Give and Take

Author(s): Adam Grant
Published: 2011

Overall Thoughts & Roadmap

A really important book for me. Most of us are brought up to believe that niceness and kindness are good things in the world and that the world would be a better place if there's more of them. But most of us also probably believe that being too nice or too kind can bite you in the back because you end up letting other people get ahead - both in your professional and personal life. This book says: there's a way to be nice and kind while getting ahead.

This book summary is divided into the following sections

(1) Core message: Nice girls and guys don't finish last.

(2) How to be a giver

(3) How to avoid being taken advantage of as a giver

(4) How to create a culture of givers

(5) Examples of famous givers

1. Core Message: Nice girls and guys don't finish last

There are three styles of reciprocity:

  • Givers: Pay more attention to what people need from them than what they need from others. Help whenever the benefit to others exceed the personal costs. Givers are a relatively rare breed.
  • Takers: Help others strategically. They help when the benefit to them outweighs personal costs. Takers aren't necessarily cruel or cutthroat. They're just protective of their own interests! 
  • Matchers: Seek to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Most people are matchers.

The common refrain "nice guys finish last" might lead you to think that givers also come last. This book debunks this myth. Adam Grant argues that: 

  • Givers are the most and least successful. Takers and givers are in the middle.
  • Givers are least successful because some times they can be too trusting, too willing to sacrifice their own interest for the benefit of others.
  • Yet, givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them.
"Being a giver is not good for a 100-yard dash, but it's valuable in a marathon."
"Focus attention and energy on making a difference in the lives of others, and success might follow as a by-product."

2. How to be a giver

How givers network


  • While givers and takers may have equally large networks, givers are able to produce far more lasting value through their networks.

Action point 1: Watch out for takers when you are forming relationships.

  • They tend to look down on people who don't serve them. They tend to be self-centered (more likely to use first-person singular pronouns).

Action point 2: Do things for other people without expecting anything specific back in return, but be confident in the belief that someone else will do something for you down the road.

  • Do not create networks with the sole intention of getting something. You can't pursue the benefits of networks. The benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships.
  • Building networks is not about just building your reputation. It's about being there for other people. You need to ask thoughtful questions and listen with patience.
  • The key to successful networking is generosity!

Action point 3: Reconnect with your weak ties consistently.

  • Strong ties: close friends and colleagues - people you can really trust. These ties provide bonds.
  • Weak ties: your acquaintances that you know casually. These ties serve as bridges: they provide efficient access to new information.
  • It's tough to ask weak ties for help —> the key is reconnecting, which is something that givers are good at doing. Reconnect with dormant ties to revitalize their value.

How givers collaborate


  • Givers reject the notion that interdependence is weak. They see interdependence as a source of strength, a way to harness the skills of multiple people for a greater good.

Action point 1: Take on tasks that are in the group's best interest, not necessarily your own personal interests.

Action point 2: Do not exaggerate your own contributions relative to others' inputs (responsibility bias).

  • We have more information about our own contributions relative to the contribution of others, so we tend to overvalue our own contributions and undervalue those of others.
"The key to balancing our responsibility judgements is to focus our attention on what others have contributed. All you need to do is make a list of what your partner contributes before you estimate your own contribution."

Action point 3: Put yourself in other people's shoes and ask "how will the recipient feel in this situation?"

How givers evaluate


  • Givers succeed in recognizing the potential in others.

Action point 1: Look for potential, not current ability.

  • Find ways to develop people who don't show a spark of talent or high potential at first. See the potential in people. Do not wait for signs of promise before you offer support.
  • If expertise in a domain requires 10k hours of deliberate practice, then being a "giving mentor" can lead your advisee to practise at length.
  • Set high expectations for the people you mentor so that they push through and persevere.

Action point 2: Don't be afraid to let go of bad "investments" you've made in people.

  • If someone turns out to be a bad egg, recognize that the investment is bad and let them go.

Action point 3: Receive criticism and advice from others, even if it challenges your own beliefs.

How givers influence

There are 2 paths to influence.

  1. Dominance: When we establish dominance, we gain influence because others see us as strong, powerful, and authoritative. Takers are attracted to gaining dominance. Dominance is a zero-sum game. The more power and authority you have, the less I have.
  2. Prestige: When we gain prestige, we become influential because others respect and admire us. Givers are attracted to gaining prestige. Prestige isn't a zero-sum game. There's no limit to the amount of respect and admiration that we can dole out. Prestige has more lasting value.

There are also 2 broad methods of communicating: 

  1. Powerful communication: speaking forcefully, raising their voices to assert their authority, express certainty to project confidence, promote accomplishments etc.
  2. Powerless communication: speak less assertively, express doubt, rely on advice of others. Talk in ways that signal vulnerability, making use of disclaimers ("this may be a bad idea, but..."), hedges ("kinda", "sorta"), and hesitation ("well", "um").


