Traditional wisdom says business is a dog-eat-dog world, but new evidence turns that old saying on its head: the people who rise to the top may actually be the most generous.
That uplifting finding comes from Give and Take, a new book by Adam Grant, a management professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Givers are a huge asset to the companies they work for because they make others more effective. They have larger networks that make problem-solving faster and easier. They take the initiative to mentor and train new hires. They pick up the slack when others are overworked. And they foster a sense of loyalty among employees and customers.
Grant also identifies two other groups of people: matchers and takers. Both have middling success. Takers put their self-interests first, which increases stress, lowers collaboration, and harms working relationships. Matchers give only as much as they get, so their relationships feel transactional and their networks tend to be smaller. (Assess your own style here.)
Anyone -- even matchers and takers -- can learn to become more giving. Here are five strategies to help you become more generous in your professional life:
1. Reconnect with someone. Reach out to someone you've lost touch with, then ask what they're struggling with right now and how you could help solve the problem. By extending a hand, you reestablish a connection and deepen the relationship. Your generosity creates good will between you, a great way to strengthen your network.
2. Anticipate others' needs. Givers focus most of their energy outward. "They pay more attention to what other people might need," Grant says. To do that, ask your colleagues if they’re struggling with anything whenever you chat about work. You might know how to help immediately, or an idea might come to you later. Sometimes just listening is help enough, and the more you listen, the more you'll find proactive solutions that preempt future problems.
Related: 10 Ways to Say 'Thank You'
3. Practice five minute favors. Your time is valuable, so focus on what Grant calls "five minute favors," which are favors you can do very quickly, such as an email introduction. Dedicate a specific time for these favors, such as Friday afternoons or ten minutes at lunchtime. For more involved favors, ask yourself, "If I'm going to spend a lot of time helping this person, is this something I can help with uniquely, or could someone else do it as well?"
4. Give in ways you find meaningful. Sustainable giving stems naturally from activities you enjoy. "Giving is hard to sustain if it constantly feels like a chore," Grant says. Think about what you love doing, such as connecting two people together, sharing your knowledge, or mentoring others. Find ways to help that resonate with your values and interests.
5. Act like a matcher with takers. Givers need to be careful that self-interested people don't take advantage of their kindness. "Giving is most risky when dealing with takers," Grant says. When you help a taker, be assertive about what you want to get in return. Ask them to help you with a specific task, or pay it forward by getting them to help someone else.
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.