Adam Grant’s Give and Take – a Short Summary

Adam Grant giver and taker

Adam Grant is known as being the most popular full-time professor at the Wharton School. His popularity has gone far beyond educational institutions, as he managed to win accolades from Business Week and even Malcolm Gladwell.

Apart from being one of the best writers and sociologists of today, Grant has also shown himself to be a highly successful director of commercials, a talented ski jumper, and an extremely able and experienced magician.

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Give and Take

Adam Grant believes that success, development, and financial well-being is usually divided into three factors – motivation, ability, and opportunity. But, he goes a step further and identifies a fourth component – the ability to interact with people.

Adam Grant classifies people into takers and givers.

The first category of people attempts to maximize profits in transactions, agreements, and other working points. They work exclusively for themselves. Takers are accustomed to working on themselves and they believe that taking care of themselves is the only way.

The latter put others interests ahead of their own.

Depending on the situation, people can adopt different behaviors—they can take, give, or exchange. But usually, everyone has a dominant model that determines their behavior.

All three behaviors have their advantages and disadvantages. However, the author’s experiences inform his belief that givers receive fewer benefits, as they are guided by the interests of others and forget about their own interests.


Giving and Positive Emotion

The link between giving and positive emotion is a cornerstone of Positive Psychology. Giving makes us happy. Studies have shown when subjects are given $5 with instructions to give the money to a stranger, their happiness increases more than subjects who are given $20 to spend on themselves (Dunn 2008).

man holding money - Giving and Positive Emotion


Givers and Career Success

Perhaps a lesser known benefit is ‘givers’ enjoy more career success. At work, givers are the supportive people who enjoy sharing their expertise and helping the careers of others.

They share their networks and business contacts and give their time to mentoring people. Studies by Adam Grant have shown the higher we look up the corporate ladder the more givers we find.

Giving brings with it one significant risk. While more givers are found at top of the corporate ladder, a lot of givers also end up at the bottom of the ladder. Sometimes it’s because they give too much and often it’s because they give to the wrong people—the ‘takers!’



‘Takers’ are those who exploit others for their own personal gain. They are the people who compete against their colleagues and are ruthless in business. For them, short-term gains are more important than long-term relationships. Other people exist for them to use—it’s all about them.

In your personal life, takers are the people who always expect favors, dominate conversations, or seek attention or support without offering the same in return.


Sincerity Screening

The most common mistake, Adam Grant warns us, is making assumptions about who are givers and who are takers. Often people assume that polite, agreeable people are the givers, while disagreeable people are the takers. In hindsight, we can all think of someone who has been polite to our face, but self-centered when it suits them.

We can also think of the loud and boisterous person who would give you the shirt off their back and insist it was nothing. Politeness and manners are not the point.

So whether it’s your personal life or at work, when your intuition or “gut feeling” tells you “it’s all about them,” it might be time to consider your relationship to this person. How often does this person make you not feel good about yourself, or doesn’t put your needs into consideration?

And lastly, how do you stop being a pushover when you are so accustomed to putting others first? It’s hard (but not impossible) to shift this behavior and start asserting your own boundaries and needs.


Assertiveness for Givers 101

One trick is to remember your time, your energy, and your financial resources belong, first and foremost, to the people who genuinely love you.

For example, Adam Grant reports on studies with recent MBA graduates participating in interviews to negotiate their starting salaries. When the givers were reminded their eventual income would impact the lives of their family, they negotiated significantly higher pay deals. In another variation, givers did better in salary negotiations when they pretended they were negotiating not for themselves, but on behalf of a friend they had recommended for the job.


A Take-Home Message

The ultimate recommendation is that giving is our best ‘default’ setting—we should extend kindness and generosity to most people most of the time. Giving promotes happiness and promotes win-win outcomes.

But when you sense you are being exploited by a born ‘taker,’ it’s time to stop being a pushover. It’s time to play what Adam Grant calls ‘generous tit-for-tat.’ That is, matching the competitiveness of the other person while remaining open to switching back to being generous at the first opportunity. This gives you the best of both worlds—altruism-coupled with a dose of self-care as required.

At the moment, Adam Grant has more than 60 publications on various aspects of management and psychology and his work is regularly published in prominent journals around the world.

Thanks to his revolutionary research, Adam Grant has managed to seriously increase the efficiency of labor and reduce the burnout among engineers and sales professionals. He has also suggested techniques that significantly improve the efficiency of doctors and professional rescuers.

Are you a giver or a taker in your work life? Leave a comment below to share your experience!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

If you wish for more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 300 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires, and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching, or workplace.

Adam Grant Videos

  • Dunn. L., Aknin. L., Norton. M.,(2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. Science, March 21.
  • Grant.A., (2013). Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. Orion Books. UK.
  • Grant.A., Schwartz. B. (2011). Too Much of a Good Thing: The Challenge and Opportunity of the Inverted U. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 61-76.
  • Seligman, M. (2012) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. Free Press. NY.

About the Author

Brad Desmond is an award-winning psychologist with additional post-graduate qualifications in education and training. He is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences and a twenty-year member of the Australian Psychological Society.


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