Are You A Giver Or A Taker?

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”
Calvin Coolidge, 30th U.S. President

I’ve noticed that people fall into one of two categories: givers and takers.

I’ve also noticed that the takers are the unhappiest people on Earth. And it’s no wonder. When their entire focus is on “What’s In It For Me,” they’re bound to offend their coworkers, customers, friends, and family members and have problems with them.

By contrast, those who experience the most success in their businesses, their teams, and their families are givers.

So I ask you … “Are you a giver or a taker?” Abigail Van Buren, the syndicated columnist, gives a great way to answer that question. She said, “The best index to a person’s character is: a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” A taker ONLY treats people well when he’s out to get something from them. A giver treats people well ALL the time.

To be a bit more specific …

=> 1. Takers seldom think about others.

They’re self-absorbed … with their interests, their desires, their wants, and their needs.

They’re kind of like the father who was asked by a young man if he could marry his daughter. The father asked, “Can you support a family?”

The young man said, “Yes.”

“Good,” replied the father. “There’s six of us.”

The father was a taker … fixated on his needs. He didn’t give a thought to the needs of his future son-in-law.

Do you know people like that? From their perspective, “It’s All About ME.”

Besides being selfish, they’re non-listeners. When others talk, they daydream, think about their response, or simply wait for a pause in the conversation so they can change the subject to something they want to talk about.

Another man fell into that category of being a non-listener. He would get so busy with his work that he would forget everything else. So his wife got in the habit of writing him notes. One morning she wrote, “We’re moving today.”

When the man returned home from work, no one was there. He looked in the windows. Everything was gone, and then he remembered … oh yeah, we’ve moved. But he had no idea where.

He sat on the curb and wondered what he should do. It was then that he saw a little girl passing by, and he called out, “Little girl, do you know the people who used to live here? Do you know where they moved to?”

The little girl said, “Come on, Daddy. Mamma said you wouldn’t remember.”

Of course we can laugh at these silly stories. But the sad truth is you may know some people like that … who are takers … who seldom think beyond themselves.

You may have a leader who seldom thinks about how the corporate changes will affect the staff or seldom asks for staff input. You may have coworkers who act like customers are an interruption of their work … instead of being the main reason they do work. And you may have a family member who is so preoccupied with his TV programs that he fails to connect with the other family members. They’re all takers.

By contrast, givers think … they really think … about others, and their thoughtfulness shows up in their behavior. One of my esteemed customers, Deb Wittenberg, the Manager of Learning & Development for the Digi-Key Corporation, is like that. When I asked her for her definition of success, she said, “It’s all about ‘paying it forward.’ I feel successful when … the way I behaved …the way I spoke … and the way I listened to someone’s concerns … affected another person’s life in such a way that he or she made better, more positive decisions.” Now that’s a great definition of a giver.

The other thing that characterizes takers is the fact that …

=> 2. Takers are seldom satisfied with others.

They always want more … even though they give very little in return.

Robert Orben joked about that. Said one parent, “I’m really concerned. Our kids are getting into so much trouble. I don’t think the day-care center, nursery school, after-school program and babysitters are raising them right.”

Takers are seldom satisfied. I see it in organizations all the time. I see it when a manager gives a performance review and says, “Overall, you’ve done a good job, BUT …” I see it when a leader tells her organization, “We accomplished our goals this year, and that’s great. But that’s nothing compared to what you’ll have to do this year.” I see it when a father reviews his child’s report card showing 4 A’s and 1 B … and then asks, “How come you got a B?”

All this taking behavior is demoralizing and demotivating. And if it goes on long enough, the recipient thinks, “What’s the use of ever trying?” Maybe that’s how God felt about one grandmother.

As the grandmother and her grandson walked on the beach, enjoying the seagulls and the view, a big wave suddenly came in and took the boy out to sea. She prayed to God, “Please bring him back. I’ll do anything you ask. I’ll buy him things, send him to college, discipline him more. Just send him back. Whatever you want, God, just send him back.”

Instantly another wave delivered the boy back to the shoreline. She looked down at the boy, looked up to heaven, and said, “Hey, he had a hat.”

If you’re going to have a team that works, it’s got to be filled with givers, not takers. If you’re going to have loyal customers, you’ve got to have employees who care more about giving the customer what he needs than taking his money. And if you’re going to have a personal relationship that works, both parties need to be givers.

The great actress Katherine Hepburn talked about that. She said, “Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get — only what you are expecting to give — which is everything.”

I challenge you to be a giver … to avoid the all too easy trap of being a taker. And then in my next “Tuesday Tip,” I’ll talk about what it takes to become a giver.

Action:  Do other people ever say you don’t think enough about them and their needs? Do other people ever accuse you of never being satisfied with anything they do? If so, it’s time for a behavior change.