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Give and Take by Adam Grant.
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There are 3 reciprocity styles. Takers like to receive more than they give. Matchers balance and give on a quid pro quo basis. Givers like to give more than they get.

Professionally, most people tend to be matchers, partly because they believe the workplace is zero sum, partly because they’re skeptical of takers and don’t want to make themselves vulnerable. This can create a pernicious vicious cycle leading to bad work culture.

Benefits of Giving

Givers end up more successful by building better reputations and more useful networks. Increasingly true as economies shift to collaborative knowledge work.

Giving gives you an advantage because you can’t predict who’s going to be helpful to you in the future. This means some people are undervalued by takers/matchers at present. If you help these people, they will be grateful. Givers tend to see potential in all people as diamonds in the rough.

Givers focus on the success of the group rather than the self. This inspires trust in their motives and creates a safe space where ideas are shared without fear of exploitation (where a taker would claim credit) or retaliation (where a taker may reflexively shoot it down). Takers create the opposite reaction

The givers also earn “idiosyncracy credits” where their controversial ideas may be given more hearing time, since listeners know the givers have the group’s interests at heart. The givers have previously demonstrated that they’re putting the group before themselves. As a result, the group is more receptive to odd ideas instead of skeptically dismissing them as ways to merely get ahead.

Giving is contagious. Giving seems to create a safe space in a group, where people are comfortable adopting giving behaviors knowing that takers won’t exploit them. Since most people are matchers, they reciprocate to the network.

  • In contrast, a bad taker apple can spoil the batch. Takers can spur zero-sum behaviors that drag the whole group down, and people become wary of sharing ideas out of fear of exploitation.

Why Taking is Bad

Takers are punished societally through spreading of a bad reputation or active punishment (withholding of information, exclusion). Nowadays, the Internet makes taker reputations even harder to reverse.

Takers tend to take credit because they suffer responsibility bias and cannot cross the perspective gap to their teammates. They see only their pain and contributions, and not those of others.

Takers assume that most people are takers and thus place little trust in other people. They’re afraid of being taken advantage of, so they close themselves off to full-hearted collaboration. Furthermore, takers suspect that others would take advantage of them if they had the opportunity, so they justify their own taking behavior.

How can you spot a taker? They might kiss up their superiors but they treat their subordinates poorly in private....

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 1: Why Givers Succeed

People fall into one of 3 groups for their stance on reciprocity:

  • Takers like to get more than they give. They feel the world is a zero-sum game, for them to win means others must lose. They self-promote and make sure they get credit. They help others strategically, when the benefits to them outweigh their personal costs.
  • Givers like to give more than they get. They help others when the benefits to others exceeds their personal costs.
  • Matchers like to balance and giving exactly, practicing quid pro quo.

Outside the workplace, giving is quite common, especially in marriages and friendships. But in the workplace, people tend to adopt a matcher style.

The roles are fluid. You may act like a taker when negotiating a job offer, a giver when mentoring an intern, and a matcher when sharing information with a colleague.

Interestingly, according to Give and Take, both the worst and the best performers in a firm tend to be givers. The givers at the bottom tend to give away too much time to get their work done, or were too nice to customers. But givers also fill out the top ranks.

This tends to be true across industries, from medical school students,...

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 2: How Givers Build Networks

Networks provide private information, diverse skills, and power. Givers tend to create more helpful networks than matchers or takers.

The core of why giving works works in building networks is that you can’t perfectly predict who will be useful to you in the future. Someone you help might unpredictably become your boss or client in the future. If you selectively target only people you believe will help you, you ignore all the unproven people whose connections would have turned out to be helpful. Plus, because most people professionally tend to be matchers, the “lower status” people you help as a giver tend to really appreciate your giving.

In contrast, takers and matchers take advantage of the reciprocity tendency. They offer favors to people whose help they want in the future. But there are two downsides to this approach. First, the recipients often feel like they’re being manipulated. This ends up feeling like a transaction more than a meaningful gesture. Second, matchers tend to build smaller networks than givers or takers, because they help only people for whom there is an immediate benefit. Thus, **matchers tend to have a smaller network of ties that are made up of...

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Shortform Exercise: What Style Are You?

Reflect on your reciprocity style.

Of the three reciprocity styles (giver, taker, matcher), which do you most strongly identify with? Do you feel you give more than you expect to receive?

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 3: Givers Collaborate Better

Americans tend to see independence as strength, and interdependence as weakness. Takers tend to see themselves as superior to others and collaboration as opening vulnerabilities to being overtaken.

In contrast, givers focus on achieving the goals of the group and see collaboration as harnessing the best of multiple people. They take on tasks that are in the best interest of the group and not necessarily of themselves. This isn’t necessarily purely altruistic – givers understand that the best thing for themselves is for their group to perform as well as possible.

(Shorform note: In venture capitalist’s Ben Horowitz’s terms, “two percent of zero is zero.” If you’re a taker and fight for your share but the team fails, you own two percent more of nothing.)

Benefits of Giving in Collaboration

Evidence shows that the more giving group members are, the more successful they tend to be in group performance and individual raises. There are a few reasons for this.

When givers show they care more about the group, they signal that they care less about themselves and intra-competition. In turn, they earn their collaborators’ respect and trust, which opens bandwidth...

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 4: Givers Find the Diamond in the Rough

Assessing future potential is difficult. As discussed above, matchers and takers have a disadvantage in creating valuable networks – they seek out only people who can benefit them today. This ignores undervalued people who blossom into great success, whom givers help without expectation of return. We’ll discuss why givers tend to be better judges and developers of talent.

