Tag Archives: relationships

Giving, Collaborating and Success

When you think about great teamwork, you’re likely to be thinking about collaboration, support, sharing, helping, co-operation and cohesiveness. But would you also be thinking givers, takers and matchers?

Dr Adam Grant, management professor at Wharton, has just released his book “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”. I don’t have his book (*yet ) but I have enjoyed reading a number of press articles, particularly the recent Harvard Business Review and McKinsey Quarterly articles. I think you too should read those articles, because although I provide some highlights below, it’s not possible to cover the depth of Grant’s work. And because I don’t have the book (yet) I’m definitely missing some depth. Nevertheless here is some food for thought and something to whet the appetite.

Cultures of Giving

Grant draws together many years of his and others’ research on reciprocity and pro-social motivation. He suggests that corporate cultures sit on a continuum with ‘giver cultures’ and ‘taker cultures’ at the extremes, and matcher cultures around the midpoint.

Matchers help others but expect an equal amount of help in return. They give to people who they think will help them in return.

Takers ask for help and give little or nothing in return. They tend to claim personal credit for success for example saying ‘me’ and ‘I’, rather than ‘we’ and ‘us’. They tend to ‘kiss up and kick down’ and seek to come out ahead.

Givers are guided by pro-social motivation, “the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback”. Givers “add value without keeping score”, they do not expect immediate gain. The most successful givers care highly for others but also have some self-interest such as attending to their work and other needs. They give in ways that reinforce social ties. They set boundaries to ensure giving has maximum impact and joy, without burning out or compromising their work commitments. They are cautious about giving to takers. Givers are motivated by a sense of service and contribution and are more productive when they think of helping others. Grant found however that givers are not successful if they lack assertiveness, become a doormat, or burn out by excessively giving.

Reaping the Rewards

Dr Grant’s work reveals that businesses benefit from effective ‘giver’ behaviours. Improvements include:

  • Group effectiveness, cohesion, coordination
  • Interpersonal networks
  • Sales performance, revenues
  • Productivity
  • Client satisfaction
  • Creativity
  • Quality
  • Problem solving
  • Staff retention, job satisfaction, sense of belonging, pride
  • Personal success

“The greatest untapped source of motivation, Grant argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves”

Creating a Giving Culture

Grant suggests that people in leadership positions can:

  1. Encourage reciprocity: it’s ok to seek help; it’s good to give; pay it forward
  2. Help givers to set boundaries. Guide them to be perspective takers if they are prone to lacking assertiveness or to being overwhelmed with excessive empathy which can cloud their judgement
  3. Guide giving behaviour in the direction of best impact: helping others whilst protecting one’s own work commitments
  4. Emphasise the intrinsic motivation which occurs when being a giver
  5. Help staff to match their own expertise and resources to others’ needs
  6. Implement reward and recognition systems which favour givers
  7. Role model giving behaviours
  8. Design jobs to connect the role directly to the recipient, client and to a sense of purpose
  9. Screen out takers; minimise the number of taker employees

“By putting these into action, it’s possible to transform win/lose scenarios into win/win gains”

“Organizations will always have a mix of these three basic styles. But there’s reason to believe that in the long run, the greatest success — and the richest meaning — will come to those who, instead of cutting other people down, pursue their personal ambitions in ways that lift others up. From a manager’s perspective, it would be wise to clear the path for more givers to succeed, so that they can bring others along as they climb to the top.”

(*) Note – A big thank you to K, who is one of my email readers and a colleague. K is sending (giving) me a copy of Adam Grant’s book.


Adam Grant is an award-winning teacher, researcher, and tenured management professor at Wharton. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Michigan in organizational psychology and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honours, Phi Beta Kappa honours, and the John Harvard Scholarship for highest academic achievement. Dr. Grant has been recognised as the single highest-rated professor in the Wharton MBA program, one of BusinessWeek’s favourite professors, and one of the world’s top 40 business professors under 40.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (Adam Grant, 2013)

Information about Adam Grant’s book

In the company of givers and takers. Harvard Business Review, April 2013

Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture. The McKinsey Quarterly, April 2013

Viewpoint: Good Guys Can Win at Work, Adam Grant, April 10, 2013

Fitting In and Standing Out: Shifting Mindsets from Taking to Giving

Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? March 2013

Be a Giver Not a Taker to Succeed at Work. Forbes Magazine, April 2013

Quietness and Introversion

Hello everyone, and welcome to the end of the June.

It’s not unusual for me to hear from my coaching clients that one of their ‘problems’ is that they need to speak up more and to think on their feet. In some situations, clients have arrived at these coaching sessions with suggestions from their managers for areas to work on: ‘please learn to speak up more in meetings’, ‘please be more outgoing, network more, get out there’.

