‘Take my Hand?’


One day Mulla Nasrudin sees a crowd gathered around a pond. He walks briskly to see what the commotion was all about. A Muslim priest with a huge turban on his head had fallen in the water and was calling for help.

People were leaning over and saying, “Give me your hand Reverend! Give me your hand!” But the priest didn’t pay attention to their offer to rescue him; he kept wrestling with the water and shouting for help.

Finally Mulla Nasrudin stepped forward: “Let me handle this.” He stretched out his hand toward the priest and shouted at him, “Take my hand!”

The priest grabbed Mulla’s hand and was hoisted out of the pond. People, very surprised, asked Mulla for the secret of his strategy.

“It is very simple,” he replied. “I know this miser wouldn’t give anything to anyone. So instead of saying ‘Give me your hand,’ I said, ‘take my hand,’ and sure enough he took it.”

Another story and an introduction to the great Mullah.

As I read and listen to these beautiful stories, I am reminded of a fascinating book- Give and Take by Adam Grant- an organizational psychologist. Grant explains why helping others drives our own success and  makes a strong argument for why ‘nice guys and gals may finish first’.  Words like collaboration, altruism, interdependence, humility among others traits still continue to be the recipe for personal and organizational success.

However, humans are the quintessential social animal living in this ever increasingly interdependent world. In this world, our social interactions define us. If passion, hard work, talent, and luck are the four pillars of success, our social interaction skill is the roof and walls which makes the house whole.

Givers, takers and matchers?

He says, based on how people function, humans can be categorized as givers, takers or matchers. Takers are primarily I-oriented and try to take more than they give and are always putting self-interest ahead of others. Matchers view the world in terms of fairness and balanced ledgers. Givers are those rare breed of people who perform all sorts of selfless acts with no expectation of reciprocity. They tirelessly pitch in for their colleagues, eagerly mentor their underlings, and regularly prioritize other people’s needs above their own.

Interestingly, givers are massed at the two ends of the spectrum, with takers and matchers in the middle. Givers are either at the top or the bottom of the heap in terms of worldly success. The givers at the bottom fail to excel because they’re too busy helping other people succeed and may end up ‘being used’ by others and are prone to burnout.

In contrast, the givers on the top are `otherish’, meaning that they do not deplete themselves and quickly learn to give the most to other givers. However, they differ from matchers because they do not try to balance their giving and taking. Successful givers do well for themselves at the same time that they contribute much to others success.

Grant suggests that takers may temporarily succeed, but once found out they pay a hefty price. Most people are in fact eager to punish folks they perceive as takers even if it is at the cost of their sacrificing their own gains.

Successful givers approach the four principal aspects of relationships (networking, collaborating, developing talent and communicating) differently. They effectively mix confidence, humility and are adept at perspective-taking.

How to spot a taker? Agreeability versus giving taking

Grant elaborates that takers are good fakers. One is a pattern that I call kissing up, kicking down. When they are in the company of powerful people, they pretend to be a giver when they actually are not. They are the Wolf in the sheep skin. As it takes a lot of work to fake all the time, they will every now and then let their guards down. They are more likely to take a lot of credit for successes and blame others for their failures.

Givers are more likely to take responsibility for failures. While trying to spot these fakers, one has to be careful not to confuse the personality trait called agreeableness or charm with giving-taking as there is zero correlation between the two.

“Agreeable and disagreeableness is about your outer veneer, whereas giving and taking is about your inner motives, your intentions. Givers may not always be pleasant to interact with; they often get described as prickly or overly harsh in their judgements. But they have other people’s best interests at heart. They’re often the ones who are willing to blow the whistle, ask the tough questions, play devil’s advocate, in the service of organizational goals, even though they might be not that easy to deal with on an everyday basis. The people we have to watch out for are the agreeable takers who I call the fakers. They’re nice to your face but perfectly willing to stab you in the back.”

One does not have to look very far and see these very characteristics in contrasting people- Abraham Lincoln and Edwin Stanton –  in The Reaper Case: A Prelude for Greatness to Come? to further drive this important differentiation.

