Helping Givers Give

📅 2020-Mar-08

It's my passion to continuously explore new ways to empower people to excel at what they love doing. Over the years, I've observed countless situations where family, friends and strangers demonstrate their enormous capacity to give and constantly innovate ways to be helpful. It's been a tremendous delight every time I come across such interactions, as it serves a positive reminder of the social fabric that holds us together.

Thus, it is highly unsettling when I observe givers in situations where they are unable to express themselves optimally because of various negative influences:

  • Society Pressure - at times, schools or workplaces can seem like a zero-sum world. Helping your peers may raise the bell curve for term marks, and if you spend too much time helping your co-workers - you may not perform effectively and lose promotion opportunities.
  • Cynicism - it's quite easy to start believing that everyone is out for themselves. It only takes a few bad experiences of someone betraying your trust or taking advantage of your generosity - for us to lose confidence in openly giving.
  • Negative Network Effects - when you have friends and family members who share negative experiences and warn you of the dangers of trusting others, it may paint a picture that the whole world is not to be trusted. Having recently moved to Singapore from Canada, I've observed key differences in culture - here, it's commonly perceived that if somebody is looking to be helpful in a public setting, there is a high likelihood they hold ulterior motives.
  • Inability to Help - there often come times when the timing is not right to help, or you simply lack resources to be effective. Additionally, if others are not explicitly asking for help, it is tough to predict what they need. When this happens, givers take on stress and burnout. Think of the last time you wanted to give but hesitated. Was it for one of the above reasons?

Recently, I've been digesting the fantastic book Give and Take, where the author, Adam Grant explores the notion that givers make up the top and bottom performers in society. When givers are provided meaningful opportunities to give - they find themselves highly successful as they find their meaning and bursts of energy while giving. However, if they do it without taking care of themselves, they compromise themselves and lose efficiency.

To nurture optimal giving, Adam suggests an activity called the reciprocity ring which he describes as the following:

The Reciprocity Ring is a dynamic group exercise that applies the “pay-it-forward” principle to your group while creating and cementing high-quality connections. People who use the Reciprocity Ring get the information they need and solve real problems, both personal and professional. Moreover, the Reciprocity Ring energizes a group, creating strong relationships that help individuals and organizations.

Essentially, you get a group to come together for a few hours to talk openly about their problems and collectively seek potential solutions - with the goal to find answers in unexpected places. This accomplishes the following:

  1. It creates an environment for givers to think about and express the problems they are facing. Givers tend to prioritize other people's issues while dismissing their own and often fear burdening others. This activity reassures them that this is time that they can be as helpful as possible while providing them with the security to open up about their problems too.
  2. It encourages everybody to operate in a giverish manner. Matchers (who generally give when they get), will behave as givers because they are benefiting from the exercise. Takers (who generally take as much as possible without giving), will behave as givers because it is expected and they do not want to lose reputation. Finally, givers will enjoy being able to stretch their 'giver' muscles and provide their maximum output.
  3. It helps you build closer bonds with your family, friends, and even strangers - in a world where small talk is commonplace, and conversations with old friends often seem like endless strolls down memory lane, exercises like this sparks new dynamics in your relationships and deepen connections.

As usual, before I openly suggest any ideas, I like to test them out first with my friends, family, and community. Over the last month, I have implemented the reciprocity ring into my life and successfully tested it out with my network. It's been a wonderful experience, and I strongly recommend you try it out too. I can honestly share that I have built deeper bonds in my friendships, feel happier and more energized, and most importantly - found new ways to be helpful to the people I care about; and to me, that's priceless. So, please see below the best practices I've compiled to make your own giving sessions a great success!

Best Practices

  • Bring together people who are willing and understand the intention of the exercise. Be clear about the intention of the event, and if someone is not comfortable coming, don't force them.
  • Invite people with diverse backgrounds, and try to bring together 3 groups of people who don't know each other. The best way to accomplish this is to invite 3 growth-minded friends and encourage them to invite 1 wholesome friend that they think would benefit from this event or have something meaningful to contribute.
  • Keep the total headcount under 10. A 10 person session takes ~2 hours, and you want your group to stay engaged.
  • Pair the session with some light-hearted conversation over a meal first, so everybody can be more comfortable sharing during the session.
  • Hold the exercise in an intimate setting, without too much noise or distractions. A home works best!

I've created a template to help you document and learn from your giving sessions. Try it out yourself with the free notion template here!

This is such an amazing and rewarding activity that I plan to conduct sessions at least once a month - and will be updating this article whenever I gain new insights to share. Please comment below to share with us how you plan to implement this exercise in your own circles - we'd love to hear from you!

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