In these situations I have asked my clients how they benefit from being quiet in meetings and by not being outgoing. When they reply easily and with energy (and usually with a look of relief on their faces) it reveals that their quietness is their strength. The problem isn’t that they have a problem, the people around them have the problem.

Alert to the plight of some introverts, I noticed over the past few months a number of articles and book reviews about the work of Susan Cain, a former corporate attorney and an introvert, who recently published her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (2012). Here are some key points, not from her book, but from the articles about her book (links are at the end).


  • Introversion is a preference for lower stimulation environments, quiet, less noise, less action. Introverts are most alive and at their best when they are quieter.
  • Introverts are not anti-social, they are differently social. They enjoy being with others, but also prefer quieter places and times. They enjoy interacting with people but have limits. Introverts want company just as much as extroverts do, but they prefer it in either short doses or with people they know well. “Social skills and teamwork are not unimportant. But the more freedom we allow introverts to be themselves the more likely they are to come up with their own unique solutions to problems.” (Susan Cain)
  • Shyness is about a fear of negative social judgment. You can be introverted without having that fear, and you can be shy but also be an extrovert.
  • Extroverts are not criticised by Cain, rather it is the extroverted ideal that she is concerned about. Cain suggests we have moved from a culture of character to a culture of personality where what is admired is the magnetic and charismatic, a world where we have to sell ourselves.
  • According to research, one third to one half of Americans are introverts.
  • “Introverts are pretty excellent they way they are” (Susan Cain).


  • We all fall somewhere along the introversion / extroversion spectrum. There is no extreme. Ambiverts fall in the middle, they have the best of both worlds.

Our workplaces

  • Workplaces are increasingly set up for maximum group interaction, brainstorming and group work which results in immediate ideas, and less privacy.
  • Teamwork is still of value, but creativity can also come from quiet reflection. We should not stop collaborating. We should be aware that solitude matters and for some people it’s the air that they breathe.
  • The most creative people in many fields are usually introverts.
  • Research from Adam Grant (The Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania) reveals that introverted leaders often deliver better results than extroverted leaders. When they are managing proactive employees they are much more likely to let employees run with those ideas. Whereas some extroverted leaders can unwittingly get so excited that they put their own stamp on things and other people’s ideas might not as easily bubble up to the surface.


  • Be aware of listening to the loudest voices.
  • Listen to the listeners.
  • Introverts thrive better in one type of circumstance, and extroverts thrive better in another. Put people in the right environment to suit their temperament.
  • Introverts can feel proud and comfortable of their strengths.
  • Think about how workplaces can better support introverts.
  • Value individuality.
  • Find time for solitude, to ‘unplug’. “Stop the madness for this constant group work (but it’s okay to have casual chatty cafe style time where there is a serendipitous exchange of ideas which is great for both introverts and extroverts). We need more autonomy, privacy and freedom at work” (Susan Cain, TED Talk).

Book reference
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown

Susan Cain’s website
TED Talk video (19 minutes)
Video RSA interview (8 minutes)
NPR interview with Susan Cain  This link also includes Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet Quiz: Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?’
Power of Introverts – Q&A with Susan Cain
Chris Peterson’s viewpoint
Book review by Jock Given 
Book review by Jon Ronson
Susan Cain’s blog
Scientific American – Interview with Susan Cain

Listening and Leadership

This month is a topic of great interest to me and relevant to my work. Listening is something I’m always practising and trying to improve, so when I saw “The Executive’s Guide to Good Listening” in February’s McKinsey Quarterly I immediately took a look at it to see what I could learn.

From my interpretation of the McKinsey Quarterly article, I observed that good listening is marked by a range of characteristics and behaviours.

The characteristics include:
– Being open-minded and non-judgmental
– Having a possibility mindset
– Being quiet and bringing quietness to the mind, using silence, relaxing
– Being patient
– Being conscious and building perspective
– Being humble (controlling that pesky ego)

The suggested behaviours include:
– Encourage healthy and honest debate.
– Engage with interest and curiosity.
– Show respect.
– Acknowledge others’ unique skills, abilities, knowledge, and contributions.
– Let go of ego.
– Let go of fear (of not knowing, of not having the best idea).
– Slow down.
– Don’t put down or belittle others’ opinions.
– Question courageously.
– Pay attention: notice when your moods impede the flow of the conversation.
– Focus conversations on a bigger purpose and meaning, not on self-interest.

It struck me that if people practised some of these tips they would also experience greater strength, well-being and resilience…some great unintended by-products. For example, being courageous, patient, respectful, open-minded and non-judgemental enhances our positive emotions, which have an impact on both the listener and the speaker. On the converse, practising one of the best well-being ‘interventions’, mindfulness, improves a person’s ability to listen well. If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on the connections between well-being and listening, see this article, “Listening and Health”.

