Givers and Takers

I am pretty sure you have asked yourself this question a few times in your life. Remember the last time you tried to help someone with a personal problem and you got the emotional you-know-what slapped out of you? Remember the time at work when you thought you were being nice to someone and it came back around and bit you hard? Did you forget the time at the family get together where you tried to give a family member some honest and straight advice based on your experience and the next thing you know, basically that was ignored?  Shall I go on?  Probably not! You remember them all.


I have been told much of my life that I am “too nice.”  I always divided the world into givers and takers. I have put myself in the giver category most of the time. I am the one who gives money to strangers who seem to need it more than I do. I have given to family and friends and never seen a dime of it back and honestly, did not ever expect it. I have been told by bosses that you are just too nice for your own good more than once.  Like you, I have been hurt, kicked, slammed, rejected and tossed to the side by more than one person.  Each time I have gotten up, dusted myself off, and just started again doing the same thing because I thought it was the right thing.

Well, it is time to review the way we look at things. There is a popular saying, “There are two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers.” It’s time we reconsider that approach.

In 2014 Adam Grant wrote a book called “Give and Take:  Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.” He is a professor at the Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania. He has done research and studies about these types of people. There is some good news! He says that most organizations have 19 percent that are takers; 25 percent that are givers and 56 percent that are matchers. We all can define takers and givers but what is a matcher? Basically, he says it can be defined as a person who gives you something and expects something in return.  He says that matchers operate on the principle of fairness and relationships are governed by reasonable exchange of favors. He studied what type of people make our organization a success. His research says it’s the givers and the matchers because their goal is to make things a winning effort.

He goes on to say that you need to support the givers by doing these three things:

  1. Protect the givers from burnout
  2. Teach givers to ask for help
  3. Have the right mix of people on your team

He believes that you have to change givers into matchers. In most cases givers tend to burn out and give up on their careers. They may turn cynical and simply give up trying to help others after being burned too many times. People tend to not trust and invest in givers because they don’t ask for respect and don’t expect a return of favors.

He recommends that we give “five-minute favors.” He defines the matchers as those that bring high value to other people’s lives, but at a relatively low cost to the person giving the favor. He recommends we help both givers and matchers. He says matchers are people who will keep score and they wish to settle favors by paying it forward instead of getting it back.

So, where does that put us in life? Don’t be agreeable about everything. Stand up for your beliefs with passion. Don’t let people think they can run over you and kick you aside.  Don’t accept tasks that are not in your area of responsibility. Learn to tell people no and justify why you are saying no. They may need growth or to learn some hard lessons in life. Don’t be indecisive and don’t let other undervalue your knowledge and contributions. Don’t sit on your negative emotions and let them tear you apart inside.  Being disagreeable makes people realize you can think independently and look beyond the obvious for different solutions. Stop using the term “I am sorry” as you are apologizing for nothing. Speak up about things when you are mistreated or taken advantage of by a friend or co-workers. Set boundaries when and how you will help others. Require others to be accountable for the help and support that you give. Give your help based on a sense of mastery of a subject or issue and your personal choice but not out of a sense of obligation or duty.

None of these are easy or simple. You have to make up your mind to show your value to others and your organization. Remember that you can get a rubber stamp almost anywhere. Be yourself and gain the respect you deserve.

Stay safe.

Ken Farmer is Section Chief, Leadership and Fire Risk Reduction at the National Fire Academy, United States Fire Administration in Maryland. Email him at

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