Are You a Taker?

I used to manage a guy who was a Giver. He gave and gave and gave and never got his own work done. He was exhausted and burned out. He couldn’t even say No to the crazy stalker who I am still convinced literally poisoned him and put in the hospital. I love the guy to death, love working with him, still friends with him, but as a manager, he made me nuts.

But not everyone nice is a Giver. I managed a woman who I really liked, in fact everybody loved her. She never got her work done either. She was a Taker. She took people’s affection, their trust, their support and repaid it by not getting her work done, by not giving back to the team, by not supporting the mission. If you looked at whom she had helped to succeed, they were people at higher levels than her. The people who depended on her – or just wanted her help but didn’t have anything she wanted – got nothing but grief.

Earlier this week, I watched a great Ted Talk about game theory in the workplace. If you don’t have time to watch the Ted Talk (really?), here are some of the main points:

  • There are three kinds of people in an organization – Givers, Takers, and Matchers.
  • Givers look for ways to help you.
  • Takers look to get more from you.
  • Matchers go tit for tat: when you give, they do – when you take, they do.

Guess which group is most successful at work (“success” here = achieving more of what is important at work – more productivity, more sales, etc.) — it’s not what you might think…

Givers fall at both the top and the bottom of the scale. Matchers fall just below the top. Takers fall just above the bottom.

Givers who give to such an extent that they can’t get their own work done – like my friend above – are the Givers at the bottom. They fail because Takers take everything they have, including their passion for work, and their love of giving to others. When Givers are surrounded by Takers, they give too much, they burn out, and stop giving. (Sound familiar?)

Givers don’t have to be adorable like my friend at the top of the page; some of the biggest Givers that I know are cranky people who take pride in their grouchiness – but they still Give and Give freely.

Here’s the funny thing that I got from the Ted Talk that I hadn’t heard before:

  • Takers are the paranoid people around you, the ones who irrationally think everyone is out to get them, to take something away from them.
  • Givers are Pronoid (new word!): they irrationally believe that everyone is out to help them.

Kind of explains some of the things you see at work, doesn’t it?

I used to play a game where I secretly rated the people I worked with. I only ever offered to share this with one person – and then she didn’t have time to hear the results so she’ll have to figure it out for herself. Here’s how it worked:

  • 5 was a person that I knew I could call with a problem and they’d say, “Wow, what a great problem – let’s think about how to solve that!” As you could imagine, this person was a Giver.
  • 4 was a person who would help me if their boss wasn’t looking over their shoulder trying to figure out what they could get out of the situation. (Thwarted Giver)
  • 3 was a Matcher: they’d help if I hadn’t had to say No to them recently.
  • 2 would help only if there was a perceived benefit to them. (Taker)
  • 1 would say: “Of course, I’d love to help but…” And then twist the knife by telling me how the problem was all my fault and how what I was trying to accomplish would drive the company into the ground – and then take the battle into my territory by demanding something entirely off-topic that required immediate action if I wanted to avoid Armageddon. (¡Taker!)

When I’d think about who I could turn to for help with an urgent problem, I’d run down my list. Fives would be my first choice, followed by Threes, then Fours or Twos. I didn’t mind helping Twos see the perceived benefit to them and I didn’t really care if they took credit, since all I wanted was to solve a pressing problem. Threes took a little more work, since they felt betrayed, but we generally worked it out. Fours were fine if their boss wasn’t around (thank goodness for all day executive meetings!).

I avoided Ones like the plague because life is short and there’s only so much drama I could take in a day.

Me, for most of my life, I’ve been a 1 – a Giver! I used to give until I had nothing left. Now I’ve decided that I’m going to try the version of game theory that I read about in Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

  1. Start as a Giver: give and see what happens.
  2. If the person Matches, keep Matching them (i.e., stay in Giver mode).
  3. If the person Takes, Match that, and keep Matching that (in Taker mode) – but every now and then, randomly Give and see what happens because maybe I can reset them to Giver mode.

Where do you fall on my scale? What is your team like – mostly Givers, Takers, or Matchers? How does that affect your productivity?

One thought on “Are You a Taker?

  1. Pingback: Why Retail Customer Service is So Blah – Change+Management

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