Givers and takers, movers and shakers


I have spent the last couple of days in Adam Grant’s head with his book Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Given by a friend, it’s a great journey and a well-researched look at our characteristics as givers, takers, and matchers.

He argues convincingly that though takers might consider givers naive, unassertive chumps who are too nice for their own good, it is the givers who succeed in the long-run. The networks they build through reaching out, the influence they earn through respect, and their positive regard for others (not blind trust as it is often misconstrued) typically repay their sharing many times over. Grant shows how givers even outperform the matchers, those who strive for the perceived fairness of quid pro quo, an equal balance of giving and getting.

We are hopefully a long way from the days of greed is good, and yet the corporate world often seems to be still driven by takers. We learn the Darwinist rules of competition young. We are taught to set the agenda and lead from the front. Success will be ours if we keep our ideas, our contacts, our insights to ourselves…And so on it goes.

This gets magnified in intercultural interaction where assertive, dominant behaviour effectively stifles knowledge sharing and communication, as well as burning any potential relationship bridges. If innovation relies on the contribution of all the diversity of views and backgrounds possible, then the single-minded focus of takers lekking* is a non-starter for success. Just one of the better approaches that Grant advocates is what he terms powerless communication.

If powerful communication is speaking forcefully, expressing certainty with conviction and pride, and asserting authority through a raised voice and strong body language, then powerless communication is pretty much the opposite – speaking less assertively, relying on the advice of others, signalling doubt and vulnerability through modifiers, and more.  He cites numerous examples of how this approach engages and wins audiences over, engendering trust and commitment.

It is not about being a doormat, but about placing the interests of others first. And although true altruism is a doubtful concept to many, it seems from his research that giving, especially exemplified by voluntary work (the magic number is apparently around 100 hours a year), does lead to happier, more fulfilled individuals.

Along the way, Grant reinforces such age-old truisms as that if you treat someone as they could be, then they become who they should be, as well as the merits of paying it forward. It’s a fascinating read and well recommended. I’d give you my copy but it’s already been passed on to another friend…

*I love this word. The male display of braggadocio in courtship. It’s good for Scrabble too.

About Julian King

Julian King is an international HR consultant and certified executive coach with a keen interest in intercultural matters.