When Generosity Goes too Far
Ineffective leaders give without expecting return. Generosity motivates indulgence when you don’t expect response.
One-way relationships between
capable people are sick.
Someone needs a favor. Generously meet their request, if you can. Adapt the schedule. Assign help. Shift deadlines.
Expect two-way relationships. Call for reciprocity. After pouring into their cup expect them to pour back.
Give first without expecting return. Next time, expect return.
Say, “I’ll be glad to help you with this. By the way, would you mind helping me with?” Find something even if you have to create it. Call them to adapt to you in some way.
Giving to others establishes connection. Receiving in return demonstrates the value of what you give.
Receiving from others, also demonstrates your value as person. It shows respect. People won’t respect you if you don’t expect return on your generosity. They come to expect it, not respect it. Appreciation falls.
Help others appreciate your generosity
by receiving generosity.
After giving, if they are capable but refuse to return generosity, stop giving. Go by the book. Don’t bend a rule. Stop making allowances.
How have you seen generosity backfire?
How can leaders establish reciprocity?
I’m not 100% clear on the premise of this post. Are you suggesting that leaders be aware that others might be tempted to take advantage of you if you are a “serial giver?”
I am new to the group but this was a wonderful post to start me off Thank you..
Well put, I guess I will have to stop giving. Oh, this is going to hurt.
For once, I disagree with you, Dan, or with what I understand of your post.
One should always be generous, and never be indulgent. The two are not mutually exclusive.
It is possible to give constantly, out of love, yet demand performance out of the same love. God doesn’t stop our heart or our food when we sin, and it rains on atheists. He does demand obedience, has defined wages for sin, yet also has grace for repentance. Created in the image of God, we need to be generous, loving, tolerant AND demanding.
To trade generosity for reciprocity is a zero-sum game, a kind of quid pro quo. I don’t believe it works.
I may have completely missed the point of your post, so am willing to be corrected.
Thanks for your comment Marc. It means a lot to me.
My thought, whether conveyed well or not is that it’s not generous to give to those capable of giving in return without expecting a return. It’s degrading and disrespectful.
I’ll add that I’m not completely comfortable with these ideas, I’m looking forward to contributions like yours.
I see this parallel in children. When parents give too much materially and the child doesn’t appreciate it and simply takes advantage. Nothing is expected. Parents who pay for 6 years of college and a degree isn’t forthcoming.
This also once happened to me on a team of teachers. For the first year we would assist the new teacher and not give her many extra responsibilities in the team. But once we had a gal we had to “carry” for 5 years. Sooner or later everyone has to pitch in. We looked at each other finally and said, “Enough.”
We appreciate most what we have to work for and accomplish on our own.
I always love your photos, Dan. But, what is that above?
Thanks for a great illustration,Dauna.
The image is of a rough train track… as in the path is rough if you give too much.
I get images from morguefile.com … they are free to use
Dauna, Your parallel to children is excellent and hits home with me. On a personal level when my grandchildren were very young I just couldn’t do or buy enough for them. And no, never looking for any return, it made them happy and that was all I needed. But as they got older I realized that they expected it because that was what grandma always did. I have been told many times that, I should have formed a shall by now but it seems to be too let.
Hi Dan, I too am confused, as if that was not obvious!!!!! LOL
Might sound like splitting hairs but true giving the way I understand it it is giving with no thought of return.
I learned this the hard way as usual, working with drunks. Letting them stay in my house, giving them food, money whateva.
I resented MY GIVING when they did not end up sobering up, stole from me, trashed my house, ect ect ect.
Then I started to understand I wasn’t really GIVING, is what giving to get. It was not about what I was doing it was my true motivation for what I was doing that came back.
I started doing my best to give with no thought of any return, giving was the treat, if you will.
Not sure the results were really any better, BUT I felt much better.
CYA, Scott true principles of living, what really works and doesn’t are the same in personal living and business. There is no separation. Results show our true intent whether we like that or nnot. What we give, we get, no exceptions.
Hi Scott and thanks for your contribution.
As I said, this topic feels awkward to me. However, a manager who consistently gives or adapts to an employee but doesn’t expect them to adapt in return, isn’t serving his organization.
Well, I’m still mulling this over…
Well Dan so late now no one gonna read this, probably not even you.
Once again AA stuff, wonder if anyone is really ever gonna realize the Wisdom there. How wounderful such powerful wisdom from the most unlikely place….the lowly drunks! humbling it must be to consider taking anything they said as worthwhile.
Principles before personalities. It does not matter it ones thinking is just a little off, still off.
In AA they teach when one is upset, they set themselves up, no exceptions. I have stayed sober since my spiritual awakening May 22nd 1984. Followed the principles as best as I could and never really wanted to drink or drug anymore. No one enjoyed it more, then POOF!
