Last week upper school students at Scheck Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach received advice on how to accomplish their goals from best-selling author Adam Grant.
The talk on managing interactions between people, and the benefit of giving to others, was relevant for many students who are preparing for life beyond high school.
“Right now, I’m focused on connections and networking,” said junior Jonathan Allen, who hopes to study economics in college. “I need to know, ‘How do I manage each type of person?’ ”
Grant’s answer is that people can be labeled as givers, matchers or takers. Givers are those who offer help to others with no strings attached, he said. Matchers operate on an eye-for-an-eye basis and will help others only when indebted to them. Takers only look out for themselves and believe their success depends on the failure of others.
Ultimately givers come out on top, he said. That is, if they give the right way. Grant did not base his assertions on an argument of moral imperative, but rather his research as an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Grant said the idea for these categories came to Grant from one of his favorite philosophers — Jerry Seinfeld. He played a clip for students in which Seinfeld, a taker, finds himself incompatible with a love interest he describes as “too good” and “genuinely concerned with the welfare of others.”
“Here’s the surprise for me at least — the givers are the best performers, as well as the worst performers,” Grant said.
The paradox arises from the different ways people give. Some give so much that they are taken advantage of and burn out, while others find a way to give in a more productive way.
“If you want to be a successful giver, do not be Mother Theresa or Gandhi,” Grant said. “Instead, what you want to do is what the entrepreneur Adam Rifkin calls the five-minute favor.”
Also, focus on giving what you’re good at, he said. If you’re a good listener, listen more. If you’re a good matchmaker, set people up. These are ways you can concentrate your energy on giving without overextending yourself, he said.
Grant advised students on how to persuade their parents, or “disagreeable givers,” into being more generous by reframing requests as problems to be solved together.
“Isn’t that like playing your parents,” asked Tammy Woldenberg, wife of the school’s immediate past chairman, Jorge Woldenberg, who attended the talk.
Grant argued that although the persuasive technique may be used to manipulate, it could also be used for good.
“If you’re on a mission to try and get more people to help, then that’s something most parents would support, I would suppose,” Grant said.
Senior Leah Grynsztin said the talk directly addressed her own experience of being taken advantage of as a giver. She said she looks forward to reading Grant’s book, Give and Take.
“I have a problem balancing my life and being generous, and realizing that people were taking advantage of me and not knowing what to do,” she said. “I’m glad that I can identify myself with somebody and feel that there are steps that I can take to better work on myself as a person, and as a giver as well.”
Junior Aviel Abuhav, who raised his hand when Grant asked who thought takers were most successful, was surprised to find out it was actually givers.
“It really messed with my mind,” he said. “He did a good job at getting us to change our thinking.”