Reference: McKinsey article “The executive’s guide to better listening” by Bernard T. Ferrari

Gottman on Relationships

In an article early last year, I referred to articles in the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine and Harvard Business Review about Dr. John Gottman’s work and how it can be applied to work relationships. Gottman recently visited Australia to run workshops. In the positive psychology world, he is well-known for his 5:1 ratio of positive to negative language and how it can predict successful relationships. But actually, much more than the 5:1 is important. More generally, John Gottman is widely known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations published in peer-reviewed literature (see Note 1).

John Gottman Workshop – Sydney, May 2009

Earlier this year, I attended John Gottman’s one-day workshop in Sydney “The Art and Science of Love.” He was entertaining, informative, funny, engaging, and knowledgeable. We were all absorbed every moment of the day, partly because in all his examples and anecdotes, we could see a little bit of our own lives. And he didn’t use a single powerpoint slide.

“A relationship is a contract of mutual nurturance. Relationships have to be a rich climate of positivity. For relationships to be strong, the ideal climate is one teeming with positive interactions.” John Gottman, May 2009

In this article, rather than summarise Gottman’s work, I have provided quotes and reflections gathered during his presentation. Here are some highlights.

1. It’s more than 5:1

From the printed workshop notes: “Couples who were in a stable, happy relationship – couples who reported liking one another – had a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1 when discussing an area of disagreement. Even when talking about an area of continuing disagreement, their relationships demonstrated a rich climate of acceptance, humour and interest in one another. In the Love Lab, [for] the relationships that were happy, the ratio was 20:1 of positive to negative expressions when simply conversing.” Gottman also pointed out that in relationships which are not going well, the positive to negative ratio is just 0.8:1.

2. What’s going right?

“Contempt is like sulphuric acid. Anger has to be channelled from the very beginning. It cannot be ‘catharted.’ In anger, you need to be very, very gentle.”

“Most arguments are about absolutely nothing.”

“When one is looking for mistakes, there is no such thing as constructive criticism.”

“Respect, gratitude, affection, friendship, and noticing what’s going right is a ‘habit of mind’ which creates a culture of appreciation.”

“Scan for things which go right, notice them more. This leads to more searching for positive things, to positive feedback, and therefore positive actions.”

3. Physiology and health

“When people stonewall, their heart rate goes up, and if it’s above 100 beats per minute, you can’t listen even if you want to. There is a shutting down and narrowing of attention. You can’t be empathetic and compassionate, can’t be creative or a problem solver. The physiology is restricting you. Soothing is essential to reduce the heart rate.”

“Relationships which work well lead to: healthier people who live longer and stronger; people who can cope better with adversity. Their well-being is higher.”

4. Mission, meaning and purpose

“Make it intentional how we move through time together. Those actions are about working towards shared meaning. The rituals of connection are very important.”

“Support each other’s roles, e.g. role of mother, father, friend. Let each other be who they are: this is what’s meaningful to them. Do we know our partner’s mission? Does the relationship support our separate missions in life?”

5. Friendship

Gottman explained that the basis of great relationships is a friendship built on strong emotional ‘bank accounts,’ fondness and admiration, and knowing one another. He emphasised the importance of knowing what is right about the partner, and showing an interest in them (“interest is the lowest level of positive affect”). Open ended questions are critical. Friendship is critical for repairing things after ‘regrettable events.’ How the receiver views her partner is critical when that partner makes attempts to repair the relationship.

6. The workplace

We can learn from Gottman’s work and how to apply it in the workplace: “We should build on what’s working well, rather than creating cultures which results in competition.” He also commented on the wonderful work of Marcial Losada: “Losada’s Lab is so much better than mine!”

7. Mindfulness

We learned that people need to enhance their sense of awareness and presence. Listen, tune in. Sometimes when people turn away, it can be because they lack awareness. Mindfulness enables people to become more aware of the other person’s needs and what it takes to bring out what is best in their partner:

“Every relationship is a cross cultural experience. There are two valid perceptions and realities which make a difference.”

8. Moving beyond gridlock

And finally some great words of wisdom:  “Many problems are not solvable, some are perpetual. They are inherited, they come with the relationship. We need to make relationships safe enough to move beyond the gridlock. Find the dreams within the conflict. Move from gridlock to dialog, but not to solve the problem. The problem is still there, but at least we’re now talking about the meaning behind the problem.”

A graphical version of this article first appeared here in Positive Psychology News Daily.

Note 1:
John Gottman, Ph.D. is widely known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations published in peer-reviewed literature. He is a Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, and with his wife Dr. Julie Gottman now heads a non-profit research institute. Dr. Gottman found his methodology predicts with 90% percent accuracy which newlywed couples will remain married and which will divorce four to six years later. It is also 81% percent accurate in predicting which marriages will survive after seven to nine years.