In nearly all cultures, the process of socialization teaches us to share, take turns and give back to those who give to us: Reciprocity. We are likely to be shamed or ostracized if we don’t integrate the rules of reciprocity into our behavior. The rule of reciprocation is deeply ingrained in our psyche. This dance of ongoing, reciprocal giving and receiving is also seen as a
characteristic in the majority of successful relationships and communities.
This characteristic has survived and been present throughout human history because it has survival value. The gifted anthropologist Richard Leakey described the essence of what makes us human is this system of reciprocity. He wrote that we are alive because our ancestors learned to share their food, shelter, and their skills in an honored network of obligation. This mutual indebtedness is the valuable means that allows for the division of labor, exchange of goods and services, and the creation of clusters of interdependencies that bind us together in highly efficient units/families/friendships/communities. Humans.
Givers, takers, and matchers: The research
Takers are self-focused and put their own interests ahead of others’ needs. They try to gain as much as possible from their interactions while contributing as little as they can in return. They often emphasize their personal difficulties and the impossibility of providing more to the other person.
Matchers like to preserve an equal balance of giving and taking. Their mindset is: “If you take from me, I’ll take from you. If you give to me, I’ll give to you.” Tit for tat is the social-cognitive style.
Givers are others-focused, and tend to consistently provide support to others, frequently with little or no evidence of any reciprocity.
Reciprocity and Success
Guess which of these types is the most successful at work and relationships based on research? Turns out, givers tend to be the worst performers at work and relationships, across a variety of studies. ￼They’re at a disadvantage across a wide range of occupations, because they sacrifice their own success to help others succeed, and put their own needs behind those of partners and friends.
So that must mean takers or matchers are the top performers, right?
Nope. It’s the givers again. The WORST and BEST performers at work and relationships are other-focused.
Why is that? Since takers develop reputations for putting others last, matchers tend to try to knock them down, research shows. Takers are often seen as narcissistic and unpleasant. In sum, takers rarely succeed in building strong relationships and networks.
On the other hand, folks tend to root for givers to succeed. Everyone loves, trusts, and supports givers, since they add value to others and enrich the success of the people around them. In short, givers succeed because their giving leads to quality relationships, which benefit them in the long run. The mediating variable appears to be interconnection and social support.
At this point, you might be asking: what steps can I take to become a successful giver? How do I stop myself from overdoing it? After all, being a successful giver comes with many verified perks: stronger relationships, increased happiness, and better performance at work.
How to be a successful giver, four hacks:
1. 5-minute favors
Do other people small favors that take no more than 5 minutes – like making an introduction, giving feedback, rapidly returning a text, ￼sending info, and checking in. In the workplace, the home, the classroom, even online, spending time to do consistent five minute favors has been shown to be effective in establishing a sense of giving; importantly, for both the giver and the receiver. ￼Giving does not have to consist of huge amounts of time or resources. Constancy adds connection.
2. Ask for help
Ask a friend or coworker for help on an issue you’re having, without taking up too much of their time. While asking for help doesn’t sound like a quintessential giver move, doing so comes with some surprising benefits. It gives the individual the opportunity to be a giver by acknowledging the expertise and skill set of another person, and it also makes others feel good and capable.
3. Specialize in providing certain ways to support
Pick one or two ways of helping that you enjoy and excel at. This way, you can help in a way that energizes you, instead of exhausts you. Are you a good writer, interviewer, tech savvy, organizer, planner? ￼This trick will also allow you to gain a reputation as a person with a particular expertise you’re willing to share, rather than as a nice person who’s freely available.
4. Keep an eye out for serial takers.
Spot takers early, based on reputation and past experience. Chances are, you will hear from their partners, family members, or colleagues that they have a reputation for being a chronic taker. Armed with this knowledge, know that the chances are that you will receive very little in return for your giving. Make a conscious decision to give, or not.
Here’s to Labor Day 2021.