerless communication, it’s all too easy for them to become pushovers and doormats, failing to advance their own interests.  The consequence: givers end up exhausted and unproductive” (p. 155).

“Successful givers, it turns out, are just as ambitious as takers and matchers….Takers score high in self-interest and low in other-interest: they aim to maximize their own success without much concern for other people.  By contrast, givers always score high on other-interest, but they vary on self-interest.  There are two types of givers, and they have dramatically different success rates.  Selfless givers are people with high other-interest and low self-interest.  They give their time and energy without regard for their own needs, and they pay a price for it.  Selfless giving is a form of pathological altruism, which is defined by researcher Barbara Oakley as ‘an unhealthy focus on others to the detriment of one’s own needs,’ such that in the process of helping others, givers end up harming themselves.” (p. 157).

“Most people assume that self-interest and other-interest are opposite ends of one continuum.  Yet in my studies of what drives people at work, I’ve consistently found that self-interest and other-interest are completely independent motivations: you can have both of them at the same time….If takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests….Being otherish manes being willing to give more than you receive, but still keeping your own interests in sight, using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give” (pp. 157, 158).

[Giver burnout] has less to do with the amount of giving and more with the amount of feedback about the impact of that giving….Givers don’t burn out when they devote too much time to giving.  They burn out when they’re working with people in need but are unable to help effectively” (p. 165).

“You can choose one of two different ways to organize your giving: chunking or sprinkling.  If you’re a chunker, you’ll pack all five acts of giving into a single day each week.  If you’re a sprinkler, you’ll distribute your giving evenly across five different days, so that you give a little bit each day….Chunking giving is an otherish strategy….In contrast, selfless givers are more inclined to sprinkle giving throughout their days, helping whenever people need them.  This can become highly distracting and exhausting, robbing selfless givers of the attention and energy necessary to complete their own work” (p. 171).

“Becoming a doormat is the giver’s worst nightmare….[An] otherish approach enables givers to escape the trap of being too trusting by becoming highly flexible and adaptable in their reciprocity styles….[The] otherish style helps givers sidestep the land mines of being too empathetic and too timid by repurposing some skills that come naturally to them” (p. 189).


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