Advice to the organization?

An ideal workplace would be full of givers who create an extremely positive environment of motivation, altruistic giving, and selfless mentoring while enhancing their own effectiveness. Grant mentions that the key step to reaching the Utopian goal of having an extremely giving environment is careful hiring.  However, the secret is not to try to hire givers only but in fact to aggressively screen out takers. The negative impact of a taker is double or triple the positive impact of a giver.

It is also important to a priori screen out takers. And herein lies the benefits of lateral interviews with the hires current colleagues and not only their heads. ‘Digging up the muck’ from their prior workplace will give one leads on these fakers.

Once you’ve got the right people in place, the next crucial step is to design the right incentives. Grant suggests rewards that are substantial enough to recognize givers’ efforts but not so large that they encourage takers to game the system. Also, consider making the incentives collective. “Most organizations reward individual achievements,” says Grant, “which favors takers.”

Make sure people aren’t afraid to ask for help—not in a taking way, but in a manner that lets givers know where their help is most needed. Also, managers can designate a “utility player” (perhaps a role that rotates between different people) whose sole mandate on a given day is to help out colleagues.

Advice to the individuals?

“To make sure one does not end up being a doormat is to be thoughtful in three ways: about who, how and when you give.”

“The idea is to focus on having givers and matchers around you. The beauty of helping matchers is that they tend to feel really motivated to pay it back, and make sure that what goes around comes around.”

One way to test the water is to do what the serial entrepreneur Adam Rifkin calls “the five minute favor.”  Instead of worrying about getting sucked into extremely time-consuming acts of helping and giving, you should look for ways to add high value to others, at a low personal cost. If you can add a few more five minute favors to each week, it’s a great way to contribute more value to other people without making a personal sacrifice. Adam Grant wrote, “By shifting ever so slightly in the giver direction, we might find out waking hours marked by greater success, richer meaning, and more lasting impact.”

“As far as the how is concerned, the basic advice is to be a specialist, not a generalist when you give. The givers who try to be all things to all people end up spreading themselves really thin, and it’s not very efficient or energizing to help in hundreds of different ways. Successful givers focus in on one of two ways of helping that they’re uniquely good at, and that they enjoy. Specialized giving is less distracting and exhausting, and they can develop a reputation as somebody who has a distinctive skill set that they’re willing and able to share.”

Grant is the youngest full professor at the Wharton School and has been recognized as Wharton’s single-highest-rated teacher was asked on how he follows his own advice? Here is what he says…

“I do try to do a lot of chunking — so there are days when I don’t help very many people outside my family, because I’m focused on teaching, writing, research or other activities to which I’ve committed to. There are other days where I’ll set aside time and help as many students as I can, and see what I can do to support my colleagues as well. I find that dividing it up that way is extremely helpful. Through writing Give and Take, I learned to be a lot clearer about my own priorities: family first, students second, colleagues third, everybody else fourth. When somebody reaches out, I know that I’m going to respond faster when it’s a student than a colleague. That’s why I became a professor — to help and inspire students, not to make a difference for fellow professors. When somebody reaches out who doesn’t fall into one of those first few categories, I ask myself: is this really the best use of my time, or can I refer you to a book or another person, or a resource that can answer your question better than I can?”

Is there hope-Is it possible to `convert’ a taker to a `giver.’?

Grant answers in the positive. Takers are highly sensitive to the context in which they operate. When they are in a situation where the `norm’ is giving, then that part of them surfaces and they often give much more than they take and also much more than they would have normally given. They cleverly figure out that if they are perceived as givers, others will give more to them and they want that.

Grant quotes the  German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is: when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.” Here is a 1940 video where Viktor Frankl (a story for another time) explains this beautifully and compares it to ‘crabbing’.

Finally, nothing drives home the points better than when Grant quotes-

“Every man must decide if he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Copiously borrowed from sources:

Adam’s Grant- Give and Take



Crabbing aeroplanes- caution!!!- after seeing this you may never take flights


One thought on “‘Take my Hand?’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s