‘Giving’ at the Workplace

Pic Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Hindu mythology is replete with examples of ‘giving’ others whatever one has without expecting anything in return. One of the most famous stories is that of the poor brahmin Sudama, who gave his friend Lord Krishna a handful of poha (beaten rice) as a humble gift without expecting anything in return. For the two handfuls of poha that Sudama brought for Lord Krishna, he, in turn, blessed Sudama with all the material comforts of the world (the story of Lord Krishna and Sudama). Like Sudama did, giving something without expecting anything in return can power the world with its positive energy loop.

While this is a meaningful story to read out to kids, one wonders if it is possible to be a ‘Giver’ at the workplace not expecting anything in return and still succeed in an extremely competitive world? Won’t the giving approach make us look like doormats?

Adam Grant’s book ‘Give and Take’ shows that the art of ‘giving’ without expecting anything in return can be practiced in the real world too, whether it is at the office or otherwise. Adam Grant succinctly describes the three fundamental styles of social interaction as ‘giving, taking and matching’. This style of social interaction that we choose to primarily practice can play “as much a role in our success” like hard work, talent and luck does.

As the name suggests, ‘Givers’ share their knowledge, time and things with others to whatever extent they can, without expecting anything in return. They most often do so because they want to make a difference to the lives of others. ‘Takers’ prefer taking as much as possible ruthlessly tilting any bargain in their favor. ‘Matchers’ give as much as they are likely to get in return, they try to match the transaction and give only when they are assured of an equal return. Adam Grant describes several examples of people in his book (from diverse backgrounds and industries) who practice a ‘Giving’ interaction style and have succeeded famously — as giving without expecting anything in return can go a full circle, reaping impressive dividends to the giver in the long run.

While the ‘givers’ stand out in a crowd and are truly a rare breed to find, one learns to be wary of the ‘matchers’ and the ‘takers’ with time and experience. In the long run, people try to find ways to give back to the ‘Giver’ and this only helps the ‘giver’ to continue to help others. This cycle of ‘giving’ and helping others without a ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ approach can catapult the team and organization to reach phenomenal success.

In one study, University of Minnesota researchers Eugene Kim and Theresa Glomb found that ‘Highly talented people tend to make others jealous at work , placing themselves at the risk of being disliked, resented, ostracized, and undermined. But if these talented people were also ‘givers’, they no longer have a target on their backs. Instead givers are appreciated for their contribution to the group.’

‘Givers’ create opportunities for their colleagues to contribute rather than imposing their ideas and grabbing the credit for themselves. The generosity and kindness of the ‘giver’ earns the trust it deserves. In the long run, when a giver initiates a project or suggests ideas for implementation, co-workers trust them and accept their ideas very willingly.

Uma Parameswaran states in her book ‘CV Raman’ that Sir C V Raman (Nobel Prize for Physics, 1930) was known to have given freely of his time and talents to research, training of students and to the cultivation of science in India. Even in his research findings he always gave due recognition and credit to each of his research assistants who had contributed to his success.

When we make an effort to look around and find ‘Givers’ in our own social circle, we do find them. Ms. Dhivya Mani (HR Manager) is someone whom I would categorize as a ‘Giver’. Dhivya believes that “Adopting a ‘giving’ interaction style at the workplace is very important because people trust you when you genuinely give or share your ideas or time not expecting anything in return. It becomes clear that there is no lurking hidden agenda and such relationships build trust over time. When we focus on the work at hand giving it our best, while also genuinely helping others around grow, opportunities seem to come about on their own. ‘Giving’ without looking for kickbacks makes us stand in good stead when opportunities arise”. Dhivya states that in her 13 years’ experience in HR, she has noticed a pattern where, “It is those bosses who ‘give’ generously of their time and ideas to others without expecting anything in return, who are the most sought-after leaders and managers whom employee’s clamor to work under and are likely to be the most successful too”.

At the workplace, you will be able to identify the givers, the matchers, and the takers. Group behavior can tell us a lot about people. If you take the time and effort to look around, you are likely to find the rare ‘Givers’ always ready to help others genuinely while succeeding at their own work too.

Developing a ‘Giving’ interaction style doesn’t need to be limited to mythology. We can make it happen at our very own workplace with no detriment to our success.