Give and take

„Give and take: a revolutionary approach to success“ by Adam Grant advances the concept of giving in a world apparently ruled by takers.

Adam Grant is an American psychologist. He is currently a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania specializing in organizational psychology. He received academic tenure at the age of 28, which makes him the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School.

Givers, Takers and Matchers


Whether we talk about the business environment or our personal lives, we can identify three categories of people:

  1. Givers
  2. Takers
  3. Matchers


Givers are the ones everybody loves. They have an open attitude and are ready to lend a helping hand without thinking about what’s in it for them. They often take no credit for their work since team effort comes above personal gain. In fact, they believe that it’s only through a group effort that personal development can take place. They do not look for accreditation nor are they the ones to let you down when you need them the most.

Givers are the ones using inclusive pronouns like we, our efforts.


At the opposite side of the scale, we find the takers. They know exactly what they want. Then again, so do givers. The difference is that takers will not move a finger to help someone unless there’s something in it for them. They are the supporters of the “scarcity principle”, mentioned by Robert Cialdini in his “Influence: the psychology of persuasion”. According to Robert Cialdini, people tend to be fooled by marketing tactics that display a limited number of a product in order to get you to buy that respective product. “There are only 2 rooms available”. “The offer is valid for the next 24 hours only”.

Takers apply the scarcity principle a little differently. They believe that the resources out there are limited. As a consequence, the only way for them to succeed means that they have to take it from somebody else. Takers like to be the centre of attention, giving credit more to themselves. They use exclusive pronouns, meaning excluding everybody else. “I, mine, my” are the most used pronouns in a taker’s vocabulary.


In between the two extremes, we find the matchers. They are the ones who understand and use very efficiently the favours system. “I’ll do you a favour if you do me one”. They don’t believe in free gestures without getting something in return. If you cross a matcher, he or she will remember you and the moment you’ll need something from them, without having repaid them for a previous favour, you’ll be in trouble. There is nothing more dangerous than having crossed a matcher.

Giver, Taker or Matcher?

Judging by the state of affairs in today’s society, which of the three types is more likely to succeed?

Studies have shown that givers come in last. Then again, the same studies have shown that givers also come first. It’s right in the middle that we find both matcher and takers.

During their 1st year of medical school, givers tend to have a bad score credit. However, the same givers win points and become leaders during their 5th, 6th and 7th year of medical school. What happens in the meantime? How come the same students who seemed to be slacking during their first year of medical school end up being the leaders during their finishing years? The answer is simple.

During their first year, students focus more on individual study. Givers will have the tendency to help their peers at the expense of their own study time. However, after the first year, things start to change. Students work in groups, where the giver supports and rest and advances his individual work at the same time. The more one advances in the group, the more the group advances.

Network givers

Adam Rifkin, of Silicone Valley, was voted Fortune’s best networker. Also called “the giant panda of programming”, Adam is a genuine giver. He built his network by operating as a bona fide giver. In 2011, he had more LinkedIn connections to the 640 powerful people on Fortune’s list. He beat Michael Dell, the founder of the Dell Company and Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn. In 2005, Adam Rifkin and Joyce Park founded 106 Miles, a professional network with the mission of educating engineers through dialogue.

He is a busy man, yet, when somebody asks for help, he doesn’t hesitate to give it. Adam believes that people should help others and those receiving help should continue the giver chain of reactions.

When you’re helping, you don’t expect help in return, otherwise, you wouldn’t be a giver but a matcher. If it’s in your power, help. The people at the receiving end should pay it forward and help others, in return. It’s a ripple effect, that made it possible for his network to grow. People meet and honour the helping code.

If giving brings so much success how come takers and matchers don’t follow the giver’s way?

In 1995, Craig Newmark began Craig’s List as an e-mail distribution list to friends, featuring local events in San Francisco Bay Area. It became a web-based service and expanded into other classified categories. It started expanding to other U.S. and Canadian cities and now covers over 70 cities. The idea behind Craig’s List is simple: people come to trade. It’s a perfect environment for matchers, tit for tat.

In 2003, Deron Beal founded Freecycle Network. In comparison to Craig’s List, Freecycle had a different principle in mind. People joining freelance have things to give away for free. The idea is connected with recycling. Instead of paying money to dispose of the things you don’t need, you find people in need of your products and make sure they get them.

