Sustainable givers

In a past post, I shared the most important lesson in Adam Grant’s wonderful book Give and Take: the “Givers,”—those who pay more attention to what other people need than what other people can offer them, who are generous with their time, energy, skills and ideas and want to share them with people who can benefit the most, all without concern for getting credit—those are the people who are consistently the most successful, providing that they don’t allow themselves to be taken advantage of.

That distinction—the art of giving without letting the takers take advantage—is important. Successful people say no all the time, and much of Grant’s book explores how to land and stay in the healthy giving camp. But if you’d like a crash course, this Harvard Business Review article, which Grant co-authored, explains more about how to be a giver without burning out your giving engine.

Grant divides the givers into two categories: selfless givers and self-protective givers.

SELFLESS GIVERS have high concern for others but low concern for themselves. They set few or no boundaries, which makes them especially vulnerable to takers. By ignoring their own needs, they exhaust themselves and, paradoxically, end up helping others less.

SELF-PROTECTIVE GIVERS are generous, but they know their limits. Instead of saying yes to every help request, they look for high-impact, low-cost ways of giving so that they can sustain their generosity — and enjoy it along the way.

Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, you’ll be more successful, more indispensable, and better appreciated when you’re willing to give more than you take. But it’s important to keep the giving sustainable.

As the article concludes, “Effective givers recognize that every no frees you up to say yes when it matters most. After all, it’s hard to support others when you’re so overloaded that you’ve hit a wall.”