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The ‘science of karma’

Stashed in: Karma, #success, Awesome, Favors!, Give and Take

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Your research has found that some givers rise to the top of organizations, but others sink to the bottom. Who's who?

The biggest differences have to do with whether or not you give in ways that are self-sacrificing. Selfless givers tend to fail, as they struggle to set boundaries. They put other people ahead of themselves almost all of the time and they're willing to drop their individual goals and ambitions and productivity for others.

The givers who end up succeeding are the ones who are careful to say, "I'm going to be clear about who I want to help and when and how I want to help them." Also, successful givers are much more likely to focus their giving on fellow givers and matchers, becoming a little more cautious when dealing with takers. It can be pretty risky to help takers who are willing to take advantage of you.

Couldn't agree more.

How have your findings changed your own behaviors?

As I did the research, I realized that I was falling victim to helping the people who had a history or reputation of being selfish. I've learned to be clearer about trying to help givers and matchers, and I'm much more cautious now about helping takers than I used to be.

I'm also much more likely now to ask people to help me help other people. When I first became a professor, I'd spend 30 to 60 minutes with each undergraduate who came to my office hours to prepare them for job interviews. As I taught more and larger classes, I couldn't do that with every student, and my knowledge became more dated — it had been longer since I had gone through that interview process and I felt less helpful than I used to be.

As I was doing my research, I read about the idea of creating a mentoring network with a pay-it-forward norm, and I started asking the students that I had helped with practice interviews if they would be willing to do that with my current students. The amazing thing was that a lot of students did it and I would get emails from them saying, "This is more fun and meaningful than my job. Can you send me more students to help?"

What other research would you like to see done in this realm?

For me, the biggest unanswered question is: How do you turn a taker into a giver or a matcher? There's a lot of research on how you get people to give in certain situations, but I think we need to better understand how we inspire people who see the world as a dog-eat-dog, competitive, me-first place, to shift their mindsets more fundamentally. Another interesting direction would be to link styles of giving, taking and matching to communication. I was able to piece together some suggestive studies and stories to argue that takers are more likely to use powerful communication and givers are more comfortable with powerless communication. That's an opportunity to do research on the communication styles of givers and takers, and how our motives affect the way that we speak and the way we reveal our vulnerabilities or our strengths.

In the meantime, all I could think of to do was write a book arguing that giving is not as costly as you might think, and hope that might tilt some people. I'd love to see research on whether it does.

One way might be to help takers get unstuck from too small and narrow identity of themselves, i.e. petty selfish satisfactions.

Takers can expand their selfish identity beyond their own corporal selves to include others (e.g their children, their community, etc.) and gradually experience ever larger manifestations of self-recognition and opportunities for greater satisfaction by "giving" to others. 

I really love this book. It has so many lessons in it...