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Reciprocity Style – Giver, Taker, or Matcher?

Reciprocity Style – Giver, Taker, or Matcher?

How we interact with others reflects our “reciprocity style” – giver, taker, or matcher – and may determine our success in life. I think, too, that our favoured style may change over the years. I was probably a matcher in my youth, and now, hopefully, more of a giver.

Which is your go-to style?

Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, describes givers as helping others by offering knowledge, resources, connections, or practical help, without expecting anything in return. Givers tend to have extensive networks and rely on others by collaborating.

Matchers have a similar approach, but expect something in return. They may do something for you today, and expect a favour from you tomorrow, because they feel you owe them.

Takers, on the other hand, take all they can get. They may be charming until they get what they want from you, and then drop you. They strive to be the smartest and don’t like to appear weak.

In real life, we may use different styles in different situations, but there will be one style that we tend to use more often. Which way do you lean?

Results of giver reciprocity style

Those with a giver reciprocity style tend to be very successful. A common fear that people may have, however, particularly in the workplace, is that being a giver may turn you into a doormat and pushover, that you won’t get ahead and advance. The evidence says otherwise, according to Grant.

Successful teachers, managers, business owners, coaches, and parents, for example, tend to be givers. They don’t wait for signs of potential in others; instead, they show a genuine interest and a strong belief in their potential. They boost others’ confidence and strengthen their learning and development. They build character, passion, and determination in others by being warm and challenging, providing feedback, and expecting others to succeed – and they themselves succeed.

Avoiding burnout

So how do you avoid being a doormat? Or perhaps you are caregiving for a child, spouse, or parent and approaching burnout from all your giving. What to do? How is it that some people can be givers year after year and still thrive?

Grant distinguishes between selfless givers, who give and give without thought of themselves, and “otherish” givers, who show other-interest as well as self-interest. That is, they take a win-win approach in their dealings with others, they take time for themselves, and they ask for help and support.

 “Otherish” givers have also developed their willpower, so that they have more control over their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

A proven strategy to reduce burnout and avoid constant selflessness is to focus on the impact of your giving. What difference are you making to others, and why does this matter to you? It also helps to group your giving into specific times rather than spreading it out: time to yourself each and every day, for example, or all your giving in one day rather than spaced over a week.

Giving must also be enjoyable and meaningful to avoid burnout, not a duty or obligation. Grant recommends a range of 100 to 800 hours per year – no more and no less for optimal health.

Don’t be a doormat

Givers may not fare well in negotiation, unless they change their thinking. Women, for instance, tend to not do as well as men when it comes to negotiating for themselves, and many men are also vulnerable to not negotiating very well for themselves because they are such strong givers.

Grant presents evidence that imagining you are negotiating for a friend, your family, or somebody you’re mentoring, for instance, will help you negotiate more successfully. It also helps to consider how the other person thinks and what their interests are, rather than being concerned about how they feel. This may be difficult for a giver to do, but it helps lead to win-win negotiations.

Game theory

I like Grant’s discussion of game theory for givers. Instead of the usual tit for tat (I’ll be good to you, until you do a dirty on me, and then I won’t cooperate), he recommends a generous tit for tat, as follows.

You start out cooperating with the other person, until they respond with competition, and then you switch to competition. The generosity comes in when you compete 2/3 of the time, and cooperate 1/3 of the time. In other words, you “never forget a good turn, but occasionally forgive a bad one.” A generous tit for tat approach will allow you to dominate for a very long time.

Powerless communication

I was astonished when I saw Grant’s term of powerless communication for the way givers tend to talk, but once I understood it, it made sense. Givers tend to

  • express vulnerability, which shows our human foibles and weaknesses and avoids a confrontational or dominant approach
  • ask questions, which puts the focus on others rather than on ourselves, so that we can better understand their thoughts and interests
  • talk tentatively so that we’re not overpowering others e.g. perhaps, maybe, it seems, I wonder if…
  • ask for advice, which combines vulnerability, questioning, and tentative talk.

I like that Grant has provided guidelines for nurturing a giver communication style, because these give me something to aim for and monitor in myself.

When I think about givers in my past and current life, it makes tears come to my eyes. I’d love to hear your story about a giving person who helped you.


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