Are you a giver or a taker? | Adam Grant | Summary and Q&A

January 24, 2017
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Are you a giver or a taker? | Adam Grant


In this TED Talk, organizational psychologist Adam Grant discusses the concepts of givers, takers, and matchers in the workplace and explores the impact of these different styles on individual and organizational success.

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Key Insights

  • πŸ”‘ Paranoia caused by self-serving "takers" is prevalent in workplaces, leading to a culture of giving versus taking.
  • πŸ™Œ Most people fall in the middle and practice a "matching" style of give and take. However, givers are often the worst performers because they prioritize helping others over their own work.
  • 🌍 Creating a culture that values and protects givers is crucial for organizational success.
  • 🀝 Developing a culture of help-seeking and encouraging people to ask for assistance allows givers to thrive.
  • πŸ’Ό Effective team building involves weeding out takers rather than solely hiring givers.
  • πŸ‘₯ Disagreeable givers who provide critical feedback are often undervalued, and agreeable takers, or "fakers," should be identified and avoided.
  • 🌟 Success should be redefined as contribution and helping others succeed rather than just personal achievement.
  • 🌞 Building a culture of givers can turn paranoia into pronoia, a positive belief that others are plotting your well-being.


Translator: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Camille MartΓ­nez I want you to look around the room for a minute and try to find the most paranoid person here -- (Laughter) And then I want you to point at that person for me. (Laughter) OK, don't actually do it. (Laughter) But, as an organizational psychologist, I spend a lot of time in workplaces, and I find... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is paranoia and how does it manifest in workplaces?

Paranoia is caused by people known as "takers" who are self-serving in their interactions. They approach interactions with a mindset of what others can do for them. Paranoia can be found in workplaces as individuals are constantly on guard, suspicious of others' motives, and believe that people are out to get them.

Q: What is the opposite of a taker?

The opposite of a taker is a giver. Givers approach most interactions by asking, "What can I do for you?" They are selfless and focused on helping others. They prioritize the well-being and success of others over their own needs.

Q: How can individuals determine if they are more of a giver or a taker?

There is a short test that individuals can take to determine if they are more of a giver or a taker. However, the speaker mentions that the longer it takes a person to laugh at a certain cartoon, the more worried they should be that they may lean towards being a taker.

Q: Are givers or takers more common among people in workplaces?

According to a survey conducted by the speaker, most people fall in the middle and adopt a style called "matching." Matchers strive for an even balance of give and take, practicing the principle of quid pro quo. However, the speaker also found that givers make up a significant portion of the population.

Q: How do givers impact the productivity and performance of organizations?

Surprisingly, givers tend to be the worst performers in various jobs and professions. For example, engineers who engaged in more favors for others were less productive, medical students who loved helping others received lower grades, and generous salespeople had lower revenue. However, givers also play a crucial role in improving organizations as they contribute to higher profits, customer satisfaction, employee retention, and lower operating expenses.

Q: How can a culture be developed where givers can thrive?

To create a culture where givers can succeed, it is important to protect them from burnout. This can be achieved by encouraging and recognizing the value of their five-minute favors, small acts of helping others that add significant value. Additionally, fostering a culture where help-seeking is normalized rather than stigmatized is crucial to unleash the potential of givers and give them the opportunity to contribute and excel.

Q: What should be considered in the hiring and team-building process to promote a culture of generosity?

When building a team, it is essential to be thoughtful about who is let onto the team. Instead of solely focusing on bringing in givers, it is more effective to weed out the takers. Takers have a much more significant negative impact on a culture than the positive impact of givers. By selecting team members who prioritize others' well-being and can follow the norm, a culture that promotes productive generosity can be created.

Q: How can disagreeable givers and agreeable takers be identified in an organization?

Disagreeable givers, often undervalued individuals in organizations, are those who may come across as gruff or tough on the surface but genuinely have others' best interests at heart. Identifying them can be challenging as disagreeableness and agreeableness are outer traits, which may not necessarily align with an individual's inner motives of giving or taking. To distinguish between agreeable takers (fakers) and givers, one effective approach is to ask for examples of the person's impact on others' careers.


