Are you a Giver or a Taker?

Takers are the reason paranoia exists in the work place. They’re all about, “What can you do for me?” Givers, as you would expect, are the opposite: their default approach to many interactions are, “What can I do for you?”

Behavioral Psychologist Adam Grant discusses these types of people and their behavior in his book, Give and Take.. Most people have moments when they are givers or takers, but take a moment to think about what your default style is. A great test to figure out if you’re a giver or a taker is to answer one simple question:

Can you name four people whose careers you’ve made a positive impact on?

Got your answer? Hold on to it a little bit. To give you some contextual data, a cross-cultural international study of 30 thousand people showed that most people are actually matchers.


Matchers are the people who approach interactions thinking, “I’ll do something for you, you do something for me.” Quid pro quo. They believe in a just world. And that seems like a sensible way to live life, balancing the extreme attributes of Givers and Takers.

Which brings us to the next big question:

So, is Matching the most effective way to live life? Or the most productive?

Not really, no.

Let’s go back to the data to figure this one out. In that study, thousands of engineers, sales people, and medical students also reported their performance. To our surprise,** the worst performers in each of these jobs were the Givers.**

  • The engineers who were the least productive are the ones who did more favors than they got. They got so busy doing other people’s jobs, they neglected their own.
  • In medical school, the lowest grades belong to the students who agree most strongly with statements like, “I love helping others.” As a psychologist put it, this suggests the doctor you ought to trust is the one who came to medical school with no desire to help anybody.
  • In sales, the lowest revenue accrued in the most generous salespeople. When asked, “What’s the cost of generosity in sales?” one of the lowest performing Givers answered, “Well, I just care so deeply about my customers that I would never sell them one of our crappy products.

Twist #1

But here’s the awesome secret:

Though they are sacrificing themselves on an individual level they are making their organizations better.

Many, many, many studies that examine giving in organizations show that the more often people act like Givers, sharing their knowledge, helping out, mentoring, challenging each other, the better organizations do on every metric we can measure, such as:

  • Higher Profits
  • Higher Customer Satisfaction
  • Higher Employee Retention
  • Lower Operating Expenses

So, if Givers are the worst performers, who are the best performers?

Let me start with the good news: it’s not the Takers. (We can be a little more openly hostile because the Takers have probably stopped reading this by now.)

Takers rise quickly, but fall just as fast. They fall at the vigilantism of Matchers, the just ones. If you’re a Matcher you believe reciprocity, or “an eye for an eye.” So when you finally meet a Taker, it feels like it’s your life mission to punish the hell out of that person.

You might even make it a group activity. After all, most people are Matchers, so statistically, it must come back eventually. And then justice is served. It’s a human thing that evolved to protect the community when we lived in small villages. Nowadays though, it ends with a different kind of fire.

So is it the Matchers who perform the best?

Twist #2

The answer is a very definitive, no. In every job, in every organization studied, the best performers are the Givers again. Givers cover both extremes and are overrepresented at the bottom and top of every success metric.

Herein lies the true power of the Giver. At their very worst, they raise everyone up. So how can we create a world of Givers? Here are three ways to do it:

1. Protect Your Givers.

Givers are your most valuable people, so you need to protect them from burning out. Help set boundaries. Adam Rifkin, a very successful Giver said that “You don’t have to be Mother Teresa or Gandhi to be a Giver. You just have to find small ways to add large value to other people’s lives.” He calls it a five-minute favor, and it’s his secret weapon.

2. Encourage Help-Seeking.

What makes a Giver successful is recognizing it’s okay to ask for help. Help-seeking isn’t important just for protecting the success and the well-being of Givers. Help-seeking is also critical to getting more people to act like Givers because the data say that somewhere between 75-90% percent of all giving in organizations starts with a request.

But a lot of people don’t ask. They don’t want to look incompetent, they don’t know where to turn, they don’t want to burden others. Yet if nobody ever asks for help, you have a lot of frustrated Givers in your organization who would love to step up and contribute, if they only knew who could benefit and how. Here at Mäd, we organize every team with a mentor as well as a project lead, so each member is designated someone who is okay to ask for help from.

3. Have the Right Team.

This is probably the most important thing: your team itself. And surprisingly, the solution isn’t to hire a bunch of Givers.A Taker is about three times worse than a single Giver.

So if you let just one taker on your team, the Givers and Matchers stop helping. “I’m surrounded by snakes, why should I go above and beyond for someone who doesn’t appreciate it?”

But, if you let one Giver onto your team, it’s not an explosion of generosity. Unfortunately, most people are like, “Great! This person can do all our work!” So, effective hiring and people management are about weeding out the Takers. If you do that, you’ll be left with Givers and Matchers. The Givers will be generous because they can. And the Matchers, beautifully, follow the norm: giving.

We try to encourage this behavior by doing group brainstorms, shared meals, and Jr/Sr mentorship programs. Every Friday, we host inter-team workshops where we mentor each other on a cacophony of topics, from illusion to blockchain technology in Ancient Egypt.

How to Spot a Givers and Takers.

Agreeableness-disagreeableness is different from giving-taking. It’s really easy to spot the agreeable Givers, or the prickly Takers, but there’s more to both types. Not all Givers are pleasant (think Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House) but those gruff ones will give you the critical feedback you don’t want to hear but need to hear. In other words, Givers can be somebody with a bad user interface but a great operating system. They’re the most undervalued Givers but are often written off as Takers for being prickly.


Takers can be nice to your face while stabbing you in the back. Not all Takers are obvious at the initial interview (you don’t need an example for this, you probably know one.)

Now that we know how important it is to work with Givers, it’s equally important to know how to spot them. Takers too. Which brings us back to our first question, which is an awesome test:

Can you name four people who’s career’s you’ve fundamentally improved?

Do you remember your answer?

Here’s the magic: Takers will give you four names, all of people who are more influential of them, because they kiss ass then kick down. Givers name people below them, people who have no power. Everyone knows you can tell a lot about a person’s characters by how they treat wait staff or subordinates. Who were your four names?

Now you’re fully equipped to improve every business outcome you can imagine.

You’re nurturing your Givers, weeding out the Takers, and know how to identify one. In the absence of Takers, you’ll notice a new culture emerging: one of pronoia. It’s the opposite of paranoia: it’s the delusional belief that other people are plotting your well-being.

That they’re going around behind your back and saying exceptionally glowing things about you. The great thing about a culture of givers is that’s not a delusion — it’s reality.

Time to build it.

Erika Valera

Erika Valera

Chief Culture Officer @ Mäd. A background in MarComms, recruitment, internal brand, and people matters allows her to find ways to make things work efficiently and aligned with the Mäd brand.

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Are you a Giver or a Taker?
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