Adam Grant, Wharton professor of organizational psychology, recently wrote a book called Give and Take in which he describes various workplace and other professional sociological behaviors. The construct of givers and takers resonated with me, because the professional world is all about doing favors for one another. Indeed, someone who is able to parlay his or her network into something beneficial often succeeds.
In a nutshell, a giver is someone who is constantly willing to give of him or herself. If you ask a favor of that person, he or she will happily say yes (and probably have a hard time saying no). Grant argues that having a giving mentality in the workplace is critical to a having a charitable society, and also contributes to profitability, etc. He or she asks for little in return. For example, when friends from New York have friends who move to San Francisco, they often reach out to me to ask if I would be willing to help their friend acclimate to the city. I am always happy to do so.
On the other hand, a taker is ordinarily on the other side of this arrangement. Someone who is has no problem asking for tasks or favors from others. In the crudest terms, these people are able to extract value from their connections. In my experience, I’ve asked friends to talk to acquaintances about summer internships, industries of interest or even for mentor-like advice.
Giving and taking in the context of asking connections for professional favors is one of the most tangible ways of understanding these constructs. A taker is someone who doesn’t mind asking for an introduction to a mutual connection, for access to information or for a task to be completed. The act of asking for something can take guts (especially when you are in a more junior position), and ordinarily the taker is in the position of authority. The taker is perceived to be the more successful of the two.
There is a middle ground between givers and takers, known as a matcher. This person aims to find value in asking others for favors, but understands that there is a tradeoff and also wants to add value where possible. If favors are a running score board, they want to have marks on both sides.
I have been learning over the course of the last few months from both personal and professional endeavors that while we shouldn’t necessary tally favors from friends and colleagues, it’s important to be comfortable asking for favors. I have recently had to branch out into my network and make some big asks from close friends and acquaintances alike. When I was looking for jobs a few years ago, I contacted almost anyone I’ve ever met in the field that interested me to ask for introductions or to submit my resume. Now as I continue to expand my network, I find myself matching friends who want to learn about other companies with friends who work at those companies. It’s scary to make the ask, but people are honored to do the favor (most of the time) and the results rewarding. Some of the most successful people I have witnessed have no problem soliciting help from those around them. We should all strive to be matchers, but since it is in most of our natures to be givers, we shouldn’t be bashful of being a taker every once in a while as well.