Giver, Taker or Matcher – which one are you? Which one has the best payoff in the short and long term? (4 min read)

Taker example

I had a manager once that told me that my next year’s sales quota would be almost 15X the previous year (from ~$4MM to over $50MM).  We had just grown ~4X from the previous year.  My first reaction was that this was a hugely aggressive target and asked him to show me how we got to that number as a company.  He had a spreadsheet that showed the month by month progress and was convinced that it was possible. I was skeptical but wanted to understand the whole picture.

After he gave me his rationale, as VP, WW Sales, I asked him the all important compensation question.   What would my commission structure look like? He said if my team hit the 15X number I would earn as much as I did the previous year.  The company would make tens of millions of dollars and I would make the same as last year with 5X the effort of the previous year.  BTW – It was a leveraged plan so if revenue was 7.5X over the previous year (or over $25MM – a $21MM increase), I would get nothing.

In another interaction, he also strongly advised me to hire someone that I did not want to hire as I thought the cultural fit was poor. I should have stood my ground even after I asked him to participate in the hiring process hoping he would see what I saw.  He did not and I acquiesced – my mistake.

The day he fired me, the reasons he gave were that we were not growing fast enough and that I did not hire well.  I am pretty sure he was a taker.

Takers are unique in that they feel compelled to take more than they give.  They put their own interests ahead of others.  They believe that the world is a highly competitive place and only the strong survive.  Therefore, they need to prove their competence, self-promote and make sure they get credit for their efforts. The typical taker is not cruel nor cutthroat but does practice self-protection as a primary goal.

Giver example

As I have been building my business recently, I have been introduced to many, many people who are helping me.  One generous person has stood out. He has provided me with opportunities to speak in front of appropriate audiences, introduced me to well over a dozen different people and has been extremely responsive and generous with his time.  He has not even hinted at wanting anything in return.  He continually asks what else he can do for me.  I am pretty sure he is a giver.

A giver is someone who thinks about how she can help others. She is generous with her time, energy, contacts, skills, ideas and knowledge.  Givers aren’t just Gandhi or Mother Teresa, they are regular working folk that act in the interest of others, share credit and help others to succeed. They believe in generalized reciprocity.  They are a rare breed in the workplace.

Matcher example

There is also a third type called a matcher who gives but expects to get a return of a commensurate amount.  If you are not able to hold up your end of the bargain or he does not feel that there is a fair trade of value then he is not willing to participate in the transaction.  This is the largest group in the workplace.

How giving can pay off in the long-term

One would think that the givers would be doormats and losers who are always at the back of the line and get the scraps from a sumptuous feast.  Recent research shows that this is true in the short term but over time the givers are the ultimate winners provided they are thoughtful in the giving process.

I read one study of medical school students who are arguably one of the most competitive groups you can find as the ultimate goal is to beat out classmates for scarce, coveted positions.  Those that were givers did poorly in the first year but as time went on and teamwork and collaboration became essential to succeed, the givers far outpaced their peers. It seemed that the other students remembered their sacrifice and assistance and were more willing to help and work with them as time went on.  The givers had some of the highest scores by the 6th and 7th year and their patients rated them more highly due to their empathetic “bedside manner”.

Avoid being a giver doormat

This is one of many, many examples I have come across in my research.  If you consider your career a marathon versus a sprint, the likelihood is high that being a giver is an advantage provided you come at the process in a particular fashion. That is, avoid becoming a doormat.

Here are a few ways that givers can avoid being doormats.

Sincerity Screening

To avoid being taken advantage of over and over again, givers should strive get to know the people around them and be diligent to look for clues of sincerity in conversation.  This information is key to knowing if the ones they help are givers, takers or matchers.  Takers can come off at first as givers and give an impression that they are not just in it for themselves.  This can sometimes be a smoke screen from the more socially adept takers among us.

However, in the course of getting to know them, find out more about them.  Ask them to describe their dreams, accomplishments and ambitions.  Do they share credit when talking about past successes or imply or directly state that they were solely or primarily responsible?  Do they consistently use pronouns such as I, me, and mine, during this type of conversation? If so, they are likely takers.

Another tactic to use is called generous tit for tat.

Generous Tit for Tat

Selfless giving while noble is very likely detrimental to the giver.  There is tremendous risk of being trod upon and walked all over.  The selfless giver can burnout quickly and become disillusioned over time.

In addition to sincerity screening, a giver can practice what has been called generous tit for tat.  Its principle tenet is to never forget a good turn and occasionally forgive a bad one.  A viable approach is that you start out cooperating and continue cooperating until your counterpart competes.

Generous tit for tat achieves a powerful balance of rewarding giving and discouraging taking, without being overly punitive. It comes with a risk though: generous tit for tat encourages most people to act like givers, which opens the door for takers to take advantage by competing when it is advantageous to them. However, it is important to note that in a world where relationships and reputations are visible, it’s increasingly difficult for takers to take advantage of givers.  It bears repeating that the key to this type of approach being successful is to make sure the giving and the taking are visible to all. This is paramount as takers will be careful to protect their reputations and standing in the overall community.

I encourage readers to keep this in mind as I believe most people are givers deep down – typically more so personally than professionally.  However, having generosity spill over into your business life can have long-term rewards professionally and psychically when done in a deliberate and thoughtful manner.

Each type has its pros and cons and depending upon your horizon and temperament, one may work better for you.  However, in the long run, being a giver can lead to much greater success.

Give it a try. :~)

Please note that this post was inspired and assisted by the writings of Adam Grant in Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success.

Be Exceptional!

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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