How can we operate effectively in the workplace without overextending? On this show Kiyomi Deards, Chair of the Libraries Faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Leo Lo, Dean and Professor at the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences at the University of New Mexico, talk about how to be generous without being a doormat. Thinking about ways to align actions with appropriate boundaries and priorities can help all of us be more effective in our work.
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Adriane Herrick Juarez:
This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.
How can we operate effectively in the workplace without overextending? On this show Kiyomi Deards, Chair of the Libraries Faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Leo Lo, Dean and Professor at the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences at the University of New Mexico, talk about how to be generous without being a doormat. Thinking about ways to align actions with appropriate boundaries and priorities can help all of us be more effective in our work. Enjoy the show!
Kiyomi, and Leo, welcome to the show.
It’s nice to be here.
Thank you for having us.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #1: Thank you for talking with me today about how to be generous without being a doormat. You talk about three types of people in the workplace—givers,
takers, and matchers. What are these, and how does this work? 01:32
This is from a book called, Give and Take, by Adam Grant. Dr. Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of Business, and one of the most popular faculty there. His field is organizational behavior. He’s a premier researcher on giving. If you look on YouTube you can easily find his talks on there. He has a TED Talk on this topic, which I highly recommend checking out.
Based on his studies, and others studies, there are three types of people: takers, givers, and matchers. Takers have a very distinctive signature. They like to get more than they give. Have you worked with someone on the team where he, or she, puts in a lot less effort than other team members, but has no problem claiming credit? Those are most likely takers.
If you are a giver you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal cost. You’ve met people where she naturally picks up the slack, volunteers to do the tasks that other people didn’t want to do—those are likely to be givers.
Then there are the matchers. They operate on the principle of fairness where they help others. They protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you do something nice for them, they will do something nice in return, because they believe that when someone does someone a favor they say, I’ve written a rule that they should return the favor, is important.
About 25% of the people are givers, about 50% are matchers, and 19% are takers. So, I’m quite happy to know that there are more givers, or matchers than takers. Those are the basic three types of people.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #2: If people fall into the giver category what variety of behaviors are included, and do people ever change from being in one category to another? 03:38
To answer this question I would share some interesting findings from some of the studies. There’s a saying, nice guys, or gals finish last. Would a nice giver finish last, as in being a poor performer, or would they do well by being, or giving?
Unfortunately, nice guys, or gals do finish last in this scenario. In one of the studies when more than 160 professional engineers in California rated each other on help given, or received, the least successful engineers were those who gave more than they received. These givers had the worst objective scores in their firm for the number of tasks, technical reports, and drawings completed—not to mention errors made, deadlines missed, and money wasted. So, going out of their way to help others prevented them from getting their own work done.
In medical school the lowest grades belonged to students who agreed most strongly with statements like, I loved helping others. So as a psychologist suggested, the doctor you ought to trust is the one who came to medical school with no desire to help anybody. In sales the lowest revenue accrued are in the most generous sales people. When asked what’s the cost of generosity in sales, one of the lowest performing givers answered, Well, I just care so deeply about my customers I would never sell them one of our crappy products.
In every study in all organizations studied the bottom performers were the givers because they make others better off, but sacrifice their own success in the process. So, if givers are the worst performers, who are the best performers? Let me start with the good news, it’s not the takers. Takers tend to rise very quickly but fall just as fast. So they were not the top performers either, which is a good thing—because remember, over half the people are matchers, 56%. If you’re a matcher and you believe is reciprocity, or an eye for an eye, when you finally meet a taker it feels like your life mission to punish the hell out of that person.
So, are the matchers the top performers there? No actually, in every job, in every organization studied the best performers are the givers, again. Givers are over represented at the bottom and the top of every success metric. So now, if the highest and the lowest performers are both givers that means that there must be different kinds of givers. So, what separates the losing givers from the winning givers? Grant has some theories about this. First, they said the winners learn how to give without letting themselves become doormats. They do favors with no strings attached, but they don’t overextend themselves to the point where they fail to achieve their own goals.
Secondly, winner’s giving is more widely distributed—a lot of quick bits of assistance to everyone. It is consolidated in time chunks instead of sprinkled throughout the day, or the week. When you give to just a few people, and erratically—selflessness is well-intentioned but ineffectual drain on your time. But with broad and efficiently concentrated giving, you reach a tipping point at which your reputation as a giver and your accumulation of grateful colleagues grows to the point that it generates really positive effects.
And to answer the second part of your question—do people change? I think so. I think they probably behave in slightly different ways, in different situations, or environments. For example, if we work in an organization where giving is the culture, then I think naturally we behave more like that, even if there are more takers in nature.
