The career farm podcast episode 65: managing professional relationships

Okay, I admit it. I have a bad Amazon habit.

I buy books and (most of the time!) read them - but often I don't properly reflect on what I've learned.

I zealously highlight passages that I want to reflect on, and I might remember some of the key themes, but generally the learning points get crushed under the weight of another book being added to my groaning bookshelf.

So I thought I would address this by actually writing down some of the key things I have learned when the reading books I recommend - not only for you, but selfishly for me too! So I have a handy reference point.

Once in a while you read a book that shines a light on something you need to pay attention to in your life.

Give and Take, by Adam Wharton

The book ‘Give and Take’ written by Wharton professor Adam Grant was the light that helped me clearly see something that's been bugging me for years.

Adam Grant, Author of "Give and Take"

I guest lecture at business schools in Europe on ‘How to take charge of your career’, a workshop based on a book I co-authored. Like most career coaches I actively encourage my students to build their network of contacts.

Networking is a key component of active career management, whatever your objectives – getting a promotion, getting a new job, changing career, developing or setting up a business, the list goes on.

In my experience, both in my own working life and those of the MBA students I work with, networking has been overwhelmingly positive; but there are times when we are let down, ignored, or plain taken advantage of.

Annoying - but that’s life, isn't it?

Well, not so fast.

Perhaps we can change our approach without compromising our integrity?

Understanding professional relationships

Adam’s book gives a framework to consider networking in a more thoughtful and strategic way, backed up by his research into what makes someone a successful networker.

He proposes that there are 3 types of people: Takers, Matchers and Givers:

Takers – are typically out for themselves, with the objective of getting more help than they give

Matchers – operate on the basis of fairness – when they help others they will often seek reciprocity.

Givers – give advice, skills, energy and contacts without keeping score - giving more than they get is their default setting.

According to Yale psychologist Margaret Clark most people act like Givers in close relationships, not keeping score and helping each other.

In work it's more complicated, with many of us acting as 'matchers'. Matchers want to make sure that that the balance between giving and getting is in balance so when helping others or being helped themselves they make sure it is equal.

Takers, as you might have guessed, are the toxic ingredient in this mix. And the book gives some great advice on how to spot Takers and mange your relationship with them.

Givers, Takers and Matchers can all be successful, but what I found most interesting is that Givers are both at the top of the success ladder and at the bottom.

The book gives a fascinating insight into why some Givers are more successful than others, and how we can make changes to our behaviour to make sure we end up in the right camp!


Key Learnings, how much to give, and how to spot a Taker!

My main learning points from the book were:

  • Givers who excel are willing to ask for help when they need it.
  • How to spot a Taker. When researching CEOs, Grant found that Takers are often self absorbed and more likely to use words like 'I', 'me', 'mine', 'my' and 'myself' rather than first person plural pronouns like 'we', 'us', 'ours' and 'ourselves'.
  • The good news is it is much harder these days for Takers to get away with faking who they are. Research suggests even ordinary people can spot takers just from their social media profiles. Takers write things that are often boastful and arrogant. They post more flattering photos of themselves and collect superficial friendships so they can advertise what they're doing and stay in touch in case they need favors. With social media it's easier to find a mutual connection that can give some insight into whether someone is a Taker, and for many companies this has improved their recruitment process.
  • Why are Givers so successful? They can reactive dormant ties and ask for advice, because they never had any intention of calling in the favor so people are glad to help when they get back in touch.
  • Givers need to avoid burn out and to do this they need to see that their work makes a difference.
  • Recognise that there are 2 types of Giver. Selfless Givers give to others with little regard for their own needs, which damages their own success. The key to being a Successful Giver is to get the balance right – help others but also be mindful of your own success.
  • Neuroscience evidence shows that giving activates the reward and meaning centers in our brain, sending us pleasure and purpose signals when we act for the benefit of others. 100 hours of volunteering (or 2 hours per week) is the magic number as research shows that people volunteering for between 100 and 800 hours per year were happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who volunteered under 100 hours per year. The studies also show that there is no additional benefit to volunteering over 100 hours a year. 100 seems to be the number that is energizing and not draining.
  • Research shows that it is more effective to cluster your giving into one day rather than sprinkling it throughout the week. This allows you to feel the impact of your giving more intensely.

This is a great book which puts the evidence behind the ‘Givers gain’ statement; which as a career coach I want to be true but up until now I had no research to back this up. This book is full of that research.

I've attempted to summarise the key points here. While there were other points and many inspiring stories, these are the ones I picked out to be most useful from a career perspective -  and for the rest?…Well you'll just have to read the book!

Give And Take on Amazon

If you enjoyed this....

You might also be interested in my interview with Amy Morin, author of "13 things mentally strong people don't do"

You can check that out here