We’ve all met them. They seem “overly nice”. In fact, they seem so nice, that we become suspicious. We wonder what’s in it for them. We wonder what they may be hedging. What they are hedging is what they can get from us.
What these people are is takers, and here are three ways to spot them:
“Kissing Up and Kicking Down”. In his powerful book, Give and Take, Adam Grant uses the Dutch phrase “kissing up and kicking down” to describe the behavior of takers. In Grant’s words, “Although takers tend to be dominant and controlling with subordinates, they’re surprisingly submissive and deferential toward superiors.” Using the example of Ken Lay, best remembered as the primary villain in the Enron scandal, Grant relates that, at one point, Lay asked seventy employees to pretend to be busy traders, bring in personal family photos, and make fake phone calls—all to impress a group of Wall Street analysts. According to Grant, this is a hallmark of a taker: someone who is obsessed with making a good impression upward and less worried about how he is seen by those below him.
Self Promoting, Self Absorbed, and Self Important. Thanks to Facebook, Linked In, and other social networks, we now live in a very transparent world – which makes spotting takers that much easier. But this is also why many company leaders – such as Groupon – now use Facebook and Linked In to weed out the fakers and the takers. What these companies recognize is that anybody can “fake niceness” for an hour – in fact, this is what takers are best at – but when you look at Facebook posts, you will see a different story. Takers consistently post more information that is self-promoting, self-absorbed, and self-important. Their quotes are arrogant and boastful, they love to brag about accomplishments and everything about their posts smacks of one thing: me and how great I am. What takers posts don’t offer? Anything much in return.
It’s All About Me. When it comes to spotting takers, there is one thing we just can’t miss — the size of their egos. Takers have a substantially larger ego that we can measure in many ways. They pay themselves much more than the industry average – in the case of CEOs, often two and a half times larger. They use first person pronouns more – words like me, mine, I, and myself – as oppose to words like we, us, ourselves, and ours. And their personal photos – like their egos – are much larger. Grant cites the comparison of Jon Huntsman Jr., a giver, whose photo on his annual report takes up less than 10 percent of the page, compared to Lay, whose photo takes up an entire page.
If you are wondering what we can get from a taker, the answer is not much. When playing the famous, Ultimatum Game — where one player receives ten dollars to be split between himself and another player only one time (so reciprocity is not a factor), and if the “offer” is not accepted, both players walk away with nothing – takers consistently offer unfair splits. Givers, and matchers, on the other hand, maintain – and walk away with – a sense of fairness. And giving, according to Grant, is pretty important when it comes to success.
For more information on the value of giving, leveraging adversity or Claire’s new book, LEVERAGE: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards, visit www.leverageadversity.net
Grant, A. (2013). Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. New York, Penguin Books.