When something like that happens to you, you don’t forget.
True giving expects nothing in return, it is its own gift, period.
Doing something to get something in return from a co-worker is an entirely different matter entirely. Pointless to try to compare and contrast the two.
One has self interest as the motive, the other selfless.
There is nothing bad per say with working together with a co-worker for a desired result. There is plenty wrong with trying to disguise that as giving. Not for me, just for the person trying to get the square peg in the round hole.
In AA when things go awry as they do, they teach us to stop and honestly look at our part.
At NO time have I ever done this when upset I did not see how my decisions based on self put me in conflict with others.
Everyone if they would just do as I think would be so happy.
Problems is who the heck made me God except my own infalted ego?
True giving always good. giving to get something back in return just a self-diluted selfish motive revealed.
just my opinion.
Scott hey Dan, we are all mulling my friend!
Reading the many comments I understand the conflict. I am in sales, Real Estate, and am letting you all know that I start each new relationship as a giver. It is all about “filling the bucket”. After so much time has passed and the bucket starts to overflow it should not be to anyones surprise that I might expect a return. The greatest return I would expect is respect for this new found relationship.
This was an area I am thoroughly versed on for I was the soul who believed to give without expectation was a discipline. For many years I gave without expectation, over-giving, over investing in people without expectation. It was a matter of believing that it was proper to do so, that in expectation of return, I was “seeding” not truly loving or giving. However God surely has taken me to new view after many experiences. They seem to come from these perspectives:
a) To truly empower someone, they must gain their own experience, competence, and self respect to truly own their progress. Over giving takes that away by not allowing ownership of their progress.
b) When we allow others to have a reciprocal relationship, we are creating a work/voice conversation not a hand out. A hand up is one thing, it allows for you to play on an even ground when disaster has happened or lack of experience or awareness is truly the situation. Once on more solid ground however, folks who are seeking to be whole desire to be givers and receivers as they use the gifts meant for others within them. Each of us has a skill, talent, or gift that is best brought forward when shared with others or for others.
c) As a leader, we are not unlike parental units, if we enable others by over-giving, we handicap their perspective of themselves and their capabilities. Self esteem is best learned by a series of small successes handled capably by yourself, not given to you through someone else’s labor/funds/generosity, Self respect requires that we gain competence, not simply self confidence.
d) If our expectation is to give without expectation, we might consider that we are not truly engaging with the person or organization, for relationship requires engagement, not provision only.
Great post. Thank you for addressing what can be a very uncomfortable topic.
Thank you for your contribution. You lay out a great argument for reciprocity.
I just finished a workshop with an organization dedicated to helping people. I taught them the law of reciprocity. It made them uncomfortable like it makes me uncomfortable.
They hashed it out awhile and realized that reciprocity reflects real relationships. Those who won’t engage aren’t engaged in real relationships…
I like the term, “Mutually Beneficial”. I think it fits this great post!
Thank you blog.
I so agree “Mutually Beneficial.”
I get it, Dan. I agree with the premise that a one-way relationship is sick–it’s feeding the insecurity of both persons. I’ve learned that we teach people how to treat us. I am a generous person but that doesn’t mean I can’t ask for reciprocity in certain situations. Thanks for sharing your ideas.I receive a lot of guidance from them–thus, I’m reciprocating with my feedback. 🙂
Thank you Pam… love the expression, “We teach people how to teach us.”
You have said it well. I have , in the past, had a hard time asking for reciprocity. Now, I include it in my presentation packages to my clients. This has been well received; now my clients have a better understanding of the sales process. Reciprocity being the “respect” of the process.
I too was surprised by the post. I agree that enabling others to take advantage without needing to take responsibility does little to grow anything but resentment on the part of the leader who may be trying to “buy” loyalty- BUT- the notion of fabricating a payback struck me wrong. I think the time to reciprocate will come soon enough- that is when we all see who is and is not a team player. When we have built and nurtured a team- the entire team puts pressure on the slacker to contribute. I have also seen where someone who appeared to be dropping the ball was carrying a very burden at home- and was very much aware of all being done on their behalf in the workplace. Eventually- it got paid forward.
I assign student groups- with the ability to fire- in writing, signed by all but the member being fired- with reasons- to do projects. In more advanced classed, they can choose their own groups. Slackers are not selected and end up together.
Thanks for getting me going on a rainy Monday morning Dan!
Thank you Teacher… Your point re: fabricating is well taken. This whole topic pokes the box for me…
I just told a group of trained people helpers not to wait till they had to say “no” before they said no to a client they were helping.
If you wait to say no until things are hot and heavy it’s too late. No is part of every healthy relationship. We call it boundaries.
