The Surprising (And Not So Surprising) Difference Between Givers And Takers

by Farah Merani


Give and Take by Adam Grant, a book that will truly help you get ahead in the business world.

A few years ago, Adam Grant, a Wharton management professor, published a book called Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. In it, he explores the differences between givers, takers, and matchers, and who really gets ahead. By examining our own styles and identifying where we fit in on the spectrum, his theory is that we can learn to be more adaptable and successful.

The Giver-Taker Split

On one end of the spectrum we have what Grant calls the givers, people who generously give of themselves without any strings attached or expectations. This is not exclusively about donating money or volunteering one’s time, but also includes sharing resources, connections and knowledge. In any interaction, givers will prefer to be the contributor. On the other end are the takers, people who approach interactions from a self-serving position, wanting to get as much as possible while contributing as little as they can. This is rooted in the belief that, to achieve their own goals, this is the shortest and most direct path. Somewhere in the middle are the Matchers, people who strive for a state of stasis between the giving and the taking. Their ethos is one of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” and they are committed to keeping an equilibrium of fairness.

Who Is More Likely To Be Successful?

Being unrelenting is not always the best way to go.

Being unrelenting is not always the best way to go.

At first impression, it would seem obvious that the takers would rise to the top, exploiting every situation for their own benefit and always putting themselves first. The prototypical cut-throat bulldozer. And if films like Wolf of Wall St. are any indication, they are often seen as being tremendously wealthy and successful because they are willing to step over anyone who gets in their way. Especially the givers. In Grant’s research, he found that, “The givers are overrepresented at the bottom,” and most likely because they put others’ needs before their own. In doing so, they can be taken advantage of or experience burnout sooner than most. The natural assumption, then, is that the takers would consistently rise to the top. According to Grant, that’s not the case. “[Givers] are overrepresented at the top as well as the bottom of most success metrics.”

A Case For The Givers

Establishing mutually beneficial relationships between associates is the best way to succeed, no matter your business.

Establishing mutually beneficial relationships between associates is the best way to succeed, no matter your business.

The basic principle of virtually every customer service industry is that the customer is always right. Nowhere is that truer than in sales. Grant found that the salespeople who experienced the greatest successes were those who consistently put their customers’ needs first. Trust is the basis of any relationship, which, when combined with good intentions and a positive experience, helps us establish sound reputations. What’s more, givers are supported by the matchers, whose sense of justice and fairness make them want to see the givers succeed. The givers at the top—those who avoid being taken advantage of or burning out, at least—are also more likely to have strong and broad networks around them. This is because they tend to focus on how they can contribute and add value to another person’s life, which ultimately results in greater goodwill all around them.

The Two Takeaways

The first thing Grant suggests is to do a little self-assessment. Hold up that mirror and take a look at where your natural default rests. Do you shift depending on who you’re interacting with? Most importantly, how do you treat people most of the time and where do you feel most comfortable? The next bit of advice from Grant relates specifically to encouraging more giver habits that are already in keeping with your own giving style. Are you good at making introductions, sharing information, or passing on your wisdom and experience? Finding ways to make other people better and build them up is one of the clearest paths to long-term success.