In this talk, organizational psychologist Adam Grant discusses the different styles of interaction in the workplace and how they impact individual and organizational success. He explains that there are three styles: takers, who are self-serving and prioritize their own needs; givers, who prioritize helping others; and matchers, who seek a balance in give and take. Grant presents research evidence that shows that givers typically perform poorly in terms of productivity and success metrics, such as grades or revenue. However, he also highlights that givers contribute to overall organizational success and suggests strategies for creating cultures where givers can thrive. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing the value of givers, encouraging help-seeking, and being thoughtful about team composition.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Grant define the three different interaction styles in the workplace?

Grant defines three styles of interaction in the workplace: takers, who prioritize their own needs and interests; givers, who prioritize helping others and are more selfless in their interactions; and matchers, who seek a balance between giving and taking.

Q: How does Grant suggest individuals determine whether they are more of a giver or a taker?

Grant suggests individuals reflect on their default style of interaction and how they typically treat others. He provides a short test in which individuals can think about themselves and determine if they lean more towards giving or taking in their interactions.

Q: What does Grant's research reveal about the performance of givers compared to takers and matchers?

Grant's research shows that, in various domains such as engineering, medical school, and sales, givers tend to be the worst performers. They often take on too much responsibility, leaving less time and energy for their own work. On the other hand, the best performers in these domains are also givers, demonstrating that givers go to extremes in terms of performance. Matchers fall somewhere in the middle.

Q: Why do givers often struggle and experience burnout?

Givers often struggle and experience burnout because they devote a significant amount of time and effort to helping others and improving the team. This often results in givers neglecting their own needs and responsibilities, leading to exhaustion and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Q: How can organizations create cultures where givers can succeed?

Grant suggests three strategies for creating cultures where givers can thrive. Firstly, organizations need to recognize the value of givers and protect them from burnout. Secondly, they should encourage a culture where help-seeking is the norm, as this allows givers to seek support without feeling vulnerable or incompetent. Lastly, organizations should be thoughtful about team composition and ensure they weed out takers during the hiring and screening process.

Q: Who tends to punish takers in the workplace?

Matchers tend to punish takers in the workplace. Matchers believe in balance and justice, and when they encounter a taker, they feel a strong urge to serve justice and punish the taker for their self-serving behavior.

Q: How can organizations make it easier for employees to ask for help?

Grant suggests that organizations can make it easier for employees to ask for help by creating a culture where help-seeking is encouraged and normalized. He provides an example of nurses in hospitals, where one nurse's role is dedicated to helping other nurses. This role establishes a norm where help-seeking is not seen as embarrassing or vulnerable but rather as something that is actively encouraged.

Q: How does Grant suggest identifying takers during the hiring process?

Grant suggests asking candidates to provide the names of four people whose careers they have fundamentally improved. Takers tend to provide names of people who are more influential than them, as they are skilled at kissing up to those in power. Givers, however, are more likely to name people below them in the hierarchy, as they genuinely care about helping others and making a positive impact on their careers.

Q: Are agreeableness and giving behavior correlated?

No, agreeableness and giving behavior are not correlated. Agreeableness refers to how pleasant it is to interact with someone, while giving behavior is more about a person's inner motives, values, and intentions towards others. Agreeable people can be both givers and takers, just as disagreeable people can be both givers and takers.

Q: What does Grant propose as a more meaningful definition of success?

Grant proposes that, instead of defining success solely as winning or personal achievement, a more meaningful definition of success is contributing to the success and well-being of others. He believes that helping others succeed is the most meaningful way to succeed oneself.


Grant's talk highlights the importance of creating cultures where givers can excel without experiencing burnout. Although givers tend to underperform individually, they significantly contribute to overall organizational success. To build such cultures, organizations should recognize and protect givers, normalize help-seeking, and be mindful of team composition. By valuing contribution over competition, we can create a world where givers thrive and redefine success as collective achievement.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Paranoia is prevalent in workplaces and is caused by self-serving people known as "takers", who always prioritize their own interests over others.

  • Givers, who approach interactions by asking what they can do for others, are often seen as the worst performers in organizations.

  • However, givers bring significant benefits to organizations, such as higher profits, customer satisfaction, and employee retention. Building a culture that supports and protects givers is crucial for success.

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