In terms of can you change from your default from one to another? I think if you are not a natural giver you can probably become one. Most of us are probably matchers. Matchers actually want to be givers, but want to protect themselves, which is a good start to be a smart giver. Adam Grant suggests a two-step process to give more. The first step is to hold up a mirror and go, Okay, what is my default, which type am I? The second step is—and there are some surprising opportunities, both for the success and for meaning in operating like a giver. Research shows that receivers didn’t just enjoy acts of kindness, they pay them forward. So, those are my answers. I truly believe that people can change from one category to another. I think I have done that, actually.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #3: Nobody wants to be a doormat even if they fall into the giver category. How can people be generous in their style without being taken advantage of? 08:50
I think the most important thing is setting and enforcing boundaries. One boundary that I set is: first come, first serve. If I have blocked off time to work on your project, or to meet with you, or to teach your class I don’t change that. Part of this works because I actually have a decision tree of hierarchy. What will I actually cancel things for? Should the chancellor of my university ever demand my time, I would find someone else to do my task, if needed. Because you don’t tell the chancellor no, if they want a last minute meeting with you—that has never happened, all right?
Then I prioritize teaching, then meetings with faculty and students. Students rate, of course, higher than faculty. Students include both undergrad, and graduate students. After that comes the Dean of Libraries, right? The Libraries is after everybody else on campus.
Then of course, my department chair, then my peers. So, I am prioritizing what is most important to me. Other people might have a different decision tree, and that’s okay. I also think it’s really important to conduct reference interviews—people don’t do that enough in the workplace. If you ask someone, and talk with them about something and find out what it is they’re really getting at–just like you would if someone came with a very broad reference question. You can determine how urgent something is, and do you really need to drop everything and handle it right now? Or, is it just something that they’re excited about, but that has no specific timeframe? Maybe you don’t even need to do it, or you’re not the right person to do it.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #4: What are the ways givers can align their actions with appropriate boundaries and self-preservation? 10:38
I think one of the most important things is thinking about how long the action will take you. If you can resolve what the person asks in less than four minutes it’s probably faster just to give them the answer, or do whatever it is, rather than saying no, or passing it on. Then it will take you a lot of minutes to figure out how to say no diplomatically, but also if it takes you fifteen minutes to explain to someone else how to do it, that’s not a good use of your time, and that it will eat away at your ability to do things.
I think it’s really important that people try and stick to forty hours a week as much as possible for their work. It’s okay to go over by an hour or two on a semi-regular basis, but if you’re pulling like fifty, or sixty hour weeks, and it’s more than a couple times a year, like three to four at most—then you are working way too much, and you have too much on your plate. At that point I think it’s really important to go talk with whoever your supervisor is and explain your obligations, and the time commitment of everything that’s being asked of you. Then let them prioritize for you. Because the thing is, a lot of people will just say, I‘m not going to do it, or they will just not do it. They’re going to get a bad performance review because they did not communicate to their supervisor why they couldn’t do something, and they didn’t let the supervisor set the priorities for their positions.
Sometimes when people ask you to do something and it’s not a rush you can tell them, if you’re interested, or maybe even if you’re not, you know, I’m really busy right now. I have these priorities. You can contact me in a month, or two months, or six months and I might be able to fit it into my schedule. Most people will never contact you again. The people that are, are serious. You might also refer the person to someone more appropriate. A lot of those times people will just go to the person that they’re comfortable with, and they won’t realize that there’s somebody else in your organization, or maybe even within the wider library community that already has this information, and would be happy to work with them, or just give them templates, or whatever it is that they need, and you don’t really need to be the person that helps that person with that project.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #5: How can givers leverage their skills for best workplace performance and networking? 12:57
To echo what Kiyomi just talked about, I think we need to be protective about time and energy. You can waste a lot of your time and energy helping people who are very selfish. It is easy to get burned, and burned out. The idea is to focus on having givers and matchers around you. The beauty of helping matchers is that they tend to feel really motivated to pay it back and make sure that what goes around, comes around. But, how can we tell which type they are? Most of us associate these personality traits with giving and taking. If you’re a nice guy, or gal—if you’re agreeable, I would assume that you’re a giver. If you are a little bit more rough and grumpy in your interaction I might assume that you’re a taker. Yet, the data showed that there’s almost zero correlation between agreeable and disagreeable in giving and taking.
To Dr. Grant, disagreeable givers are the most undervalued people in our organizations, because they’re the ones who give the critical feedback that no one wants to hear, but everyone needs to hear. We need to do a much better job of valuing these people as opposed to writing them off early and saying, Ahh, kind of prickly, must be a selfish taker.
