Giving at Work: How to Avoid Being a Doormat GiverSeptember 25 , 2014

It’s been a while since my last post, so let me do one of those summary montages they like so much on network television.  Here’s what you missed on The Happiness Infusion Blog: Being a giver at work can be an excellent way to drive your success.  Giving, when done right, can propel you to the top of the success ladder (whether your definition of success is qualifying for cooler projects, making your mark on the company or earning more money).  However, giving in the wrong ways can easily lead to burnout and failure.    The vast majority of us hold giving as one of our most important values in life.  And we see that expressed well in our personal lives, but we don’t generally express that value as much in the office.  In this week’s post I’ll explore how to be a powerful giver at work without becoming a doormat.

By the way, I draw a lot of this information from Adam Grant, the world’s expert on giving at work.  Grant lays this compelling research out in his book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.

Most people can see that giving at work is risky. We’ve all had “taker” co-workers who take advantage of others.  And once you start being generous with your time and talents,  it’s easy to get pulled into giving so much that you can’t get your own work done or to burnout from the long hours needed to be both a giver and complete your own tasks on time.  But there are some easy ways to give that will lead you to become a champ rather than a chump. (I just couldn’t resist the cheesy play on words…)

Become an Other-ish GiverOtherish_takers

Takers are those people who are constantly looking to take more than they give.  Matchers, in Grant’s parlance, are people who are perfectly happy to give as long as they see an equal value in what they expect to get back from those they help.  And givers are those who are willing to give more than they receive.

Within givers there are two major types — the failed givers are selfless; they give and give without worrying about themselves.  The other more successful type of giver, are called ‘otherish’ givers.  These givers love helping others and they do it naturally, AND they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.  Grant says, “Otherish givers help with no strings attached; they’re just careful not to overextend themselves along the way.”  Giving and self-interest are not on opposite sides of a linear spectrum but are independent of each other.  As we see in the graphic, successful givers are able to do both at the same time.  So how do you become an otherish giver?  Read on…

If you are a matcher now 

Using these categories, I realize that, during my career as a venture capitalist and business executive, I was largely a matcher.  I was always willing to help those who I knew could help me down the line.  I focused on building out my network towards further success: “I’ll help you with this and then you’ll likely invite me to that.”  If that’s true for you and you want to become more of a giver, first read my last post, Giving More at Work: How to Do It.  Then read on below for how to best guide your giving so that you can maintain it over the long haul.   (BTW, if there are any takers in the audience, know that taking more than you give is generally not a long-term strategy for success and if you want to make some changes, you can follow along here too)

Minimize your costs – Find ways of giving that are fun and easy for you.  Are you an outgoing extravert that has lots of friends and contacts?  Share those generously with others.  Do you enjoy strategic big picture thinking? Then offer strategic reviews to colleagues.   Love helping to solve seemingly intractable problems?  Let people know they can come to you.  Enjoy planning parties?  Set up some team-building social events.  Super organized?  Jump in to rearrange the workflow.  Find ways to help that don’t take a lot of time, play to your strengths and be generous with them.  Master the 5-minute favor I discussed last post.

Chunk your giving – When someone comes asking for help and you are in the middle of something, it’s absolutely ok to tell them a time to come back to you.  Some people and teams even schedule time when they are specifically available to help, so their workflow is not interrupted with constant requests.  Not only will this help your focus in the moment, chunking your giving has a whole host of other benefits.  Researchers showed that people who concentrate their giving in one or two periods per week got more happiness from their giving and had higher self-esteem and life satisfaction than those who sprinkle their giving.  Researches have figured out that the ideal amount of giving is about 2 hours/week.  This is the amount of giving that optimizes the benefits and minimizes the sense of overextending and burnout.

Generous tit for tat – When you meet new people always start out with a giving stance – as discussed last time, be willing to do a 5-minute favor for anyone to establish a mode of giving.  Over time, if this person starts taking more than they give, stop giving for a while, but then try again.  Grant says, “Never forget a good turn, but forgive the occasional bad one. “  This idea comes from game theory research which shows this generous tit for tat style is the most successful long-term strategy.

 If you are selfless giver…

Ask for help – Selfless givers have a hard time asking for help.  They don’t want to bother their colleagues or friends with their needs and they certainly don’t want to seem like takers.  Here’s the thing: people can’t help you if they don’t know what you want.  And if you are a giver, the vast majority of people (all but the takers) will know that you are a giver and will jump at the opportunity to help you.

Advocate for others – If asking for help for yourself is hard for you, some selfless givers work to integrate other’s needs with theirs.  For instance, selfless givers often have trouble asking for a raise or promotion for themselves.  So instead they think about how the extra money would be beneficial to their partner or to their kids which gives them the power to ask.  Or they think about how they would be a more generous and supportive manager to their teammates if they got that promotion.  For the selfless giver, advocating for others whose interests align with yours can be a great path to become more otherish.

Look under the surface before you categorize someone – There are a lot of really lovely, fun, agreeable people out there who are takers; you may not notice at first because they seem so nice.  And there are lots of people who can be a pain in the butt to deal with but are very generous with their time and gifts.  As you work to sort the takers out of your life, look at their actions, not just whether or not they are pleasant to be around.

Your challenge

No matter where you are on the Giver/Taker spectrum, you can give more and be more successful while you do it.  Look at the list above and pick one thing to work on this week.  Either go out of your way to do some 5-minute favors for colleagues or people you just met.  And if you need to practice advocating for yourself, find something that you need help on and ASK.

Giving at work can help you achieve your long-term goals.  Find a way to tap into your inherent desire to help others and make giving a bigger part of your life.

Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach

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