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Adam Grant: Are you a giver or a taker?

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In every workplace, there are three basic kinds of people: givers, takers and matchers. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant breaks down these personalities and offers simple strategies to promote a culture of generosity and keep self-serving employees from taking more than their share.

- Organizational psychologist
After years of studying the dynamics of success and productivity in the workplace, Adam Grant discovered a powerful and often overlooked motivator: helping others. Full bio

I want you to look
around the room for a minute
00:12
and try to find the most
paranoid person here --
00:15
(Laughter)
00:17
And then I want you to point
at that person for me.
00:18
(Laughter)
00:21
OK, don't actually do it.
00:22
(Laughter)
00:23
But, as an organizational psychologist,
00:25
I spend a lot of time in workplaces,
00:26
and I find paranoia everywhere.
00:28
Paranoia is caused by people
that I call "takers."
00:31
Takers are self-serving
in their interactions.
00:33
It's all about what can you do for me.
00:36
The opposite is a giver.
00:38
It's somebody who approaches
most interactions by asking,
00:40
"What can I do for you?"
00:43
I wanted to give you a chance
to think about your own style.
00:45
We all have moments of giving and taking.
00:48
Your style is how you treat
most of the people most of the time,
00:50
your default.
00:53
I have a short test you can take
00:54
to figure out if you're more
of a giver or a taker,
00:55
and you can take it right now.
00:58
[The Narcissist Test]
00:59
[Step 1: Take a moment
to think about yourself.]
01:01
(Laughter)
01:03
[Step 2: If you made it to Step 2,
you are not a narcissist.]
01:04
(Laughter)
01:07
This is the only thing I will say today
that has no data behind it,
01:10
but I am convinced the longer it takes
for you to laugh at this cartoon,
01:13
the more worried we should be
that you're a taker.
01:17
(Laughter)
01:19
Of course, not all takers are narcissists.
01:20
Some are just givers who got burned
one too many times.
01:22
Then there's another kind of taker
that we won't be addressing today,
01:25
and that's called a psychopath.
01:29
(Laughter)
01:31
I was curious, though, about how
common these extremes are,
01:32
and so I surveyed over 30,000
people across industries
01:35
around the world's cultures.
01:38
And I found that most people
are right in the middle
01:39
between giving and taking.
01:42
They choose this third style
called "matching."
01:43
If you're a matcher, you try to keep
an even balance of give and take:
01:46
quid pro quo -- I'll do something
for you if you do something for me.
01:49
And that seems like a safe way
to live your life.
01:52
But is it the most effective
and productive way to live your life?
01:55
The answer to that question
is a very definitive ...
01:58
maybe.
02:00
(Laughter)
02:02
I studied dozens of organizations,
02:03
thousands of people.
02:05
I had engineers measuring
their productivity.
02:06
(Laughter)
02:10
I looked at medical students' grades --
02:12
even salespeople's revenue.
02:15
(Laughter)
02:17
And, unexpectedly,
02:19
the worst performers in each
of these jobs were the givers.
02:20
The engineers who got the least work done
02:24
were the ones who did more favors
than they got back.
02:26
They were so busy doing
other people's jobs,
02:29
they literally ran out of time and energy
to get their own work completed.
02:31
In medical school, the lowest grades
belong to the students
02:35
who agree most strongly
with statements like,
02:37
"I love helping others,"
02:40
which suggests the doctor
you ought to trust
02:43
is the one who came to med school
with no desire to help anybody.
02:45
(Laughter)
02:48
And then in sales, too,
the lowest revenue accrued
02:49
in the most generous salespeople.
02:51
I actually reached out
to one of those salespeople
02:53
who had a very high giver score.
02:56
And I asked him, "Why do
you suck at your job --"
02:57
I didn't ask it that way, but --
03:00
(Laughter)
03:01
"What's the cost of generosity in sales?"
03:02
And he said, "Well, I just care
so deeply about my customers
03:05
that I would never sell them
one of our crappy products."
03:08
(Laughter)
03:11
So just out of curiosity,
03:12
how many of you self-identify more
