November 30, 2023

The way you work plays a crucial role in your professional success.

Much depends on how you interact with your colleagues, customers, supervisors and people in your professional network (e.g. cooperate, collaborate and manage conflicts). Social psychologists call this your style of retort.

In his bestseller “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” organizational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant describes three key styles of reciprocity in the workplace:

  1. customer See the world as a hypercompetitive rat race. Assuming that no one else is looking after them, they put their own interests first and last. You can choose to help others strategically, but only if the benefits seem to outweigh the costs.
  2. Matcher operate tit for act. When people do them a favor, they pay it back in a capacity that is no more and no less. And when they help someone, they expect the same in return.
  3. giver focus more on others than on yourself. They pay close attention to what people need from them, be it time, ideas or mentoring. A rarity in the workplace, according to Grant, her style is more typical of dealing with family and friends.

Donors pass it on

In each area, you will find donors at the top of their career ladder. According to a series of studies, donors ensure more efficient engineers or salespeople with high sales than takers or matchers.

Grant suggests that these high achievers be strategic about the decisions they make and the boundaries they set. Of course, this also makes them more attractive and desirable for employers.

Most of all, they have learned to get help when they need it and are adept at both receiving and giving. “Successful donors are just as ambitious as recipients and partners,” Grant writes in his book. “They just have a different way of pursuing their goals.”

He goes even further and explains that being a giver can actually be a sign of intelligence.

Successful donors are just as ambitious as takers and matchers. They just have a different way of pursuing their goals.

Adam Grant

Organizational psychologist, author of “Give and Take”

Grant cites a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in which researchers tested the intelligence of people with a range of quantitative, verbal, and analytical thinking problems. Then they sent her to negotiate.

“Intelligence paid off – but not in the way you’d expect,” says Grant. “The smarter people were, the better their peers did in the negotiations. They used their intelligence to broaden the cake and find ways to help the other side that cost them nothing.”

Not all givers are great

Another study found that a significant group of donors is clumped on the other end. They were the least productive workers – the failures, at least in the eyes of their peers.

What were you doing wrong? According to Grant, these unfortunate pure givers found it awkward to solicit favors or help. They gave and gave until the well dried up.

An example: My former research partner, negotiation expert Frank Mobus, and I knew a young travel agent who was bright and hardworking, but kept falling short of his sales figures.

After a 10-minute conversation, we found out his problem. He was obsessively generous with potential customers and gifted them with a smart free consultation (which they used to book online to save themselves a commission). As a result, both the agent and his agency suffered.

All of this tells us that in order to be a successful giver, you must be a good negotiator. The most one-dimensional price haggling requires the gift of your time and energy to get through the process. Conversely, indiscriminate handouts can be harmful even between strategic partners.

In short, it is important to distinguish between passive giving and negotiated giving:

  • Passive donors give in to avoid conflict, leading to stunted deals and lower expectations.
  • Negotiated donors are more aware of their generosity and focus on long-term goals.

Master the art of negotiation

In today’s working world with cross-functional teams and non-direct reporting structures, people work closely with many colleagues. For this reason, it is helpful to know that many contacts, even chance encounters, can drag you into a negotiation (e.g., a request to you to provide a resource or work product, which usually includes a deadline).

Negotiated donors are more aware of their generosity and focus on long-term goals.

Bill Sanders

Job Negotiation Researcher

Too often, in the interests of a good team player – and possibly also a passive giver – we quickly agree to say yes. We don’t even think about it much. Only later do we realize the strain on our time and schedule.

It is wise to slow down the process and treat it like a negotiation. Ask some clarifying questions, think of alternatives, explain the hassle or problems this could cause you. In fact, ask for something in return – a consideration – or get an oral “IOU a favor” from your colleague.

If you use good negotiation or agreement techniques, you can become a successful negotiated giver rather than an unproductive passive giver.

Bill Sanders is a labor and negotiation expert and CEO of Mobus Creative Negotiating, a corporate training and consulting company with major clients such as AT&T, Skansa and BorgWarner. He is also the co-author of the book “Creative Conflict” with Frank Mobus, the founder of Mobus Creative Negotiating. For the past 30 years, Bill has helped 10 head coaches become Super Bowl champions. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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