Givers and Freecycle

According to Daniel Batson, people who give, do it out of a sense of pure altruism. The more we feel empathy towards the other person, the more we are in a giving state and the giver in us has no choice but to give, as this is his nature.

Robert Cialdini, “The Devil’s Advocate”, says that people are not naturally givers. The only reason people give is to make them feel good. Therefore giving has nothing to do with empathy we feel or an innate giver state. It has a selfish intention to make us feel good about ourselves or to make us feel less bad. If we have spent money on ourselves, more than we believe we deserved, in order to feel good, people give in order to compensate for spending on themselves.

Deron Beal is the middle of the two. The reason why he posted his first product on Freecycle, his intention was to dispose of the item without having to pay for it. When the family came to pick up the mattress, after the family left, he felt good about the deed. He then decided to give so more. Deron feels that people want to do good. In addition to doing good, people feel good.

Takers and Matchers

Both Craig’s List and Freecycle have takers and matchers on their list.

The research discovered that there were takers and matchers that were on both Craig’s List and on Freecycle. The same takers were giving stuff to people in need of them. The most astonishing thing about it was that the same people acting as takers and matchers on Craig’s List acted as givers on Freecycle.

Takers and matchers’ attitudes didn’t change from a random act, but from repeating the act over a period of time. If, in the beginning, they probably entered the community due to a selfish intention, the givers’ environment set the tone and the entry ticket was only giving. The amazing thing is that there is a change in their paradigm shift but only in the context of Freecycle. 

Givers in danger?!

Helping others doesn’t have to mean being the doormat for everybody.

In order to protect ourselves, we have to be careful and learn the meaning of the word no. It’s up to us to decide when, where and with whom we are giving.

If we are not careful, there are plenty of takes disguised as givers who are out to maximize their own gain.


A balance must be struck!


If there is a balance to be struck, it’s the matchers who strike it.

In the “Happy Brain”, we learn that there is a hierarchy among people. Whenever somebody advances at the top of the hierarchy, the others feel left behind. The moment something happens and jeopardizes the position of the top hierarchy holder, we feel satisfied in a way. As funny as this sounds, for a moment, we believe that somebody’s misfortune means our advancement.

In reality, it’s only an illusion.


The hierarchical harmony is more than taking 


When takers take the lead of the hierarchy, matchers feel resentment towards them. Maybe at a point in time, the takers didn’t bother to live up to their promise towards the matchers, and that’s something the matchers cannot forget or forgive.

When a giver reaches the top of the pyramid, the matchers tend to reciprocate. If a giver has been mistreated or put at a disadvantage, the righteousness sense kicks in and they feel the need to even the balance in the givers’ favour. They act as their protector because they feel an injustice has taken place.

Either way, the takers will be left alone since they didn’t bother to give credit to anybody for their rise.

Giving begets Giving


It’s Robert Cialdini who tells us in his “Influence: the psychology of persuasion”, that we are more vulnerable in the proximity of people who resemble us. Since we are social animals, we feel the need to belong. And if we are givers, we look for the same traits in the people we choose to surround ourselves with.

Human beings are funny creatures. Dale Carnegie tells us in “How to win friends and influence people”, that people want to feel special. At the same time, people want to belong to a community, since, at heart, we have always survived in communities. Being a giver gives us the unique possibility of giving without asking in return, therefore standing out in the 21st-century ruthless reality. At the same time, we don’t want to feel alone, therefore we surround ourselves with other givers. This way, we feel unique, since givers are a rare breed nowadays but feel part of a community.

Is giving the way of the future

Even if takers believe that the credit for making it to the top is theirs alone, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

There’s nothing in this world that we can succeed in alone. When we are children, we depend on our parents to teach us. We are part of a community that guides us and teaches us the social norm. We enter the workforce and we have to come into contact with different people in order to do our job. Even the researcher spending time alone in his lab, at the end of a working day, depends on the cleaning staff to pick up his garbage.


Can we make on our own?


All the little or big things people do around us and for us, all contribute to our success, even if we sometimes fail to see it. Every small gesture and every person entering our lives make an impact and bring contributes to our development.

If we cannot repay them for their gestures and behaviours, at least we can pay it forward and help somebody else. The ripple effect is very strong and a small ripple can add up and defeat even the strongest mountain, with time.

Our giving makes it possible for others to give. Why would we deny ourselves the feeling of accomplishment just because there is a possibility that, somewhere along the way, we might meet a taker?

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