Going through life, I was convinced that  there are broadly two categories of people in this world – givers and takers.

Reading Eric Butterworth‘s writing I found this to substantiate my views:

The takers are the people who believe their lives will always be the total of what they can get from the world. They are always thinking get, get, get. They plan and scheme ways to get what they want in money, in love, in happiness, and in all kinds of good… but whatever may be their spiritual ideals or lack of any, no matter what they take, they can never know peace or security or fulfillment.

The givers, on the other hand, are convinced life is a giving process. Thus their subtle motivation in all their ways is to give themselves away, in love, in service, and in all the many helpful ways they can invest themselves. They are always secure, for they intuitively know that their good flows from within.

I classified myself as a giver, but then got a bit confused along the way when I realized that I was often giving too much of myself, and at great cost to my well-being. Slowly, I started to learn to assert myself and say ‘no’. But I wondered if that automatically moved me to the other camp? I then realized that even givers have to learn to set limits.

Adam Grant’s ‘Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success‘ (affiliate link) makes  interesting reading. Citing research from Yale psychologist, Margaret Clark, he says that outside of the workplace, most of us, in our relationships with family and friends are givers – we don’t keep scores. However, in the work place, the behaviour that dominates is that of ‘matchers’.

We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you’re a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your relationships are governed by even exchanges of favors.

Grant notes that we all move between being givers, takers and  matchers depending on the situation:

Giving, taking, and matching are three fundamental styles of social interaction, but the lines between them aren’t hard and fast. You might find that you shift from one reciprocity style to another as you travel across different work roles and relationships. It wouldn’t be surprising if you act like a taker when negotiating your salary, a giver when mentoring someone with less experience than you, and a matcher when sharing expertise with a colleague. But evidence shows that at work, the vast majority of people develop a primary reciprocity style, which captures how they approach most of the people most of the time. And this primary style can play as much of a role in our success as hard work, talent, and luck.


Having read the book and pondered on this question, I no longer feel the need to slot people into one or the other category. But it helps in our own growth to understand how we and others move into different behaviors and roles.

Watch Adam Grant talking about givers and takers.


Still, I was happy to read that in the long run, the winners, for want of a better word, are ‘givers’ because giving has such a wonderful effect.

Givers, takers, and matchers all can— and do— achieve success. But there’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades. When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. In contrast, when [givers] win, people are rooting for them and supporting them, rather than gunning for them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. You’ll see that the difference lies in how giver success creates value, instead of just claiming it.

Maya Angelou put it so beautifully when she said: I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

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Image of a women’s hands via Shutterstock