Seth Roberts blogged that this book is “the best in psychology in many years” and I think I agree. It’s similar to books by Malcolm Gladwell or Daniel Pink, full of easy-to-relate-to anecdotes backed by serious academic research. The claim is that success-minded people are divided into three categories: givers, matchers, and takers. The book presents evidence for why givers are the most successful in the long run – overly represented at the top of most fields – and how to avoid the mistakes that see givers overly represented at the bottom too: as doormats and pushovers.
Besides Seth Roberts’ blog, there is an excellent New York Times Magazine summary of the ideas, so I won’t bother laying out more details, but there was one concept in particular that interested me: the work of Amanatullah and Morris on negotiations. The women they studied weren’t particularly aggressive when negotiating for themselves, but got results as good as their male counterparts when negotiating on behalf of another.
If you’re a natural giver – you see yourself as doing things generally out of generosity or good will toward others – then one way to avoid being used is to imagine you are negotiating for somebody else. When the women studied were asked to negotiate a salary for another person, they ended up with much better results than when they negotiated for themselves.
Besides the obvious implication that I really should have my wife do all the negotiating in my family (which I already know is true), the easy trick is to approach any negotiation with the perspective that you are actually fighting on behalf of all the people in your life. You want a better salary or a good deal on a car, not for your own selfish gain, but because you want something better for your family. This idea of “relational accounting” is the purest form of giving, because you think through all the consequences of your actions, rather than simply demuring to the wishes of your counter-party.
The book is full of similar observations that make it well worth reading and I highly recommend it.