Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Sue Epstein (Business, Management and Economics, Empire State College, Saratoga Springs, New York, USA)

European Journal of Training and Development

ISSN: 2046-9012

Article publication date: 5 January 2015



Sue Epstein (2015), "Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success", European Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 39 No. 1, pp. 76-79.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


“Give” and “take” refer to the two ends of a reciprocity continuum. Give and take: Why helping others drives our success aims to reposition the giving reciprocity style as a mechanism not only for success, but success at a greater level other reciprocity styles (i.e. matching, taking). This book is written primarily for readers looking to achieve success in their professional lives. It is a call to reexamine the ways in which we behave professionally as well as the individual, group and societal benefits that may accrue as we seek success (e.g. career advancement or personal satisfaction).

The book is divided into nine chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the reciprocity continuum, the associated concepts of giving, taking and matching and the positions that givers (i.e. those who primarily give to others), takers (i.e. those who primarily take from others) and matchers (i.e. those who equally give and take) tend to hold as successful professionals. The key finding is that givers are found at both the top or bottom levels of success, while matchers and takers are often in the middle section. Chapters 2 through 5 describe the behaviors of givers, how these behaviors result in success and how givers’ behaviors differ from those of matchers and takers. In Chapters 6 and 7, the ways to avoid the negative consequences of a giving style that can result in givers being positioned at the bottom level of a success hierarchy are addressed. The final chapter, Chapter 8, focuses on how individuals, communities and society can create and reap the benefits of positive giving cycles.

The book, by Adam Grant, is written with a combination of a conversational tone, real-world scenarios and empirical support which is not surprising given Grant’s accolades in teaching and research. Each chapter incorporates real-world examples that illustrate the concepts Grant presents. Equally important, Grant leverages research findings in a way that provides credibility to the themes depicted in the real-world scenarios.

Grant posits that individuals can focus on a giving style and, in doing so, achieve professional success. He advocates that use of the giving style has the potential of moving individuals, members of organizations and our greater society away from a zero sum game mentality and toward a perspective and reality in which the pie can be infinitely broadened with the benefits accruing to an ever increasing number of individuals.

Book synopsis

This book describes three reciprocity styles (giving, taking, matching) that individuals can choose to enact when interacting with others. The giving style represents one end of a reciprocity continuum, the taking style represents the other end of the reciprocity continuum and the matching style represents a combination of these two extremes. Individuals are capable of enacting a mix of reciprocity styles but will most often enact a favored, preferred style. Individuals have control over their reciprocity style and, therefore, the preferred style can change over time.

The opening chapter immediately engages the reader with a story of the interactions between an entrepreneur and investor, which leads to the presentation of the book’s premise that givers can be at the high end (i.e. most productive) or the low end (i.e. least productive) of a professional success hierarchy. This premise goes against popular notions that success in the workplace demands either a taking or matching style and that a giving style will only detract from or harm professional success. The chapter closes with another engaging story that highlights the success of the giving style even in the midst of short-term obstacles and failures. The combination of a conversational tone, stories to illustrate concepts and recognition of the potential obstacles givers can encounter in the path of success is maintained throughout subsequent chapters.

Chapters 2 through 5 explore the behaviors enacted by givers that both contribute to their personal success as well as success they distribute to the recipients of their giving behaviors. Chapter 2 focuses on how to identify the reciprocity styles of others, including the use of networks by the different reciprocity styles. This covers timely discussions of LinkedIn and Facebook as tools for identifying reciprocity styles. Similar to the book’s unconventional premise that givers can be at the top of professional success, this chapter notes that dormant ties (i.e. those people in our network with whom we no longer have frequent contact) can prove to be highly valuable and a competitive advantage for the giver. In Chapter 3, Grant juxtaposes George Meyer, a giver who was a key contributor to successful television shows (e.g. The Office, The Simpsons) with Frank Lloyd Wright and Jonas Salk to illustrate how givers’ success can be attributed to their ways of collaborating and distributing credit. Chapter 4 describes how givers properly identify and invest in future talent. Chapter 5 focuses on how givers succeed in influencing others through communication styles that are “powerless” and often not perceived as associated with successful leadership. This chapter also continues a theme of short-term versus long-term time horizons for evaluating the professional success of a giver.

As noted in the first chapter, the giving style can result in givers being positioned at the bottom level of a success hierarchy. Chapter 6 addresses the dichotomy of givers’ success. The dimensions of incorporating concern for self-interest and concern for others’ interests are identified as the drivers of “selfless” or “otherish” behaviors that will then determine the givers’ level of professional success. Chapter 7 addresses the looming question of how givers can try to avoid becoming a “doormat” for others through the use of “sincerity screening”. In this discussion, Grant acknowledges that mistakes can happen (that is, a giver will be treated as a doormat) but argues that a tendency toward a giving style is still warranted and beneficial.

The final chapter, Chapter 8, moves beyond the giving style as an individual behavior or part of a dyadic or small group interaction and explores the giving style as part of a larger dynamic. This chapter discusses how communities and society at large can develop, grow and benefit from giving styles.

This book is an enjoyable read with a good combination of anecdotal stories and research evidence that both engage the readers and provide credibility. While the reader walks away with the perception that the giving style is a path to success, she or he is also alerted to the obstacles likely to be encountered and strategies for negotiating and reducing these obstacles.


Give and take: Why helping others drives our success strongly presents the case that adopting a giving reciprocity style can be advantageous for professional success.

From the start, Grant acknowledges the pitfalls to giving which add to the reader’s engagement and the credibility of the book’s content. The notion that a leadership style (e.g. giving reciprocity style) could result in both positive and negative outcomes (i.e. high or low professional success) aligns with situational leadership theories (Yukl, 2006). Additionally, the notion that we are able to change our behavior is aligned with leadership development.

The book is written in a conversational tone with numerous research evidence and stories to support the use of a giving reciprocity style. One drawback to this is that the reader may overlook a more nuanced exploration of enacting the giving style for professional success. For example, it is unclear how the use of a giving style to achieve professional success might impact the giver’s personal life. In the book, a giver’s colleague notes “he sacrifices hundreds of hours of his personal life” (p. 108). What type of work-family conflict (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985) or work-family enrichment (Greenhaus and Powell, 2006) might arise from the use of the giving style in the professional domain? Also, how might gender influence perceptions of the giving style? Since gender stereotypes support women as nurturing (Eagly, 1987), are there different expectations and perceptions of female versus male givers?

Even with these questions, if you are currently a giver, the book allows you to feel good about your style and provides constructive advice to help you minimize the giving pitfalls. For givers and non-givers, it can raise questions regarding what we could achieve individually and collectively if we could act more like givers. What might the changes be to our lives (e.g. satisfaction, fulfillment personal and professional), communities (e.g. greater productivity) and world (e.g. collective economic growth) if in our professional interactions we skewed toward giving and not taking and/or matching? The possibilities are compelling enough to make me start looking for opportunities; I am sure they are easy to find.


Eagly, A.H. (1987), Sex Differences in Social Behavior: A Social-Role Interpretation , Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ.

Greenhaus, J.H. and Beutell, N.J. (1985), “Sources of conflict between work and family roles”, Academy of Management Review , Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 76-88.

Greenhaus, J.H. and Powell, G.N. (2006), “When work and family are allies: a theory of work-family enrichment”, Academy of Management Review , Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 72-92.

Yukl, G. (2006), Leadership in Organizations , 6th ed., Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

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