Taylor Tobin
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In our current political and economic climate, it’s a common misconception that aggressive, winner-take-all types always come out ahead. Many businesspeople assume that we live in a dog-eat-dog world and that we as striving professionals must use every means at our disposal to get ahead. But recent studies show that those who approach their professional relationships with empathy and generosity may find more success than their more mercenary counterparts. 

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology recently reported on a collaborative study series by Stockholm University, the Institute for Futures Studies and the University of South Carolina focusing on the symbiotic relationship between an individual’s “prosociality” (interest and engagement in others’ wellbeing) and their income. In 4 of the 5 studies conducted, ‘moderately prosocial’ people earned the most money, with highly selfish people earning significantly less. In 1 of the 5, the most prosocial people earned the highest incomes. 

The scientists conducting these studies also measured the expectations of people not involved in the other 5 studies, and the overwhelming majority of people anticipated that the most selfish participants would earn the most.

The fact that moderate givers had the most monetary success correlates with studies performed by the Wharton School, which determined that “pure givers” are uncommon and that most people fall into the middle ground between “givers” and “takers”. During his own research, Wharton psychologist Adam Grant discovered that the most successful people were “unselfish givers”, defined as individuals with an inclination to help others without expecting anything in return. In a professional context, unselfish givers frequently “[look] to help others by making an introduction, giving advice, providing mentoring or sharing knowledge, without any strings attached.”

So what if you’re not a natural “giver” but want to push yourself in the direction of greater generosity? According to Grant, your current standing isn’t a done deal; it’s possible to become a stronger giver over time. 

He explains: “For some people, it’s making introductions. For others, it’s sharing credit. For others, it’s stepping up as a mentor. Finding your own giver style is really powerful. The real meaning and purpose associated with that is that even if givers don’t always do better than takers or matchers, they manage to succeed in ways that make others better and lift others up, instead of cutting them down. Looking for ways to do that is probably the most sustainable path to success in the long term, both for individuals and organizations.”

Essentially, by helping other people, you can also help yourself. A perfect message for this very giving time of the year, don’t you think?