Leave a Penny, Take a Penny: Effective Giving

Topic(s): citizenship behavior, ethics
Publication: Harvard Business Review (April 2013)
Article: In the Company of Givers and Takers
Authors: Adam Grant
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

You don’t have to be an I/O psychologist or HR professional to have observed that there are people in the world who are “givers” and others who are “takers.” Givers provide support and assistance to their colleagues, friends, and family expecting nothing in return. They’re classic ‘do-gooders.’ Then you’ve got the takers; the people who take what they can and rarely reciprocate.

Organizations increasingly value a ‘culture of giving.’ Research shows a strong relationship between employee giving behaviors and important business outcomes such as profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. However, excessive generosity can threaten these very same outcomes, if employees are so distracted by helping others that they neglect their responsibilities.

According to the researcher, Adam Grant, effective givers know that the secret to giving is not to give unconditionally, but to give wisely. Truly effective givers are able to differentiate generosity from being taken advantage of or being ‘used and abused.’

How does one learn to distinguish the two? As a starting point, it’s important to understand that giving is not synonymous with weakness or timidity. Unfortunately it can sometimes be difficult for givers to stick up for themselves and what they want, Grant offers practical advice. First, shift your frame of reference and consider how your actions or negotiations will affect those around you. Advocating for someone else is often substantially easier than advocating on your own behalf. Next, set limits on your availability. You can’t possibly do everything; seek support and delegate tasks to competent others when possible. Set aside time for yourself, and know that it’s okay to say no from time to time. Finally, when making decisions consider others’ perspectives in addition to their feelings so that you don’t let your emotions hold you back from making smart choices.

Can you think of any other effective giving strategies?