Through the eyes of a Giver

Adam Grant has laid out the concept of givers and takers — personalities traits that create tendencies for people to approach collaborations and instances with opposing mindsets. To boil things down simply, givers approach situations with the question “what can I do for you”? and takers approach situations with the question “what can I gain from this?”. The reasoning behind why they act the way they do is geared towards either furthering the group as a giver or furthering yourself as a taker. Neither of these types are all bad or all good — as with anything, there are drawbacks and weaknesses as well as clear areas of strength.

After taking Adam Grant’s quiz to identify which collaborator I am, I received the score of 80% giver, 20% matcher. I expected to be scored a giver with some matcher traits showing up in my score somewhere, so I wasn’t at all surprised by my results. Because I can’t relate well to the mindset of a taker, I won’t attempt to explain what the thought process of a taker is. Instead, looking at my tendencies as a giver demonstrate a window into why I take on leadership positions the way I do, why I am struggling so much with the red paperclip challenge, and maybe convince a few of you that givers do exist.

Before diving into my world, it is important to really understand what it means to be a giver. According to Grant, givers don’t need the credit of a job well done, because their ultimate success extends to the entire group — the more success the group has, the more rewarding the work is for the individual. Givers are valuable team players and vital assets to collaborative projects. However, a giver can also be taken advantage of, and often overbearing, because of their tendency to dive in and help regardless of the task. A giver can get stuck in the background because the credit often goes to the takers willing to, well, take it as their own.

For a few minutes, I invite you to read through a few of my life experiences to demonstrate how and why I am motivated by what I do — even when the task isn’t something I want to be doing:

One of the biggest moments I can think that demonstrates my thought process as a giver took place during orientation this past fall. One of my teammates was assigned to organize the day of service event that occurs every year during orientation. Unfortunately, she was very behind on that project, to the point where students were still being placed at midnight the night before day of service. I jumped in, placing students, printing day of service rosters and organizing clipboards for orientation leader facilitators. Did I want to be awake in the commons at 1:00 a.m. after a 16 hour day? Not particularly. Did the task I was working on fall at all under my job description? Not even a little bit. But in that moment, my thoughts were solely “how can I make sure tomorrow goes well for everyone?” and “what can I do to make this easier for my teammate?”. Having discussed what givers and takers are, this action makes a lot more sense to me than it did before.

The red paperclip challenge is an area where I am struggling — as are many people in my class. However, the reason that I’m struggling is not because of the difficulty of finding people to trade my item with, though that is certainly part of it, but the guilt that I feel when I make a trade. My most recent trade (nobody’s allowed to cringe at how long it has been) was at the trading post before spring break, when I traded my boss for an exercise bike. I felt (and still do feel) guilty over getting such a good item from her, especially because my trade to her was so lopsided. I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of accepting her offer, which ties into a larger issue I have with accepting help. It feels wrong for me to take from her such a great item even though she doesn’t want it — this giver tendency is one that is making the challenge much harder than it could be.

Even this blog post is something that I am uncomfortable with. I am not a fan of publishing what seems like a page of me writing about examples of when I was a giving person. I don’t want the examples I’ve provided, especially the first, to be viewed as moments to praise. I think ultimately that is what makes me a giver. Yes, I have the mindset that I want to help the group and, yes, sometimes I can be less willing to take something that will benefit me, but what I think truly makes me a giver is the embarrassment (and sometimes guilt) that I feel when I get credit or recognition for something.

Ultimately, all of this is really about me. So, how does it apply to you? Well, knowing your own collaborative preferences and motivations is a great start. If you are a taker or a matcher, I hope understanding what motivates me as a giver makes it easier for us to work together towards a common goal. If you are a giver — be proud!! I know that I cringed while writing this post, and you may feel the same way. But, if more people were proud of their ‘giver’ tendencies, there would be a lot more collaboration in the world, and a lot less doubt about the motivations of other people. Being proud of being a giver would also allow for all of you matchers to focus more on your giver tendencies, because you would know going in who is a giver.

One of the things I find interesting about Grant’s writing, as highlighted in an article published by New York Times Magazine (attached below), is that Grant views givers two different ways: givers who are exploited and burnt out because they give too much, and givers who are successful because they still have a high self-interest even though they are truly motivated by helping others. My call to action is that all the givers out there should embrace their giver tendencies as strengths, because people want to rely on you. But give in ways that are also a part of your self interest — try giving to other givers and to matchers primarily, in order to encourage the trend of giving. The giving that is low ‘cost’ relative to the impact on you the giving will have is the best kind to engage in because it allows you to act on your impulse as a giver without enduring a high cost. Additionally giving in large quantities (helping a lot of people at once instead of trying to spread it out for time’s sake over several weeks) produces a higher impact which is more gratifying.

My biggest piece of advice: don’t be afraid to be a giver. I know it is uncomfortable to talk about giving and being a giver — I am going to pretend that nobody is reading this in order to feel comfortable posting it on this blog — but being a giver is a really powerful thing, and being proud of it creates a culture in which giving is more and more widely practiced. And that could make all the difference in making the world a better place.


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