At MPowerCo, we challenge ourselves to keep learning just as much as we work to inspire other adults to make life-long learning a goal.  Recently Dr. Thia stopped to study generosity and reciprocity with Dr. Wayne Baker.

Wayne Baker is the Robert P. Thome Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and Faculty Director of the Center for Positive Organizations.  He earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University.  This post by Dr. Thia was inspired by a webinar presented to International Positive Psychology Association members by Dr. Baker.

The Generosity Dilemma

The basic problem with generosity is that people find it much easier to give than to ask. Generosity presents a dilemma – most people are willing to give, but people are hesitant to ask. Therefore, nothing happens.

After we reach a point where our basic needs are met, research advocates for including giving of our time, talents, and money to others.  While providing for others certainly can benefit others and the greater good of society, the act of giving can bring you a greater sense of happiness. Yes, you benefit from giving.

Asking is the secret to generosity.  It is key to triggering what can be a positive process for both the giver and the receiver.   

4 Types of People 

Dr. Wayne Baker describes four types of people when it comes to giving and receiving:

  1. Over givers – Definitely generous.  They may not set boundaries on giving and need to learn to ask as well as give.
  1. Selfish takers – They don’t help others but ask for help frequently.  He describes this group as “sponges” focusing on soaking up resources.
  1. Lone wolves – Don’t give and don’t receive
  1. Giver-requesters – People that balance giving and receiving.  

Take time to reflect on which category you fall into, and also consider the individuals that surround you. Knowing these categories can help you move forward to ask more if needed, or perhaps offer help if you sense that you have something that might be beneficial to another. 

Reflecting may also encourage you to put boundaries in place. For instance, if you have a selfish taker in your circle, then reminding yourself that you don’t need to help every time a request is  made can free you of guilt. If you are a selfish taker, perhaps this is a reminder to build relationships and increase your rapport without asking every time you are around those you ask for help from. 

The sweet spot is to work towards being a giver-requester. Build the relationships that surround you so that if you need support you can ask for it. Also, if others around you need support they feel comfortable asking for the appropriate help. 

Reasons We Don’t Ask for Help

Most of us don’t want to be too quick to ask for help.  Why?

  • We would prefer to be self-reliant.
  • We are misinformed and believe that competent people don’t need to ask for help.
  • We underestimate the willingness of and their ability to help.
  • We don’t know what to ask for or how to ask.
  • We may not feel we are worthy or have earned the privilege of asking for help.

Putting your ego aside and giving others the opportunity to help can benefit your relationships, if done right. Relationships are protective. This is why generosity can increase your happiness. 

How to Ask Thoughtfully

Think about your request carefully before asking someone else to be generous.  There are four parts to organizing a request.

  1. Identify a goal.
  2. Identify the specific resources needed to reach the goal. 
  3. Form a SMART request.
  4. Decide who can best respond.

We all have different amounts of time, talents, and funds; however, in asking for someone to be generous, take time to think through the request. Showing that you’ve put care into how and who you are asking, shows that you care about the relationship as much as you do the outcome of the request.

What is a SMART request?

It’s one thing to ask to borrow two eggs from a neighbor and quite another to ask for more major resources.  The more you are asking for, the more time needs to go into planning.  Dr. Baker suggests the word “SMART” as a stepping stone.

Effective requests are:

Specific.  Are you asking for their time, talents or money?  Remember, money doesn’t solve problems nearly as often as people coming together with their time and talents.

Action oriented – Ask for something to be done.

Realistic – Make the ask within the realm of possibility.

Time bound – Give a specific deadline.

You might start a request this way.  My biggest hope is to __________ and I need ____________.

An Example of Request Generosity Effectively

Let’s think about work settings.  Not making a request for help when you need it, is letting your colleagues and employer down.  You are spending your time not being as effective as you could if you were to ask for help. 

Dr. Wayne Baker suggests that staff meetings start with going around the group and having those attending get used to asking for help.  “This is what I worked on yesterday.  This is what I am working on today.  The help I need is ______________.” 

It works in personal settings, too.  I have a group of friends that share a hobby and we get together every Friday on Zoom from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.  We start our day by going around the group asking three questions:  How was your week?  What are you working on today?  How can we help?

We tend to reward givers in our family, community, and in the work setting.  Perhaps we also need to reward those that are also effective at making good asks.  Remember the key point; most people are willing to give, people are hesitant to ask.  Therefore, nothing happens. 

Let’s make things happen. Ask for help when you need it, and be generous when others make requests and you are able and willing to help. 

Positive Psychology Education

If you found this post on generosity helpful, you’ll love Dr. Thia’s online course called Happiness Habitudes. It is all about the habits and attitudes that can increase your happiness starting now. If you want to dial up your well-being, join the waitlist to be notified when Happiness Habitudes opens next.