as givers than takers or matchers?
03:14
Raise your hands.
03:17
OK, it would have been more
before we talked about these data.
03:18
But actually, it turns out
there's a twist here,
03:22
because givers are often
sacrificing themselves,
03:26
but they make their organizations better.
03:29
We have a huge body of evidence --
03:32
many, many studies looking
at the frequency of giving behavior
03:35
that exists in a team
or an organization --
03:38
and the more often people are helping
and sharing their knowledge
03:41
and providing mentoring,
03:44
the better organizations do
on every metric we can measure:
03:45
higher profits, customer satisfaction,
employee retention --
03:48
even lower operating expenses.
03:50
So givers spend a lot of time
trying to help other people
03:53
and improve the team,
03:56
and then, unfortunately,
they suffer along the way.
03:57
I want to talk about what it takes
04:00
to build cultures where givers
actually get to succeed.
04:01
So I wondered, then, if givers
are the worst performers,
04:05
who are the best performers?
04:08
Let me start with the good news:
it's not the takers.
04:11
Takers tend to rise quickly
but also fall quickly in most jobs.
04:14
And they fall at the hands of matchers.
04:17
If you're a matcher, you believe
in "An eye for an eye" -- a just world.
04:19
And so when you meet a taker,
04:23
you feel like it's your mission in life
04:24
to just punish the hell
out of that person.
04:26
(Laughter)
04:28
And that way justice gets served.
04:29
Well, most people are matchers.
04:32
And that means if you're a taker,
04:34
it tends to catch up with you eventually;
04:35
what goes around will come around.
04:37
And so the logical conclusion is:
04:39
it must be the matchers
who are the best performers.
04:41
But they're not.
04:43
In every job, in every organization
I've ever studied,
04:45
the best results belong
to the givers again.
04:48
Take a look at some data I gathered
from hundreds of salespeople,
04:51
tracking their revenue.
04:54
What you can see is that the givers
go to both extremes.
04:56
They make up the majority of people
who bring in the lowest revenue,
04:58
but also the highest revenue.
05:01
The same patterns were true
for engineers' productivity
05:03
and medical students' grades.
05:06
Givers are overrepresented
at the bottom and at the top
05:07
of every success metric that I can track.
05:10
Which raises the question:
05:12
How do we create a world
where more of these givers get to excel?
05:13
I want to talk about how to do that,
not just in businesses,
05:16
but also in nonprofits, schools --
05:19
even governments.
05:21
Are you ready?
05:22
(Cheers)
05:24
I was going to do it anyway,
but I appreciate the enthusiasm.
05:25
(Laughter)
05:28
The first thing that's really critical
05:29
is to recognize that givers
are your most valuable people,
05:31
but if they're not careful, they burn out.
05:34
So you have to protect
the givers in your midst.
05:36
And I learned a great lesson about this
from Fortune's best networker.
05:39
It's the guy, not the cat.
05:44
(Laughter)
05:46
His name is Adam Rifkin.
05:47
He's a very successful serial entrepreneur
05:49
who spends a huge amount
of his time helping other people.
05:51
And his secret weapon
is the five-minute favor.
05:54
Adam said, "You don't have to be
Mother Teresa or Gandhi
05:57
to be a giver.
05:59
You just have to find small ways
to add large value
06:01
to other people's lives."
06:03
That could be as simple
as making an introduction
06:05
between two people who could
benefit from knowing each other.
06:07
It could be sharing your knowledge
or giving a little bit of feedback.
06:10
Or It might be even something
as basic as saying,
06:13
"You know,
06:16
I'm going to try and figure out
06:17
if I can recognize somebody
whose work has gone unnoticed."
06:18
And those five-minute favors
are really critical
06:22
to helping givers set boundaries
and protect themselves.
06:24
The second thing that matters
06:27
if you want to build a culture
where givers succeed,
06:29
is you actually need a culture
where help-seeking is the norm;
06:31
where people ask a lot.
06:34
This may hit a little too close
to home for some of you.
06:36
[So in all your relationships,
you always have to be the giver?]
06:39
(Laughter)
06:42
What you see with successful givers
06:43
is they recognize that it's OK
