Giver or Taker? A Book Review.

Reciprocity Spectrum – A Summary of Adam Grant’s Give and Take

“Success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people.  Every time we interact with another person… we have a choice to make:  do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

This quotation from his super-impactful book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, describes Adam Grant’s main premise.  I absolutely loved this book and recommend it to anyone interested in enhancing their prowess related to developing more meaningful, more effective personal and professional relationships.

Professor Grant informs the reader of various models of reciprocity, intimating we each, at the extremes, tend toward one model or other.

  • Givers:  Tend to give more than they get.
  • Takers:  Like to get more than they give.
  • Matchers:  Believe in quid pro quo – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

More specifically, when Grant first describes Givers and Takers, he talks about Givers giving to the point of their own demise.  For example, the biology whiz who spends hours tutoring her friend to ensure he passes the course, but who herself runs out of time to write her history essay… the professional engineer who assists his colleague to ensure their timely plans are submitted but lacks focus to ensure his own accuracy and excellence.  Thus, through Grant’s research, he discovers success for those who give is often lackluster since they tend to give too much.

I was so disappointed to learn this!  How sad to think those who care for others above themselves are the ones who are the least productive, the least effective, the least successful.  However, reading on, I learned the smart Giver – he or she who both cares for his/her own needs and gives generously is the ultimate Giver – the most productive, the most effective, the most successful!

This is in contrast to the Takers for whom life is “all about me.”  Unlike Givers who both achieve success for themselves – and help others to do the same, thereby expanding the proverbial pie – Takers seek success only for themselves.

In the middle of it all are the Matchers – those who seek equal give and take – focused on perceived equality.  You do for me; I do for you.

There is one other category which Grant highlights:  The Fakers.  These are the most dangerous of all… they are Takers disguised as Givers.  In the book, they are described as “slick schmoozers who are nice to your face when they want a favor, but end up stabbing you in the back – or simply ignoring you – after they get what they want.”  Caution!

Ultimately, the Givers win!  Grant says, “it takes time for Givers to build goodwill and trust, but eventually, they establish reputations and relationships that enhance their success.”  I agree.  As I’ve discussed before, the best networkers are those who are generous with their time, information and resources.  They care not about what’s in it for them.  Networking is about developing long-term, meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships.  They know, in the end, the rewards they will reap will far surpass whatever they have given.  All hail the Givers! 


**The Reciprocity Spectrum.  To summarize Adam Grant’s Give and Take and his “reciprocity spectrum,” I like to think of a “normal distribution,” whereby the x-axis depicts success.  The mean, or average, is what most people gravitate toward – those, of course, are the Matchers.  One standard deviation out from the mean are the areas reserved for the Takers.  Two standard deviations from the mean describe the Fakers – people pretending to be Givers who are really just Takers in disguise.  And, at the end of the spectrum, three standard deviations from the mean, are the Givers – yes, on either side – to the left, those Givers who give to their own disadvantage – to the right, those Givers who are the true champions – those who achieve outrageous success for themselves and for others!

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