The Pygmalion Effect – Self-fulfilling Prophecies of Potential

Confounding the potential problem is the Pygmalion effect – a self-fulfilling prophecy where having higher expectations about a person leads to performance increases in that person.

This effect has been experimented with in a wide range of professional and educational settings. Usually the experiment is conducted by having all students take a faux exam, then randomly assigning a percentage of students into a false “high potential group.” Instructors are then told which students were identified as high potential (again, in reality, since they were randomized, the high potential students are no different).

In a variety of environments, the falsely labeled “high potential” or “bloomers” achieve better gains.

  • In grade school...

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 5: The Benefits of Powerless Communication

There are two modes of communication: powerful communication and powerless communication.

Powerful communication tries to establish dominance, and takers are attracted to this style. They speak loudly and forcefully, express certainty, promote accomplishments, and have large body language. Picture a military general issuing orders.

Powerless communication tries to build prestige and admiration, and givers are attracted to this style. Powerless communicators speak less aggressively and assertively, express doubt by using disclaimers and hesitations (“um”, “sorta,” “this may be a bad idea, but”), signal vulnerability, ask questions, and rely on advice. Picture a warm, supportive teacher.

Adam Grant examines how givers and powerless communicators succeed in four areas: presenting, selling, persuading, and negotiating. In sum, powerless communication is effective because people are naturally skeptical of intentions, bristle at being ordered around, and have their own egos to protect. By asking questions and indicating vulnerability, givers become approachable, show reception to new ideas, and learn new information that helps them persuade.


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Shortform Exercise: Communicate Powerlessly

Try to communicate powerlessly to get more of what you want.

Think of an upcoming situation where you’ll need to impress someone. How are you naturally thinking of making your first impression?

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 6: Avoiding Burnout as a Giver

It’s a myth that self-interest and other-interest lie on the same spectrum, and that caring about yourself necessarily means not caring about others.

Instead, self-interest and other-interest are completely independent motivations – you can have both be very strong, or both be weak, forming this 2×2 matrix:

Low Other-Interest High Other-Interest
Low Self-Interest Apathetic Selfless:

Self-sacrificing Givers

High Self-Interest Selfish:



Successful Givers


On one axis, we have either low self-interest or high self-interest.

On the other axis, we have either low other-interest or high other-interest.

These form four quadrants:

Someone with low self-interest and low other-interest is apathetic.

Someone with low self-interest and high other-interest is selfless. They are self-sacrificing givers.

Someone with high self-interest and low...

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 7: Don’t Be Treated as a Doormat

In the workplace, some givers pave the way to early promotion, and others are treated more like doormats, trod upon by co-workers. In a study of consultants, givers had 1-2% lower salary increases, 15% lower rate of being promoted to managerial roles, and took 2 more months on average to get promoted.

How do you avoid this doormat effect? We’ll cover a range of strategies: detect takers; practice generous tit for tat; and advocate for other people instead of yourself.

Detecting Fakers

Givers tend to see the best in everyone and operate assuming everyone is trustworthy. Thus givers tend to be twice as susceptible to cons and identity theft.

The key for givers is to distinguish between real givers and fake takers. Fake takers are people who try to appear to be givers, but really behave as takers.

But it’s not hard to detect fake takers. Many people confuse agreeableness and giving. Agreeable people come across as warm and cooperative, and we tend to interpret agreeable behavior as a signal of giving tendencies. In contrast, we perceive disagreeable people as tougher, colder, and more skeptical – naturally, these people don’t seem to have your best interests in...

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 8: Social Environments for Giving

The final strategy for givers to avoid being exploited is to actually change other people’s behaviors – to create an environment where even takers are motivated to give.

Why Do People Give to Begin With?

There are two schools of thought. C. Daniel Batson argues we give out of pure altruism, not because it makes us feel good but because we care for the other person. In contrast, Robert Cialdini argues there’s no such thing as pure altruism – we give because we feel pain, and helping relieves our own pain. In Cialdini’s view, giving is actually selfish.

Batson argued that if Cialdini were completely right, then all people would just relieve empathetic pain by leaving the situation. In one experiment where people watched a woman getting shocked, 75% of people left. But a percentage of people stayed and offered to help take the shocks in her place, so some people help for reasons other than solving their own pain.

In return, Cialdini then argued, with experiments, that when we see someone suffering, we essentially become one with the victim – we see ourselves in the victim, and that’s why we help. The more we see ourselves in them, the more we help.

In return,...

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Give and Take Summary Chapter 9: Givers, Break Free

People generally believe that gives are the least successful of all 3 types, but Adam Grant argues vehemently that that’s not true – recall the examples of VC David Hornik, Adam Rifkin, basketball scout Stu Inman, the optician salesperson, Abraham Lincoln.

Givers get to the top without cutting others down and pride their achievements by how much they help other...

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Give and Take Summary Shortform Actionables

As a summary, here are actionables arising directly from the book, or inspired by its concepts.


  • Adopt a giving attitude. If this isn’t your natural orientation, start with small giving behaviors to people you care about.
  • To cross the perspective gap, understand the pain of others in their contributions, rather than centering around your own contributions. This applies to both subordinates, colleagues, and bosses. Avoid the Jonas Salk credit problem.

Giving Behaviors

  • Ask in every interaction, how can I help you?
  • Five minute favor: if you can help someone within 5 minutes, do so. Give honest feedback and make introductions.
  • Make your giving reputation known – this will increase reception by people approaching you, no matter which of 3 stances they belong to.
  • Don’t buy gifts off registry – you’re projecting your own preferences onto the recipient.
  • For your kids, find teachers who are caring and enthusiastic and make learning the subject fun. This...

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