Are you a giver or a taker?

July 14, 2017

By the numbers, apparently only about a quarter of us are truly, by default, givers. As a legal recruitment consultant, I was intrigued by this statement.

Professor Adam Grant, the Saul P. Steinberg Professor of Management and professor of psychology at the Wharton School of Business, proposes in his viral TED Talk that people are generally givers or takers, and that identifying strongly with one of these categories will likely have a demonstrable long-term impact on your career. Most of us (56%) oscillate between giving and taking depending on the circumstances, and fall into what he dubs the “matcher” category, those who give and take on a quid-pro-quo, equitable basis.

Givers ask, “what can I do for you?” and in the long run tend to perform better individually, though they may be more prone to short-term underperformance by overcommitting, and they tend to make organizations perform better. Generosity inspires generosity, including mentorship, collaboration and a collective sense of trust and creativity. On the other hand, a taker first asks, “what can you do for me?” Takers foster a culture of scarcity and paranoia and while they perform well in the short run, they usually hit a ceiling in their development.

Additionally, Grant posits that givers and takers can further be categorized as agreeable or disagreeable. Disagreeable people are “more critical, skeptical, challenging, and far more likely than their peers to go to law school.” As you can imagine, we at The Counsel Network, a specialist legal recruitment firm, found this to be an interesting statement.

Agreeable givers are easy to spot and are typically those you really want on your team—they are a pleasure to work with, over deliver and are the cornerstones to positive work cultures. Disagreeable takers are also obvious—they are prickly, combative, and in it for themselves.

However, it can be very challenging to identify agreeable takers and disagreeable givers. Agreeable takers are the fake people you may know who “kiss up and kick down”. They tend to do well in organizations in the short-term but are ultimately weeded out by the matchers, who are most sensitive to the karmic balance of giving and taking.

Disagreeable givers are perhaps the most undervalued people in an organization. They mean well, often give brutally honest feedback, but have poor delivery and a brash communication style. This category of individuals does not tend to interview well and often carry negative professional reputations.

Over the years, we at The Counsel Network, a legal professionals’ recruitment firm, have come across givers and takers – its interesting to consider how each type has been perceived by potential (or eventual) employers.

With the above in mind, what category do you think you fall into? More importantly, what would your peers and administrative staff colleagues say?

David Namkung, Partner