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Taking Down the Takers

I’m a naturally trusting person who generally finds that assuming the best of people leads to good results. From time to time I run into someone who takes advantage of my trusting nature, and I find these experiences extremely disorienting. When this happens, I begin to wonder if my life philosophy is naïve and whether I should mete out my trust, time, information, and resources more carefully.

Thanks to Adam M. Grant at the Wharton School, I have a new framework for knowing when to be generous and when to be guarded. In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (my book club’s favorite book of 2013, by the way), Grant categorizes people in four ways. While he describes “takers,” “matchers,” “selfless givers,” and “otherish givers,” I have taken his model and tweaked the names and descriptions to fit the way I see the world.

Think about the people in your workplace and categorize them as follows:

  • Evil Takers: Greedy people who lack integrity or a soul
  • Calculating Matchers: Quid pro quo masters who only give to get
  • Chump Givers: Generous-to-a-fault types who give at the expense of getting their own work done
  • Karmic Givers: Strategic and productive types who generously share information, advice, and resources without expectation of a return on investment because they have evidence that generosity creates new opportunities for everyone

My long-term dilemma has been how to reconcile my desire to be generous with most people with my desire to take down the takers. After reading Grant’s analysis, I am pleased to report that I no longer have to feel guilty about treating people differently. My takeaway from this book is that if we demonstrate generosity with takers, they will eventually gobble up all that is good in the world, so we are morally obligated to starve them to death (metaphorically, of course).

This is not to say we should not be civil or even helpful to the degree that is required, and we must even consider second chances in the event evil takers want to rehabilitate themselves. But once we are sure we are dealing with a chronic taker, we should establish strict limits and boundaries so they are not able to amass more power, resources, or influence.

How do you protect yourself from evil takers? Do you have a guiding framework or life philosophy about helping or sharing with others?

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