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Are you a giver, a taker or a matcher?

In this month Work Life Lab Experiment Oliver Burkeman invites you to have a look at your work personality

by Psychologies

The project

‘Networking’: the word makes many of us shudder. We all know the smarmy type who seems to flourish after flattering the boss at every turn. But in an era of job insecurity, you can’t afford not to forge new professional connections, or to blow your own horn. The good news: you don’t need to be obnoxious.

The aim

The big mistake is to focus too much on getting something out of an interaction. Take a longer-range view: focus on what’s interesting about the other person, see them as a potential friend, ask how you might help them. The beneficial paybacks will come later, and maybe indirectly from other sources, as your reputation spreads.

The theory

At work, people divide into three groups, says Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania. ‘Takers’ have a dog-eat-dog perspective, seeking to gain more than they contribute; ‘matchers’ take a tit-for-tat approach: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. But it’s ‘givers’ who end up the most motivated, productive, and successful. ‘The most common error is to focus on what you can get, instead of what you can give,’ Grant says – and by helping, you’ll naturally draw attention to your own skills and accomplishments, without needing to brag. Giving needn’t always mean doing favours: showing interest in someone’s work is a gift, too. But givers can be exploited, especially by takers. If you find yourself giving with no reward, step back and move on.

Try it out

  • Shift into ‘discovery mode’. At a conference or party, don’t ask who can be useful to you. Ask who’s fascinating, and make it your mission to learn more. Most people love to talk about themselves, and if you’re sincere, that’ll show.
  • Do one favour a week. Choose someone in your network and do something for them: recommend a useful book, introduce them to a contact over email, send them a helpful web link, praise their recent work. Don’t make a grand gesture of it – a sentence or two will do.
  • Close the loop. When someone helps you, acknowledge it. You’ll foster goodwill while making future favours more likely.

OLIVER BURKEMAN is the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (Canongate, £8.99)