A red velvet heart in a white jewelry box, a white gift box with red ribbon and small shiny red decorative hearts on red background.
Giving as a great lifehack is not a new topic. But there is a less discussed side to giving that deserves recognition. What I mean is this: When you give so much to someone, they may begin to feel indebted to you, and that drives them away.
This got me thinking about my interactions. I love to make connections for people to help both parties advance their goals. But what happens when I start to pile it on?
Mostly likely, I’ll feel great, and they’ll thank me. It may start with a handful of useful introductions. And then, out of the blue, I have an extra ticket to an event that would be great for them, so I gift them a ticket. And soon after, I come across a book they’d love, so I ship it over. I’m feeling great because I’m connecting the dots and giving as it comes naturally.
What I’ve not realized is that I may be doing damage to this relationship. For some, the reciprocity urge (or matcher impulse as Adam Grant lays out in Give And Take) is strong and can result in their inability to feel able to make it up to me. They’re adding up the favors in their mind, stressing over how to repay them (even though I’m not offering them with this expectation).
After some time, they may look at the total and realize that so much has been given that they feel burdened by the desire to repay it and may begin to retreat from the relationship or feel imbalanced when we’re together.
Not everyone you encounter will have a reciprocity impulse that is this strong, and there are even some people who will never notice any sense of debt at all. But there are some in your network who are paying attention to their “balance” when it comes to your relationship with them.
So what can you do to avoid this problem? I spoke with Michael Roderick, CEO of Small Pond Enterprises, a company that “helps thoughtful givers become thought leaders,” to share some methods to balance the scales.
“The best way to avoid this is to make sure that you are asking people for help or support in your endeavors. This gives them the power to be an active participant in your relationship, as opposed to a passive one,” suggests Roderick.
Give people a chance to help you so those who may feel overwhelmed by your generosity can feel better about the relationship. This may require you to stop and take stock of how you’d like to be helped. It also may require you to exercise your ability to receive.
Roderick continues, “If you find that you’ve been doing the kind of giving that creates this level of debt, make sure to balance it with asking. It could be the best gift you can give the other person.”
Switch from passive to active participation
By asking for specific help or support, you give someone the power to be an active participant in your relationship, rather than a passive one. We may assume improperly that others know how to help us, but that’s unlikely. Be specific and direct so there is a tangible way someone can help if she wants to, and is able. This takes the burden off of them so that they don’t have to guess or try to read between the lines.
Let go of control
When we give to others, we are doing something that makes us feel in control. When we are receiving, often we do not feel in control. “It’s hard to turn down a gift, as anyone who takes the free sample at the supermarket and then buys a box of the product will tell you. In order for a relationship to work, there needs to be an opportunity for both parties to feel that each of them has some control.”
Be careful of over-giving
If giving to someone is good, the natural thought would be that giving more is better. The truth is, there is a danger of overwhelming the person who is the recipient of your giving. As a result, this person may feel stressed about trying to manage everything you are offering.
Roderick elaborates, “This happens often with introductions when someone dumps ten to fifteen introductions in your inbox, and suddenly, you have to carve out the time to work through each one. They see it as connecting you to great people, and miss the fact that it adds a cognitive load.”
Don’t hog all of the good feelings
When we give to others, we have a chemical reaction in our bodies. We experience an actual rush of good feelings when we help. Roderick shares, “By not allowing the people we help an opportunity to help us, we rob them of that chemical reaction. This creates an imbalance in the relationship where one person always feels good, and the other starts to feel guilty or powerless.”
By taking a step back and reflecting on how I’ve been guilty of creating giving imbalances, it spurred me to be more thoughtful about asking, sharing the good feelings, and not overwhelming recipients. Might you be offering too much of a good thing?
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