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Givers, Takers, Matchers & Personal Finance

Givers, takers, and matchers defined

Wharton management professor Adam Grant answers questions in an interview entitled “Givers vs. Takers: The Surprising Truth about Who Gets Ahead”. Here are Grant’s descriptions of three basic types on the Giver-Taker continuum:

Takers:  “The takers are people who, when they walk into an interaction with another person, are trying to get as much as possible from that person and contribute as little as they can in return, thinking that’s the shortest and most direct path to achieving their own goals.”

Givers: “At the other end of the spectrum, we have . . . “givers.” It’s not about donating money or volunteering necessarily, but looking to help others by making an introduction, giving advice, providing mentoring or sharing knowledge, without any strings attached.”

Matchers: “A matcher is somebody who tries to maintain an even balance of give and take. If I help you, I expect you to help me in return. [They] keep score of exchanges, so that everything is fair and really just.”

Parallels Between Givers/Takers in Business and Personal Finance

Drained givers

In terms of “getting ahead” in business, Grant asserts that givers often fall behind: “Indeed, the givers are over-represented at the bottom. Putting other people first, they often put themselves at risk for burning out or being exploited by takers.”

The concept of the drained and exhausted giver sabotaging his/her career transfers easily to the image of the broke giver in the realm of personal finance. How many generous debtors do you know? Debt isn’t always exclusively about selfish spending on the latest shiny toy; often, people struggle with debt at least in part because of their stubborn compulsion to give.

Successful givers

If burned out givers end up at the bottom in business, it might seem logical that takers end up at the top, but this is not what Grant observes. “Givers are over-represented at the top as well as the bottom . . .” he says. “A lot of that comes from the trust and the good will that they have built, but also, the reputations that they create.”

Often, successful givers in business end up getting ahead because of connections they’ve formed with people from whom they’ve expected nothing in return. In the same way, givers can also end up being supported in their finances from their social network – a network developed not for self interest, but from a genuine outward focus. People appreciate givers, and so givers are more likely to be hired, promoted, given a break, and offered help as well as gifts of time, advice, things, and even money. All of these interactions can combine to get the giver ahead financially.

Takers and burned bridges

“[I]t’s hard for a taker to rise consistently to the top, because oftentimes, takers burn bridges.” Like givers in business, some takers have a large web of business connections. But unlike givers, takers develop these connections to advance their own interests, and they have to keep replenishing the relationships they “burn” through.

In the same way, in terms of personal finance, takers can end up isolated and without support. Because they don’t reach out to others without strings attached, they don’t receive the types of help, advice, and gifts that givers often receive. If a taker is highly proficient in managing his/her money, this might not matter. But in our era of record breaking personal debt, you can be sure that some debtors are takers who have burned too many bridges to receive support.

The matcher: motivated by justice

The notion of karma – getting back what you give – might be considered the essential force at work behind the successes of some givers and the failures of some takers, but Grant points out that there is more at play. “. . . [T]he success of givers and the fall of takers is also driven by matchers.” Grant explains that since matchers hate seeing takers get ahead by mistreating and using others, they “punish [takers], often by gossiping and spreading negative reputational information.”

In the same way, says Grant, matchers respond when givers don’t get recognized. “Matchers will often go out of their way to promote and help and support givers, to make sure they actually do get rewarded for their generosity. That’s one of the most powerful dynamics behind the rise of givers.”

Considering the advantages that some givers receive on a personal level – which takers miss out on – it becomes clear that a matcher’s mission for justice can impact people’s personal finances as well as their rise or fall in business. As for their own personal finances, matchers, who carefully limit their network, also put limits on the support available to them.

“Selfless givers” vs. “otherish givers”: boundaries

According to Grant, a giver in business can either end up burned out and exploited or advanced in a sea of justly deserved good will. What makes the difference? Is it just luck of the draw for givers? Does it all depend upon the matchers in their lives? Grant asserts that givers do have some control over their fate: “Knowing that givers end up at the bottom and the top means there are some risks associated with it. But I think that those risks actually can be mitigated with careful strategies. A lot of it comes down to setting boundaries.”

Grant identifies two types of givers: “There’s one group of givers, who are purely selfless, who constantly put other people’s interests ahead of their own. But, there’s this other group of givers that I call ‘otherish’ . . . They will look for ways to help others that are either low cost to themselves or even high benefit to themselves, i.e., ‘win-win,’ as opposed to win-lose.”

Grant points out the irony that selfless givers, although they might be seen as more altruistic, are often less generous. They are the givers who end up drained – with nothing to offer “because they basically don’t take enough care of themselves.” By contrast, otherish givers – who put boundaries on the drain of giving and seek out win-win situations – are able to sustain their giving. Otherish givers apply the care inherent in their generosity to themselves as well as to others.

Givers need boundaries in personal finance

If you recognize yourself as a selfless giver who has become drained, indebted, and unable to give, take your cue from Grant. It’s time to apply the care you give to others to yourself. And although it might seem counter-intuitive, given your generous disposition,  it’s time to set some boundaries. Find that line between a sustainable sacrifice and a depleting one. Acknowledge the fact that not everyone is like you, and that as a giver, you are prey for takers. Find win-win situations instead of ones that consistently result in a loss for you.

“There are plenty of givers out there,” says Grant, “. . . who feel like it’s uncomfortable or inappropriate to advocate for their own interests.” Don’t be one of them. Put the hard work into establishing your own boundaries, and set yourself up to flourish in a generosity that keeps on giving.

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Erin Thompson

Erin Thompson spent years managing her own blog about budgeting and debt. Because of that, she has great insights not only about managing spending and borrowing but also about running websites profitably. When she's not writing articles for us, she's traveling and looking for new types of wines to try.
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