Take Givers

GiversThe single question I most often have been asked is whether civility is really possible in the world of litigation where zealous advocacy tends to be the norm.  My affirmative answer has been reinforced by my read of Give and Take by Adam Grant.  The highest-rated professor at The Wharton School, Grant applies organizational behavior research and case studies to redefine professional success.  This book not only supports the civility movement, but likely will be empowering to lawyers who feel stunted by the ostensible “winner takes all” success paradigm or unsure about the value or mechanics of networking.

Takers, Matchers, And Givers

Grant writes that people interact professionally as either “takers,” “matchers,” or “givers.”  The takers are easily recognizable:  they draw attention to themselves, peppering monologues with “I” not “we” and casting a wide net of accomplishments for which they claim credit.  Their interpersonal style is to get more than they give.  Matchers, on the other hand, are willing to give as long as they extract a quid pro quo; you sometimes hear them explicitly keeping score, but usually can feel the reciprocity at work.  Givers focus on acting in the interests of others– helping, mentoring, and making connections.  Although this helping behavior is common in our close personal relationships, many of us have cultivated a taker or at least matcher professional style, particularly in the legal profession, assuming that it isn’t possible to be successful in the competitive world we live in by being a giver in our work lives.

And that assumption is at least partially correct. As you would expect, research shows givers at the bottom of the success ladder across a wide range of professions.  They make others better off, but often at the expense of their own professional development or advancement.  Surprisingly, though, those at the top of the success ladder are also givers, not takers or matchers.  In studies conducted across various professions, givers are both champs and chumps.

It turns out that whether giving is effective depends on the particular kind of exchange.  In zero-sum and win-lose interactions, giving rarely pays off.  But very little of our work lives, even in litigation where the vast majority of the cases settle, truly involves zero-sum interactions.  Givers who learn to adjust their personal style based on particular interactions avoid being chumps and can profit professionally.

Givers Advantage

One area where givers have a natural advantage over takers and matchers is in networking, especially in the vastly expanded networking world facilitated by social media.  Networking provides invaluable access to knowledge, expertise, power and opportunities.  Networks contain people with whom we generally have one of two different relationships: strong ties, consisting mostly of close friends and colleagues whom we trust and rely on for support; and weak ties, or acquaintances, who we know casually.  Research of people who recently changed jobs showed that significantly more got their job lead from weak ties than from strong ties.  Why? Strong ties provide bonds of support but weak ties provide bridges to new information, opening up new opportunities.

There is a third type of relationship—a hybrid that comes with the strength and trust of a strong tie and the novel information of a weak tie that Grant calls the “dormant tie.”  Dormant ties are people with whom we used to have a close relationship but have lost touch.

Here’s where the givers of the world clean up.  Givers, who develop contacts as a result of seeking to help a wide range of people, have an advantage over matchers who build a smaller network based on quid pro quo, or takers who need to constantly expand their networks because they “burn through” contacts. Reconnecting with a dormant tie is a positive and productive experience for givers.  Dormant ties are generally glad to help givers with whom they have a track record of shared information, mentoring, or other commonality. However, the dormant tie is likely to be wary of the motives of takers or matchers, and, therefore, less likely to provide valuable information.

According to my son, a Wharton student, the author of Give and Take is known around Penn as the quintessential giver.  Prof. Grant holds office hours open to any student on any topic, and students flock to take advantage of his advice.  Kind of sounds like the Five Minute Favor pioneered by super-networker and entrepreneur Adam Rifkin.  Rifkin promotes the giver approach to networking because it can be highly productive for everyone. “You should be willing to do something that takes you five minutes or less for anybody,” Rifkin explains.  The effects can be far-reaching.  Research shows that giving spreads rapidly across social networks and changes people’s behavior. By the way they interact with others, givers add value rather than claiming it (as takers do) or trading it (as matchers do), thereby expanding the pie for all involved.

Next time you have the opportunity, give that Five Minute Favor.

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