whether or not you give in ways that are
self-sacrificing. Selfless givers tend to fail,
as they struggle to set boundaries. They
put other people ahead of themselves
almost all of the time and they’re willing
to drop their individual goals and
ambitions and productivity for others.
The givers who end up succeeding
are the ones who are careful to say, “I’m
going to be clear about who I want to
help and when and how I want to help
them.” Also, successful givers are much
more likely to focus their giving on fellow
givers and matchers, becoming a little
more cautious when dealing with takers.
It can be pretty risky to help takers who
are willing to take advantage of you.
What can organizations do to
cultivate a giver attitude among
The first research-backed practice is
selection. Many people assume the key
is to hire people who already gravitate
toward giving, but it’s actually more
important to screen out takers than to
hire givers. The reason is that one bad
apple can spoil the barrel; one good egg
doesn’t usually make a dozen.
Step two is making sure you create
mechanisms to recognize and reward
people who give, such as by allowing
employees to nominate one another
for company-wide recognition. In so
many organizations, the most visible,
successful people are takers who are
really good at claiming credit and
hogging the spotlight. To overcome this
problem, we need to focus on promoting
not just the people who have great
individual results, but the people who
actually make those around them better.
The third step is the most counter-
How have your findings changed
intuitive — to encourage more help-
seeking. There can be lots of givers
without takers, but there can’t be givers
without receivers. We need people who
are willing to be clear about what they
need, articulate how others can be
helpful and receive those contributions
with gratitude. Otherwise, the givers
in the organization never know who
would benefit from their help and how.
So, creating a culture of help-seeking
and making it a sign of strength — as
opposed to weakness — is a good way to
create opportunities for people to give.
your own behaviors?
As I did the research, I realized that I
was falling victim to helping the people
who had a history or reputation of being
selfish. I’ve learned to be clearer about
trying to help givers and matchers, and
I’m much more cautious now about
helping takers than I used to be.
I’m also much more likely now
to ask people to help me help other
people. When I first became a professor,
I’d spend 30 to 60 minutes with each
undergraduate who came to my office
hours to prepare them for job interviews.
As I taught more and larger classes, I
couldn’t do that with every student,
and my knowledge became more dated
— it had been longer since I had gone
through that interview process and I felt
less helpful than I used to be.
As I was doing my research, I read
about the idea of creating a mentoring
network with a pay-it-forward norm,
and I started asking the students that I
had helped with practice interviews if
they would be willing to do that with my
current students. The amazing thing was
that a lot of students did it and I would
get emails from them saying, “This is
more fun and meaningful than my job.
Can you send me more students to help?”
You’ve also been an all-American
diver. How did being a giver help
you succeed as an athlete?
Diving is a really tricky domain, because
individual competition is zero-sum.
When I tried to be a giver as a diver,
I spent time informally coaching my
peers. In some ways, that compromised
a couple of moments of my own success.
Then again, it’s often said that the best
way to learn something is to teach it.
In the long run, I think that I became a
much better diver because I was trying to
help other divers get better, and that led
me to learn things that I could apply to
my own diving.
What other research would you
like to see done in this realm?
For me, the biggest unanswered question
is: How do you turn a taker into a giver
or a matcher? There’s a lot of research on
how you get people to give in certain situations, but I think we need to better understand how we inspire people who see
the world as a dog-eat-dog, competitive,
me-first place, to shift their mindsets more
fundamentally. Another interesting direction would be to link styles of giving, taking and matching to communication. I
was able to piece together some suggestive
studies and stories to argue that takers are
more likely to use powerful communication and givers are more comfortable with
powerless communication. That’s an opportunity to do research on the communication styles of givers and takers, and how
our motives affect the way that we speak
and the way we reveal our vulnerabilities
or our strengths.
In the meantime, all I could think
of to do was write a book arguing that
giving is not as costly as you might think,
and hope that might tilt some people. I’d
love to see research on whether it does. n