In this world there are three types of people:

  1. Those who take and never give (“takers”);
  2. Those who give only if they will receive (“matchers”); and
  3. Those who give for no reason other than to help (“givers”).

Of these types, we typically meet takers in the corporate business world – those who interact with people and have only one goal in mind: how to help themselves. These people see life, work and everything related as a zero-sum game. Your loss is directly related to the size of their gain. Sharing means they get less and not taking from you means they’ll get nothing. Competitors are enemies, colleagues are a threat. Look at Trump and Steve Jobs! Clearly, I gotta take or I’ll be left with nothing.

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First, if that’s what you think, I suggest you stop taking advice from your lawyer and smile occasionally. And second, if you think that you can fake your way to the top by pretending you’re nice and then turning on people when they’re not useful, you’re wrong. While you may accumulate a massive network as a taker, that’s only because you’re constantly burning bridges. If the stress of being a fraud, beheaded or usurped isn’t your ideal way to expand your empire, try the giver approach.

As the brilliant author Adam Grant, who is behind the taker, matcher and giver dissection described it, givers are “a strange breed of people.” These people are not identified by how much they donate or volunteer, but by how much they help others by “making an introduction, giving advice, providing mentoring or sharing knowledge, without any strings attached. (Unlike takers), givers actually prefer to be on the contributing end of an interaction.”

Givers have a massive network, which is critical to success. However, they’re over-represented at the bottom of the “success ladder”. The reason why some givers don’t “make it” is because they’re often exploited by takers. Before you decide that you’d prefer to be a matcher – that is, give only if you receive and vice versa or default to being a taker – here’s another surprise: givers are also overrepresented at the top of the “success” ladder.

Grant explains the paradox: “A lot of that comes from the trust and the good will that (givers) have built (and) the reputations that they create.

“The success of givers and the fall of takers is also driven by matchers. A matcher is somebody who really believes in a just world. Of course, a taker violates that belief in a just world. Matchers cannot stand to see takers get ahead by taking advantage of other people. (So), matchers will often go around trying to punish (takers), often by gossiping and spreading negative reputational information.

“Just as matchers hate seeing takers get away with exploitation, they also hate to see people act really generously and not get rewarded for it. Matchers will often go out of their way to promote and help and support givers, to make sure they actually do get rewarded for their generosity. That’s one of the most powerful dynamics behind the rise of givers.

“Oftentimes givers put themselves at risk in the short run. But in the long run, they end up building the kind of social capital that’s really important for success in a very connected world.”

Grant gave us some great tips on this during a Globe and Mail interview: “Successful givers pro-actively block out windows of time to get their own work done, then dedicate separate periods to be helpful to others. Also, instead of being ‘generalists’ in helping people with any request that comes up, they are more like specialists: they find ways to help that they are uniquely good at, and enjoy. This way, the act of giving is energizing to them rather than distracting and exhausting.”

He says successful givers look for ways that everybody around them can be better off. Part of what makes them so successful is that they find greater meaning and purpose in their work because they feel that they truly make a difference, Grant says. “They make it clear that their colleagues really matter to them, and as a result, they end up building deep and broad relationships with people who often become sources of creative ideas and opening doors to new opportunities.”

Become a giver with awareness, identify and avoid the takers and revel in the fact that those “cut throat” types have it wrong.  For every helping hand you extend, you become happier and more successful, while also losing the pain in your neck because you no longer have to “watch your back”.

The more sophisticated takers are less obvious about their self-centredness and willingness to exploit others. They can be excellent networkers because they know how to fake sincerity (psychopaths, anyone?). They’ll charm you and talk a big game…that is, if you can help them.

You’ve been charmed (and fooled) by a sophisticated taker if they seem to have a lot of enemies or a list of people who they don’t talk to anymore. These people are the despised kings.

Sophisticated takers are always looking over their shoulders. They distrust people and they’re likely to agree with the statement, “It’s lonely on the top.”

If all fails, identify these people by using some dating advice my grandmother gave me: you’ll figure out a man by watching how he treats those who can’t help him.  And, if he treats them poorly, run in the other direction because he’s likely to slaughter all in his way to build his paranoid empire.


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