  • You don't need to be assertive and project confidence in order to gain influence. Givers don't necessarily have the loudest voice in the room, but they have a powerful way of communicating softly.

Action point 1: Developing prestige in PRESENTING BY EXPRESSING VULNERABILITY

  • Be willing to express your vulnerability.
  • E.g. Open up a class with a story about your biggest failures - makes students connect with you because they know you are just a "normal" person like them.
  • Research has shown that when the expert is clumsy, audiences liked him more.

Action point 2: Developing prestige in SELLING by ASKING QUESTIONS

  • Ask questions as a way of communicating powerlessly.
  • As a sales person, don't try to force on your potential customer the product you are trying to sell. Rather, ask questions to understand their needs.
  • Research shows that the more you talked in a group, the more you like it. By virtue of their interest in getting to know the group and asking questions about them, givers enable other people to experience the joy of learning from ourselves.

Action point 3: Developing prestige in PERSUADING by TALKING TENTATIVELY

  • Talk tentatively (use hesitations, hedges, disclaimers) to build prestige.
  • Research shows that tentative speech makes people believe that you have their interest at heart.

Action point 4: Developing prestige in NEGOTIATION by SEEKING ADVICE

  • Four benefits of advice-seeking: (1) you get to learn, (2) make other people take your perspective, (3) make other people commit to helping you find a solution, (4) you flatter other people by seeking their opinion and advice.
  • Advice seeking is a form of powerless communication that combines expressing vulnerability, asking questions, and talking tentatively.
  • When praising someone's skill, also ask them how they mastered it. When extolling someone's success, ask for recommendations on how to replicate their success.
  • But... advice seeking only works if it's genuine!

3. How to avoid being taken advantage of as a giver

1. Be an OTHERISH giver

  • Selfless givers = people with high other-interest and low self-interest. They give their time and energy without regard for their own needs.
  • Otherish giver = people who care about benefiting others, but also have their own ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.
  • Selfless givers are more prone to burnout because they neglect their own needs.

2. Keep your impact in sight

Perception of impact serves as a buffer against stress, enabling employees to avoid burnout and maintain their motivation and performance.

3. "Batch" and "chunk" your giving

Do all your giving in a burst when you have lots of energy. Research shows that doing 5 giving tasks in one day is more effective than sprinkling 5 giving tasks across a week.

4. Be willing to seek help

When you're on the brink of a burnout, seek help from others! This enables you to marshal the advice, assistance, and resources needed to maintain your motivation and energy.

5. Know who is likely to manipulate you so you can protect yourself

Disagreeable people are not necessarily takers. You need to look inside them. Giving and taking are based on our motives and values, and they're choices that we make regardless of whether our personalities trend agreeable or disagreeable. Whether you're nice or not nice is separate from whether you're self-focused or other-focused. They're independent, not opposites. There are disagreeable givers: people who are rough and tough in demeanor, but ultimately generous with their time, expertise, and connections.

6. Be sympathetic, not empathetic

When we empathize at the bargaining table, focusing on our counterparts' emotions and feelings puts us at risk of giving away too much. Instead, you should take in your counterparts' thoughts and interests to find ways to make deals that satisfy our counterparts without sacrificing our own interests.

7. Shift your reciprocity style depending on the situation

Become a matcher in your exchange with takers - "tit for tat" strategy. But don't be unwilling to forgive. You should adopt a generous tit for tat strategy instead: "never forget a good turn, but occasionally forgive a bad one."

8. When bargaining/negotiating, imagine you are doing so as a mentor for someone else

Research shows that when women are asked to bargain/negotiate for a friend, they are much more demanding than if they are bargaining for themselves. Make requests on behalf of someone else - this preserves your image as a giver.

4. How to create a culture of givers

1. Create a common ground

When people share an identify with another, that person takes on an otherish quality. We seem to prefer people and things that remind us of ourselves.

2. Give to lead an example

The visibility of giving can affect reciprocity styles. People end up taking because they don't have access to information about what others are doing/think that this is the norm. By shifting the norm to giving, they are more likely to give (especially if they have matcher personalities). Takers will also know that in public, they'll gain reputational benefits for being generous in sharing their knowledge, resources, and connections.

3. Internalize the act of giving

If your giving is motivated by something external (e.g. a promotion), then you are less likely to see yourself as a giver. However, if you practice giving as part of a group (e.g. volunteering group) and do so consistently, you are more likely to see yourself as a giver.

5. Famous givers

  • Lincoln: "If I have one vice and I can call it nothing else - it is not to be able to say no!"
  • George Meyers (Simpson screenwriter): "My code of honor is: (1) Show up, (2) Work hard, (3) Be kind, (4) Take the high road." Meyers really pays homage to the idea that creativity is a collaborative endeavor. He never claims credit for being the source of a particular idea/joke when collaborating with different writers.