Adam Grant on Are You a Giver Or a Taker? at TED Talk Conference (Transcript)

Adam Grant

Here is the full transcript of New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant’s TED Talk presentation: Are You a Giver Or a Taker?

Listen to the MP3 Audio: Are you a giver or a taker by Adam Grant at TED Conference


I want you to look around the room for a minute and try to find the most paranoid person here. And then I want you to point at that person for me. OK, don’t actually do it.

But, as an organizational psychologist, I spend a lot of time in workplaces, and I find paranoia everywhere. Paranoia is caused by people that I call “takers.” Takers are self-serving in their interactions. It’s all about: “What can you do for me?”

The opposite is a giver. It’s somebody who approaches most interactions by asking: “What can I do for you?”

And I wanted to give you a chance to think about your own style. We all have moments of giving and taking. Your style is just how you treat most of the people most of the time, your default. So I have a short test that you can take to figure out if you’re more of a giver or a taker, and you can take it right now.

[The Narcissist Test: Step 1: Take a moment to think about yourself. Step 2: If you made it to Step 2, you are not a narcissist.]

This is the only thing I will say today that has no data behind it, but I am convinced the longer it takes for you to laugh at this cartoon, the more worried we should be that you’re a taker.

Of course, not all takers are narcissists. Some are just givers who got burned one too many times. And then there’s another kind of taker that we won’t be addressing today, and that’s called a psychopath.

I was curious, though, about how common these extremes are, and so I surveyed over 30,000 people across industries around the world’s cultures. And I found that most people are right in the middle, between giving and taking. They choose this third style called “matching.” If you’re a matcher, you try to keep an even balance of give and take: quid pro quo — I’ll do something for you if you do something for me. And that seems like a safe way to live your life.

ALSO READ:   The Psychology of Beating an Incurable Illness: Bob Cafaro (Transcript)

But is it the most effective and productive way to live your life? The answer to that question is a very definitive: maybe.

Now, I studied dozens of organizations, thousands of people. I had engineers measuring their productivity. I looked at medical students’ grades — even salespeople’s revenue. And, unexpectedly, the worst performers in each of these jobs were the givers. The engineers who got the least work done were the ones who did more favors than they got back. They were so busy doing other people’s jobs, they literally ran out of time and energy to get their own work completed.

In medical school, the lowest grades belong to the students who agree most strongly with statements like, “I love helping others,” which suggests the doctor you ought to trust is the one who came to med school with no desire to help anybody.

And then in sales, too, the lowest revenue accrued in the most generous salespeople. And I actually reached out to one of those salespeople who had a very high giver score. And I asked him, “Why do you suck at your job –” I didn’t ask it that way, but — “What’s the cost of generosity in sales?”

Pages: First |1 | ... | | Last | View Full Transcript

Scroll to Top