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Are You a Giver?

Sharing and giving with others shows strength, not weakness, at work

I once had a boss sit me down to explain that the only negative feedback he had about my performance was that people thought I was “too nice.” I nearly fell off my chair.

For one thing, I didn’t think I was really that nice. Sure, I was always happy to support, encourage and appreciate others whenever I could, but I hadn’t survived a decade in senior leadership roles without making the tough calls, and I had the scars to prove it.

Second, I couldn’t imagine being “too nice” was something that could undermine my performance or hamper my career. Was this code for the fact I wasn’t seen as masculine enough? Was I was being naïve?

Do nice guys finish last?

Some studies have suggested that those of us who enjoy helping others and expect nothing in return do indeed often fall to the bottom of the success ladder.

Those who are too caring, too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefits of others, on average, may earn less money, and are judged as less powerful and dominant by their colleagues because they’re more likely to forgo their own interests for the benefit of others.

Matchers, givers and takers

Luckily professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School of Business has written a bestselling book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success which explores the concept of three different personality types—givers, takers and matchers—and how they interact in the workplace.

Grant has found a growing body of evidence across a wide variety of industries to show that givers not only have the potential to rise to the top of the business ladder—they may even have an advantage.

According to Grant, matchers look for an even exchange of favors, while takers primarily look out for themselves. Givers, on the other hand, create a ripple effect with the help and support they offer others, which eventually has a way of cycling back around. In the meantime, these people are widening their circle of associates and creating a deep well of good will. (Some would even call it good karma.)

Be a giver—with boundaries

Grant identifies three strategies successful givers use to ensure they don’t burn out or become push-overs.

First, they limit their availability by setting boundaries on when, how and whom they help. This allows them to protect their time and energy more carefully, and focus their giving in directions that will have the greatest impact.

Second, they advocate for others and for themselves. They look to help others, but they also keep their own interests in the rearview mirror: They’re willing to fight for themselves when necessary.

Third, they use empathy to open doors and identify win-win solutions that meet others’ needs without sacrificing their own.

Embrace your niceness

Drawing on similar strategies, I decided to embrace my authentic “niceness,” ignore my boss’s feedback and get on with the job at hand. In less than a year my team and I went on to exceed every measure set from employee engagement to client awareness and preference. At the heart of our success lay “giver” attitudes and actions that won the hearts and minds of my company’s 6,500 employees.

Once again I sat down with my boss.

This time he sheepishly offered a promotion and a pay raise in appreciation for the way my unique approach had paid off. And no, I wasn’t “too nice” to forgo a little victory dance when I got back into my office.

Are you a giver, a matcher or a taker at work? How is your style impacting your success?

Michelle McQuaid, born and raised in Australia, is a best-selling author, and workplace and wellbeing coach.

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