The world is made up of takers (who try to get as much as possible from others), matchers (who are quite generous when they expect equivalent value returned to them) and givers (who freely contribute to others without expecting anything in return).
If I asked you which group is likely at the bottom of the professional success ladder, what would you guess?
If you guessed that the givers were at the bottom, you’d be right. Self-sacrificing givers can become doormats who give to the point of not getting their own work done and/or burning out.
Now if I asked you which group was at the top of the success ladder, what would you guess?
Takers, since they are always looking out for themselves?
Matchers, since they are careful in who they give to and don’t get the negative blowback and animosity that takers often do?
Nope. Across industries as diverse as engineering, sales and medicine, the research shows that neither the takers nor the matchers are at the top of the ladder. Who is then? The givers. It turns out that giving at work can lead you down two very different paths: great success, or burnout and failure.
Adam Grant, a world-renowned researcher and Wharton professor, in his book Give and Take, lays out all the compelling research about giving at work. He teaches how to give in ways that build your career and optimize success and describes how to avoid the pitfalls that can waylay good-hearted people on their way to the top. It is one of the most powerful business books I’ve read since the Happiness Advantage and if you like what you read here, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book.
The cool findings of his work dovetail beautifully with the happiness and relationship research I’ve been posting on for the last several months. It syncs cleanly with how happiness and relationships are tied together. This week I’ll be sharing how giving drives success in life. Over the over the next couple posts we’ll look specifically at work: how giving at work can help you be more successful if it’s done right. And you’ll learn the best ways to give more at work while avoiding the pitfalls (e.g how NOT to be a doormat).
Giving is contagious and grows the pie for everyone
Research results from Christakis and Fowler*, top social network experts, show that giving spreads rapidly through our social connections. When one person contributes to a group at a personal cost, it positively influences others in that social network to contribute. And it’s not only those who are direct friends with the giver; the increased altruistic effect is seen three degrees of separation away (i.e. that person’s friends, their friend’s friends and even their friend’s, friend’s, friends, are more likely to give). And the benefits of the initial contribution to the group were tripled by the end of the experiment, creating a lot more value for the group than the original altruist’s act alone.
These findings were reinforced in a series of game theory experiments. Let’s say you are playing a multi-round game in which you are given $3 each round for six rounds. You can decide to keep the three dollars or give it to your group of four people. If you give it away every member of the team will receive $2 (for a total group value of $8). What would you do? The safest bet would be to keep the $3 each time and be guaranteed $18. If you gave the $3 each round then you are guaranteed only $12.
In the study, about 15 percent of participants were consistent givers and contributed their $3 in all 6 rounds. Surprisingly, these givers ended up with 26% more money than participants from groups without a single consistent giver. It turns out the presence of a single giver was enough to establish a norm of giving; they inspired others to give and ended up creating a much bigger pie for all the participants to share.
Giving strengthens relationships
You know what it’s like to be in the presence of a giver. It’s that person that is always looking to make sure you are comfortable, who is available when you need help, who wants to know what’s going on in your life. And what do you feel toward that person? Trust? Love? A desire to be around them more?
For most of us, seeing the giving side of a person endears us to them. It encourages us to be around them more, to do things for them and to share experiences. This builds our trust and keeps us open to connecting more which leads to stronger relationships. And the research is clear that stronger relationships are a central driver of our happiness (read more on this post) and that happiness drives our success (more here).
Giving directly drives our happiness
There is a ton of research that shows that giving makes us happier. A Harvard study shows that we get more happiness spending money on others than we do spending it on ourselves. Sonja Lyubomirksy at UC Riverside showed huge increases in happiness by doing five acts of kindness each week. Giving, whether in our personal lives or our professional lives, can generate real happiness for us. And as I mentioned above, being happier helps to drive our success (see this post for more).
How to give
This seems like it’s obvious, but not everyone knows what I mean by being a giver. Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, describes it like this: “Being a giver doesn’t require extraordinary acts of sacrifice. It just involves a focus on acting in the interests of others, such as by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit or making connections for others.” Don’t get caught up in grand — or public — gestures. Just do something nice for someone, something in their interest that isn’t necessarily directly in yours as well.
Find three ways to be a giver over the next week. Have a colleague who is really stressed about a deadline? See if there is something you can take care of for them. Are there two people you think would be able to help each other on something? Invite them both to coffee and introduce them to each other. Or bring in donuts or a fruit salad to the lunch room or a gathering where it’s not expected. It doesn’t matter what you do; the key is to get started. Then see what happens.
Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach
* My full disclosure is that the son of James Fowler, the co-author of the book Connected, and my daughter have been friends since kindergarten, but that in no way influences my awe of his research.
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