to be a receiver, too.
06:45
If you run an organization,
we can actually make this easier.
06:48
We can make it easier
for people to ask for help.
06:51
A couple colleagues and I
studied hospitals.
06:53
We found that on certain floors,
nurses did a lot of help-seeking,
06:56
and on other floors,
they did very little of it.
06:59
The factor that stood out on the floors
where help-seeking was common,
07:01
where it was the norm,
07:04
was there was just one nurse
whose sole job it was
07:06
to help other nurses on the unit.
07:08
When that role was available,
07:10
nurses said, "It's not embarrassing,
it's not vulnerable to ask for help --
07:11
it's actually encouraged."
07:15
Help-seeking isn't important
just for protecting the success
07:18
and the well-being of givers.
07:21
It's also critical to getting
more people to act like givers,
07:22
because the data say
07:25
that somewhere between 75 and 90 percent
of all giving in organizations
07:26
starts with a request.
07:30
But a lot of people don't ask.
07:31
They don't want to look incompetent,
07:33
they don't know where to turn,
they don't want to burden others.
07:35
Yet if nobody ever asks for help,
07:38
you have a lot of frustrated givers
in your organization
07:40
who would love to step up and contribute,
07:42
if they only knew
who could benefit and how.
07:44
But I think the most important thing,
07:47
if you want to build a culture
of successful givers,
07:49
is to be thoughtful about who
you let onto your team.
07:51
I figured, you want a culture
of productive generosity,
07:54
you should hire a bunch of givers.
07:57
But I was surprised to discover, actually,
that that was not right --
07:59
that the negative impact
of a taker on a culture
08:03
is usually double to triple
the positive impact of a giver.
08:06
Think about it this way:
08:09
one bad apple can spoil a barrel,
08:10
but one good egg
just does not make a dozen.
08:12
I don't know what that means --
08:15
(Laughter)
08:17
But I hope you do.
08:18
No -- let even one taker into a team,
08:20
and you will see that the givers
will stop helping.
08:23
They'll say, "I'm surrounded
by a bunch of snakes and sharks.
08:26
Why should I contribute?"
08:29
Whereas if you let one giver into a team,
08:30
you don't get an explosion of generosity.
08:32
More often, people are like,
08:35
"Great! That person can do all our work."
08:36
So, effective hiring and screening
and team building
08:39
is not about bringing in the givers;
08:41
it's about weeding out the takers.
08:44
If you can do that well,
08:47
you'll be left with givers and matchers.
08:48
The givers will be generous
08:50
because they don't have to worry
about the consequences.
08:51
And the beauty of the matchers
is that they follow the norm.
08:54
So how do you catch a taker
before it's too late?
08:57
We're actually pretty bad
at figuring out who's a taker,
09:00
especially on first impressions.
09:03
There's a personality trait
that throws us off.
09:05
It's called agreeableness,
09:07
one the major dimensions
of personality across cultures.
09:09
Agreeable people are warm and friendly,
they're nice, they're polite.
09:11
You find a lot of them in Canada --
09:15
(Laughter)
09:17
Where there was actually
a national contest
09:18
to come up with a new Canadian slogan
and fill in the blank,
09:22
"As Canadian as ..."
09:25
I thought the winning entry
was going to be,
09:26
"As Canadian as maple syrup,"
or, "... ice hockey."
09:29
But no, Canadians voted
for their new national slogan to be --
09:31
I kid you not --
09:34
"As Canadian as possible
under the circumstances."
09:35
(Laughter)
09:38
Now for those of you
who are highly agreeable,
09:42
or maybe slightly Canadian,
09:44
you get this right away.
09:45
How could I ever say I'm any one thing
09:47
when I'm constantly adapting
to try to please other people?
09:49
Disagreeable people do less of it.
09:52
They're more critical,
skeptical, challenging,
09:54
and far more likely than their peers
to go to law school.
09:57
(Laughter)
10:00
That's not a joke,
that's actually an empirical fact.
10:01
(Laughter)
10:04
So I always assumed
that agreeable people were givers
10:05
and disagreeable people were takers.
10:07
But then I gathered the data,
10:09
and I was stunned to find
no correlation between those traits,
10:11
because it turns out
that agreeableness-disagreeableness
10:14
is your outer veneer:
10:17
