Give or Take – Our Intent Drives Our Success

7 min read
Feb 18, 2015
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Give or Take

When we make business with a client, meet with a friend or make love to our close one, we have an intention at the back of our head. Do we want to get as much as we can from them, or do we want to give without worrying about what we get in return?

Our intent comes before all else. Later appears the language we use, decisions we make and actions we take.

When writing this post I may have an intention to engage you with the content of our corporate site, aiming to sell our LiveChat app to you.

I can also go the other way and intend to share my knowledge, discoveries and views on world, looking to connect with you and let you take whatever you find worthy.

Which way I’ll go? See for yourself.

The choice we have

Our intent is the choice we make: we can either try to claim as much as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive.

Adam Grant, the organizational psychologist and Wharton's professor spent over a decade examining these choices. According to Grant they have striking consequences for success in our life – both the business and nonbusiness one.

Grant describes two kinds of people: takers and givers. He carefully portrays them in NY Times bestseller "Give and Take."

Takers put their own interest ahead of others' needs. They see the world as a competitive, dog-eat-dog place and feel that one needs to be better than others to be successful. They are afraid of being hurt, so they are cautious and self-protective. They think: "If I don't look for myself first, no one will."

In the business world, takers focus on making a pitch. They simply want to sell. They make confident speeches that sound like "I tell you what you want," use lots of arguments and avoid putting their guard down.

Givers are the opposite of takers. They are other-focused, paying attention to what other people need from them. They are not afraid of losing when they give. They are simply generous. They trust that "what goes around comes around."

In business world, givers intend to act in the best interest of others, making sales a by-product. They ask questions and quietly listen to the answers of their clients and prospects. Givers want to know customers' hopes and fears, so that they can address them well. They do not advocate for a product or service, but rather inquire about the person they meet by asking "What do you need from me?"

Givers truly care

One of the givers described in Grant's book, David Hornik who is an investor at August Capital, when being close to sign up a lucrative contract with highly promising entrepreneur said: "Take as much time as you need to make the right decision." If Hornik was a taker, he would have set up a deadline to push the client to make up his mind. Instead he let the entrepreneur explore other options. Did the client come back to him? Not at first. But in a long run Hornik got the deal and was recommended to other companies later on.

When Grant was doing research for optometry company called Eye Care Associates he met another giver, Kildare Escoto. Kildare turned out to be the top-selling optician of the entire company. Grant was amazed by the experience of getting a pair of sunglasses proposed by him:

He speaks softly and asks me some basic questions before he even pulls out a single tray of sunglasses from the case. Have I ever been here before? Do I have prescription to fill? What's my lifestyle like - do I play sports? He listens carefully to my answers and gives me some space to contemplate.

When Grant asked about the techniques Kildare uses to be such an outstanding seller, he answered:

‘I don’t look at it as selling.’ he explains ‘I see myself as an optician. We’re in medical field first, retail second, sales maybe third. My job is to take care of the patient, ask the patient questions, and see what the patients needs. My mind-set is not to sell. My job is to help. My main purpose is to educate and inform patients on what’s important. My true concern in the long run is that the patient can see.’

Put your guard down and trust others

Givers do not advocate for their products, but rather focus on the interest of other people. Nate Kontny, the author of Draft, the writing tool I use to make this post, aims to answer the needs of people who write.

In one of the interviews Nate talked about reasoning behind the creation of Draft: "Well I think the most important issue really that I’ve been trying to solve is to help people write better." From this intent comes the way he built the software, with the focus on improving writing and not creating a money making product.

Here's how he states that intent:

You don't need writing software; you need someone's feedback on your writing.\nYou don't need version control software; you need to find all the things you've written without fear.\nYou don't need distraction free text editors; you need to find ways to write more concisely, more clearly.\nYou don't need real time collaboration software; you need a bigger audience for your writing.\nI'm working on Draft to provide what you need. What I need.\nWe need to be better writers.

Givers believe there's enough pie for everyone. Dave a bagmaker from fearlessly recommends his competitors, so that you have all options open:

I don’t suspect our competitors would put a link on their websites to ours, but I don’t mind doing it. I want you to shop around. I'm so confident that you'll find our classic look and over-engineered durability, at our price, so hard to resist that you’ll be back. And in case you’re wondering, I only listed quality reputable companies who have been around a long time and those who are not creatively bankrupt, knocking off our bags.

Givers trust, that what they give cannot be stolen from them. Leo Babauta writer and creator of Zen Habits with +million readers around the globe, puts all what he does uncopyrighted, being not afraid he can be ripped off.

And if someone wants to take my work and improve upon it, as artists have been doing for centuries, I think that’s a wonderful thing. If they can take my favorite posts and make something funny or inspiring or thought-provoking or even sad ... I say more power to them. The creative community only benefits from derivations and inspirations.

Givers are vulnerable but not powerless

Despite common belief that one needs to stay strong, confident and assertive in business, givers show us that being vulnerable, asking questions instead of giving answers and caring about other people is a much better approach. Why is it so?

The way givers come and talk to us builds trust. We feel there's no hidden agenda in their speech and we sense that they care for us. We are not pushed or manipulated to make a choice. We are left to make up our own mind. So when the decision comes, it comes from within us. We choose to buy product or service from a giver because we truly want to. And that's how the strongest bond builds between us.

Givers fall into two categories: some are doormats, but just as many are superstars. Successful givers are willing to give more than they get, but still keep their interest in sight. They are simply careful not to overextend themselves along the way. They integrate two concerns: self-interest and other-interest. With a healthy dose of concern for the self, givers choose wisely when, where, how and to whom they give. This way they don’t get burned out, but flourish.

Being a giver pays off

According to Grant givers outweigh takers in all walks of life from business to politics, healthcare to sports, selling to writing. Only among salespeople givers outsold takers, bringing in 68% more revenue. But that's not a giver style to show you big numbers and talk you into an idea. So let me leave you with one thought: being giver pays off, but only if you don't think about the pay-off.

The choice is up to you.

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