Give and Take — Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Rating: 4/5

In Give and Take, Adam Grant highlights why Givers (those that frequently help others expecting nothing in return) eventually attain higher levels of success than Takers (those constantly out for their own best interest). While the book boasts “A Revolutionary Guide to Success” on the cover, that piece isn’t necessarily revolutionary. However, Adam does elaborate on how Givers can better balance giving with standing up for themselves to avoid becoming a doormat. To me, this was the most beneficial piece of the book – how to give without being taken advantage of.

Reading Notes From Give and Take

Chapter: The Ripple Effect

Takers are especially vulnerable to the responsibility bias – “exaggerating our own contributions relative to others’ inputs.”

Givers often create psychological safety – the belief that you can take a risk without being penalized or punished.

Chapter: Finding the Diamond in the Rough

This chapter focused on finding and identifying those that will later excel in specific areas. Research on piano players, for example, found that when you look back at the childhood of expert pianists, they weren’t special. “The didn’t stand out on a local, regional, or national level — and they didn’t win many early competitions.” Two things did happen though:

  • They had a teacher that took a special interest in them often focusing on fun and “exploring possibilities and engaging in a wide variety of musical activities” over “right or wrong or good or bad.”
  • Teachers that focused on identifying motivation and grit which is defined as “having passion and perseverance toward long-term goals.”

These things combine to put specific children ahead of others.

Grant also highlights the escalation of commitment which demonstrates that “once people make an initial investment of time, energy, or resources, when it goes sour, they’re at risk for increasing their investment.” (example: gambling, basketball coaches during a draft)

Chapter: The Power of Powerless Communication

There are two paths to influence tied to reciprocity styles:

  • Dominance – “We gain influence because others see us as strong, powerful, and authoritative.”
  • Prestige – “We become influential because others respect and admire us.”

Grant argues that powerless communication (non-domination) and prestige generally have more lasting value. He continues to describe how blunders can actual increase how others perceive you in something known as the pratfall effect — “Spilling a cup of coffee hurt the image of the average candidate…but the same blunder helped the expert appear human and approachable.” (He uses a courtroom example)

On the benefit of asking questions (a form of powerless communication):

Questions work especially well when the audience is already skeptical of your influence, such as when you lack credibility or stats, or when you’re in a highly competitive negotiation situation.

Whereas takers may feel like asking for advice makes them seem weak, givers realize it has major benefits. In fact “research shows that people who regularly seek advice and help from knowledgeable colleagues are actually rated more favorably by supervisors than those who never seek advice or help.” Seeking advice has four benefits:

  1. Learning
  2. Perspective taking
  3. Commitment
  4. Flattery

Chapter: The Art of Motivation Maintenance

The burnout of givers “has less to do with the amount of giving and more with the amount of feedback about the impact of that giving.” Givers burnout when the impact on others isn’t clear or effective.

Chapter: The Scrooge Shift

We systematically underestimate the number of people who are willing to give around us because “when we try to predict others’ reactions, we focus on the costs of saying yes, overlooking the costs of saying no. For example, Grant describes a study in which people were told they would be approaching individuals in NYC asking them to fill out a survey. The always underestimated the number of people that would help.

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