How pleasant is it to interact with you?
10:18
Whereas giving and taking
are more of your inner motives:
10:20
What are your values?
What are your intentions toward others?
10:22
If you really want to judge
people accurately,
10:25
you have to get to the moment every
consultant in the room is waiting for,
10:28
and draw a two-by-two.
10:31
(Laughter)
10:32
The agreeable givers are easy to spot:
10:37
they say yes to everything.
10:39
The disagreeable takers
are also recognized quickly,
10:43
although you might call them
by a slightly different name.
10:46
(Laughter)
10:50
We forget about the other
two combinations.
10:53
There are disagreeable givers
in our organizations.
10:55
There are people who are gruff
and tough on the surface
10:59
but underneath have
others' best interests at heart.
11:01
Or as an engineer put it,
11:05
"Oh, disagreeable givers --
11:06
like somebody with a bad user interface
but a great operating system."
11:08
(Laughter)
11:12
If that helps you.
11:13
(Laughter)
11:14
Disagreeable givers are the most
undervalued people in our organizations,
11:16
because they're the ones
who give the critical feedback
11:19
that no one wants to hear
but everyone needs to hear.
11:22
We need to do a much better job
valuing these people
11:25
as opposed to writing them off early,
11:27
and saying, "Eh, kind of prickly,
11:29
must be a selfish taker."
11:31
The other combination we forget about
is the deadly one --
11:33
the agreeable taker,
also known as the faker.
11:36
This is the person
who's nice to your face,
11:40
and then will stab you right in the back.
11:42
(Laughter)
11:44
And my favorite way to catch
these people in the interview process
11:46
is to ask the question,
11:49
"Can you give me the names of four people
11:51
whose careers you have
fundamentally improved?"
11:53
The takers will give you four names,
11:56
and they will all be more
influential than them,
11:58
because takers are great at kissing up
and then kicking down.
12:01
Givers are more likely to name people
who are below them in a hierarchy,
12:04
who don't have as much power,
12:08
who can do them no good.
12:09
And let's face it, you all know
you can learn a lot about character
12:11
by watching how someone
treats their restaurant server
12:14
or their Uber driver.
12:17
So if we do all this well,
12:19
if we can weed takers
out of organizations,
12:20
if we can make it safe to ask for help,
12:22
if we can protect givers from burnout
12:24
and make it OK for them to be ambitious
in pursuing their own goals
12:26
as well as trying to help other people,
12:29
we can actually change the way
that people define success.
12:32
Instead of saying it's all about
winning a competition,
12:35
people will realize success
is really more about contribution.
12:38
I believe that the most
meaningful way to succeed
12:42
is to help other people succeed.
12:45
And if we can spread that belief,
12:47
we can actually turn paranoia upside down.
12:48
There's a name for that.
12:51
It's called "pronoia."
12:52
Pronoia is the delusional belief
12:55
that other people
are plotting your well-being.
12:56
(Laughter)
12:59
That they're going around behind your back
13:02
and saying exceptionally
glowing things about you.
13:05
The great thing about a culture of givers
is that's not a delusion --
13:09
it's reality.
13:13
I want to live in a world
where givers succeed,
13:15
and I hope you will help me
create that world.
13:18
Thank you.
13:20
(Applause)
13:21

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About the speaker:

Adam Grant - Organizational psychologist
After years of studying the dynamics of success and productivity in the workplace, Adam Grant discovered a powerful and often overlooked motivator: helping others.

Why you should listen

In his groundbreaking book Give and Take, top-rated Wharton professor Adam Grant upended decades of conventional motivational thinking with the thesis that giving unselfishly to colleagues or clients can lead to one’s own long-term success. Grant’s research has led hundreds of advice seekers (and HR departments) to his doorstep, and it’s changing the way leaders view their workforces.

Grant’s new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World examines how unconventional thinkers overturn the status quo and champion game-changing ideas.

More profile about the speaker
Adam Grant | Speaker | TED.com