The Difference Between Selfless Givers and Otherish Givers


     Giving well is about keeping an eye on interests

“There are two great forces in human nature: self-interest, and caring for others.”

[Bill Gates]

    Interactions with others lead to success, but there are differences between givers who end up on top and givers who don't fare as well. In Give and Take, Adam Grant's says giving creates opportunity for both the giver and the beneficiary. Best of all, it accrues over time.

    Being a giver is good, but we want to understand where to draw the line and still create a context that will help us succeed. While most of us are safe as givers in our personal lives, we tend to become matchers (tit-for-tat) at work. Matching helps us only incrementally. Which is why we want to understand giving at work better.

    Before we address how we deal with takers and matchers, it's useful to understand there are notable differences between the two kinds of giving:

* Selfless givers sacrifice the self. Otherish givers have ambitious goals for themselves at the same time they want to benefit others.

* Selfless givers focus on people. Otherish givers focus on interests.

* Selfless givers don't seek feedback in its absence. Otherish givers are proactive about understanding what makes an impact.

* Selfless givers have no cause aside from giving. Otherish givers have a well-defined purpose.

* Selfless givers have no plan. Otherish givers decide how, where, and how much.

* Selfless givers have no rules. Otherish givers have well-defined rules, which help them preserve boundaries and well-being.

*Selfless givers burn out. Otherish givers become energized by their choices.

* Selfless givers don't know how to overcome the doormat effect. Otherish givers figure how to trust most of the people most of the time.

* Selfless givers are high on empathy and don't fine tune on veneer vs. genuine in the giving of others. Otherish givers are adaptable and pair empathy with reason.

* Selfless givers leave good outcomes to chance. Otherish givers prepare and practice the art of asking.

    While being selfless is admirable, when we don't keep an eye on our own interests, we run the risk of burning out and developing resentment. Which in turn deprive us of our energy, and energy is to our well-being like oxygen is to our health.

    When we're paying attention to others, we're expending energy. We can turn that energy into a renewable source of enthusiasm and joy by keeping an eye on our desires. This is a different mental accounting than matching, it's more about giving-one-to-me-as-I-give-to-you mode.

Self-interested culture

    The reason why success with giving includes a measure of self-interest may be more cultural than real. Unless we plan a life of complete selfless dedication, which is possible, it's good to have rules and create boundaries to preserve our ability to give. Part of reason is perception, we operate in environments where the assumption is we take care of number one first.

    In business we may have more givers than meets the eye. But because of culture, it seems uncommon. So many givers feel outnumbered and don't want to stick out. Socially we tend to go with the flow, and many givers disguise their nature behind self-interested motives thinking that's how everyone else is.

    Social philosopher Alexis de Toqueville visiting the United States from France in 1835 noted that Americans “enjoy explaining almost every act of their lives on the principle of self-interest.” What Toqueville noted was the gap between generous acts and concern about how they would be perceived. “Americans are hardly prepared to admit” a genuine desire to help others. 

    Which means the helping is less visible, gets less credit, and provides an apparent poor example to anyone watching. It does people a disservice. Imagine a teenager who complains about taking the trash out, but then doing it and helping their elderly neighbor with theirs, too. The protests and claims to the contrary are what we remember, not the generous act.

     But how much of the environment is a product of assumptions and the behaviors that follow rather than the other way around? Incentives can provide a clue. But we may be surprised at how quickly we can correct for the unintended consequences of the wrong incentives.

    Would the situation be different is the underlying interests were different (than we thought)?

Socially-influenced flips

    To answer that question we examine what happens when it becomes publicly acceptable, in fact desirable, to be a giver. Does a giving system like a community built on values of generosity and helpfulness turn takers into givers? Or do people flip/flop based on personal advantage?

    For a flip or reversal to stick, in other words for fakers to turn into givers more permanently, we want to instill new habits. Habits help rewrite patterns in behavior, which in turn contribute to shifts in identity. When we focus on the behavior we want, we arrange the experience to reward it.

    Some organizations have done that successfully by creating a public pledge or norms that work as cues to amplify giving and givers. Cues along with incentives to act as givers create a context that encourages takers to switch and matchers to  shift a public setting delivers visibility for new routines of what people do round here.

    There's also a silver lining. In such a system, a signal that someone is good delivers benefits to one's reputation. 

    We don't have to go along with the assumed definition of success. Give and Take provides an alternative path for givers, but also for takers.