The other combination that we forget is the deadly one, the agreeable taker—also known as the faker. This is a person who is nice to your face and then stabs you right in the back. We need to look out for those. Another thing we need to look out for is empathy. Most givers are very empathic. However empathy could be a trap too. It could make life harder for givers. Givers allow themselves to become pushovers when they fail to gather and use knowledge about others’ interests. By being a little more analytical, a little less emotional it’s possible to transform these win/lose scenarios into win/lose gains. A lot of people make the mistake thinking that if you want to be a giver you need to become Mother Teresa, or Gandhi—do something really, really big, but it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s not sustainable to be like that. I would look out for the simple, and small things—kind acts that you can easily do.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #6: Is there anything else you would like to share? 15:17
Leo and I wrote up a chapter, it’s available at Open Access and our Digital Commons. It’s called Plan Your Impacts: Stacking Your Skills to Make Yourself Irreplaceable. There’s a section in there that we called, Them and You: A Collaborative Conversation. This was really designed to help people speak with their supervisors and other people to set those boundaries that we talked about. If you have sixty, or eighty hours of work per week and your supervisor will not negotiate with you to get that down to a manageable level, that should be a huge red flag. I really discourage people from buying into vocational awe that says you should sacrifice your mental and physical wellbeing for your job. Your health is your biggest asset. You will not be able to help anybody if you lose your health.
The other thing I wanted to mention is the concept of essentialism. Greg McKeown wrote a book about it, but the concept is basically that you need to figure out for yourself what are the things that are most important to you. There are many things that I care about, and that I’m passionate about, but I can’t actually work on all of them. I think that as—just as a person who is working, you need to figure out what you think is the most essential things that you care about in your job? Then when you sign up for service—because givers sign to take a lot of service, you need to focus on service that is in your most important area. Remember that priority–you can only have one number one priority. If you have more than one priority you do not have a priority. You have lots of things that are going to distract you.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #7: Do you have any favorite management, or books, or leadership books or resources, and why? 17:09
I’m really interested in behavioral science recently. I’m listening to a book on that topic, and I find it quite useful for leadership as well. There’s a book called, Think Big. The subtitle is Take Small Steps and Build the Career You Want, which is written by a behavioral scientist professor at the London School of Economics. The book focuses on six key areas: your time; goal planning; self-narratives; other people; your environment; and resilience. She uses behavioral science research to show a lot of actionable tips to achieve our goals. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m really enjoying it and would love to recommend that to people who are interested in that area.
For myself, I do so much reading for work that I’m not super enthusiastic about reading books—I also like to read a lot of research articles, but two things that I enjoy are the newsletters from Kornferry, and I’m also on the mailing list for the Harvard Business Review, and I often read articles from that.
One of the things that I like is that if there is a research study connected to the article then its usually linked to in the document, then I can go and read the whole research article if something’s particularly interesting to me. Then you can make a better value judgment. I think that a lot of the time if you’re reading in the news—people will write very definitive statements, then if you go look at the research article their sample size was really small. As a scientist I want to scream at science and say, That is not a statistically significant number of people, right?
But, I think that we forget that people are people regardless of what industry they work in. The thing about business and why I enjoy reading their studies is often they are much larger than ones that are captured in libraries because they have a lot of money. To them if they can improve their culture, and prove other things it makes them a lot more money, so they’re motivated to pay for these studies. Whereas in libraries we often operate on very small, and ever shrinking budgets. There just isn’t the support for that kind of broad study that you can do in other disciplines.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #8: Kiyomi, and Leo in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 19:27
That’s such a big question. I believe in the mission of libraries. I believe that libraries can make a positive impact in people’s lives—on society. Personally, I think leading in libraries is my way to make the impact I want to make. I hope that I can make a positive impact on the people I serve, and the people I work with. I’m glad that you have this podcast on leadership. I really believe that we all need to learn more about good leadership and make it better for the people around us.
I like working with Leo because we work from opposite ends of leadership. I really work from leading without authority, which is my preferred leadership style, and Leo is the opposite. So, I think we’re able to give people a broader perspective of what the employee/manager relationship can be like. Personally, I don’t know that I have an answer, specifically, to the question, but the reason that I enjoy working in libraries—especially in academic libraries, is that I really like to focus on helping people to achieve their goals, or to learn about what they’re interested in.
I want them to be supported and feel like they have a good experience that someone actually cares that they’re having that. I think in the world—I see all those commercials for therapists, talking about the world being on fire—but the thing that is really lacking, a lot of the time, is just some basic kindness, and willingness to listen to someone. That doesn’t mean that they’re right. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them, but just that you treat them as someone who is deserving of respect. Respectability politics could be a whole different thing. I think kindness is really why I’m here.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Positive impact, creating good experiences, and kindness—these are important ways to implement our work in libraries. Thank you both for being on the show to talk about how we can do this without being a doormat. It’s been a valuable conversation
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
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