A no might be as simple as, saying no to changing a meeting. Sure, with some work you could rearrange but teaching people they don’t get everything they want is a valuable part of every relationship.
I know…it feels awkward…I’m still poking the box
This is interesting, and needed in some situations, however i find it difficult to cope with these ideas, and I agree when dealing with capable people directly who refuse to return favor.
I think we should employ these techniques in pursuit of building a robust system or organization, however i don’t recommend it in family relationships especially with capable brothers and sisters, and maybe it is different from encouraging sons and daughters to take responsibility of his/her own life and decisions and pay for it, and help them through.
I am strong believer in the idea that make good as much as you can along your life, especially when it does not hurt you in some way, working on maximizing value without thinking of potential recipients, I think every good seed count for making someone’s life better and maybe contribute to some good done else where …
Thank you Huda. Great seeing you again. And thanks for adding to the conversation.
I see your point when it comes to family. I’m saying yes to my wife every time I can. I’m not fabricating a no. Perhaps its a bad idea all around.
However, a spouse who consistently takes and never gives needs to be confronted. Even if we can keep saying yes…Our spouse must engage in generosity. I suppose you might say, it’s not reciprocity…but generosity. I like that.
However, I’ll stand by my statement that one-way relationships between capable people are sick. 🙂
Huda, I don’t think it is about returning a “favor”. It is about, when all is said and done. Are you getting the respect from the person on the receiving end; have they understood what I have done to bring us to the point where we have arrived to complete our goal?
Dear Dan! I got dumped by my gf recently. I hardly said no to any of her requests, including insane ones, nor complain whatsoever during our relationship. Even when her reasons for dumping me sounded kinda lame, I still fully agreed with her. Only to brag about dating an abusive junkie half my age, at the same time openly admitting she’s actually a junkie herself. Of course I pushed her to end up being attracted by another man. Yes, I wasn’t “man enough” for her. Which is why I openly accepted defeat and wished her the best of luck. Lesson: Too much generosity leads to vuneribility, which leads to character exploitation. So be insanely generous – it drives cowards nuts! Great insight as usual, Dan! 😀
Thank you dpunkster. Love the inclusion of exploitation… People who allow themselves to be exploited aren’t generous…
We learn the hard way I guess. How would we have learned our intentions were totally overboard without getting our fingers burned anyway?
If I’m understanding this post the way you’ve intended it Dan. You are SO spot on! Generosity in many contexts goes too far. It’s one of the facets that contributes to our current ‘cultural/society’ dilemma.
It’s part of the lop-sided dynamic of the dysfunctional systems we exist in. (ie home, organization, government, etc) The givers keep giving way too much to the takers who keep taking too much. And usually the givers are giving from the bottom UP in these systems to the takers who are on the top looking DOWN. (speaking in broad generalities here)
In my personal experience and in the experiences of many people I know, we’ve read the books about going the extra mile, etc (Napoleon Hill) Give and it shall be given….basically keep giving no matter WHAT someone does to you (Bible) and many other ‘success’ type books.
And here’s the big part of the problem. The TAKERS know these very same rules and use them to apply guilt to the givers who keep trying to follow these ‘rules’. And I”m saying loud and clear. Those RULES do not work for the most part.
When you (me, we, or I) are dealing with predominantly ‘takers’ at the TOP, you’ve got the classic pharaoh and slaves in Egypt situation going on except for the slaves aren’t very conscious of being a slave until it’s too late. After they’ve bled themselves dry.
Off my lil soapbox. (grins)
Thanks for this post today Dan. It’s TRUE.
PS: NOTHING I said above was intended to imply that we stop giving. We simply need to become more conscious of the dynamics I addressed above so that are ‘giving’ is going to the ‘right’ things and to the ‘right’ people and perhaps more clearly, to others who GENUINELY need it.
Hope that makes sense.
Thank you Samantha.
Since you bring up the Bible (I’m a believer), my view of the Bible is one reason this post feels awkward.
I wonder if I’ve misunderstood something in the Bible, which seems to be about giving without expecting anything in return. Frankly, ,I often practice this approach… not always successfully, though.
I wonder if giving as enabling is the real problem I’m poking at. Generosity that enables exploitation isn’t healthy, regardless of the context… hmmm, still mulling this one over.
Actually, Dan, YES! Enabling is exactly what I’m referring to.
I mentioned the Bible reference as an example simply because it was a ‘belief’ that was very problematic in my life. So something that may have originally intended to be for ‘good’ and perhaps a good idea can become extremely dysfunctional when we keep giving in situations or to people that are chronic ‘takers’. (any setting and relationship) So the ‘faithful’ believer keeps doing what the Bible says, and keeps ‘giving’ to situations where it’s NOT really the kind of giving that needs to take place. It’s merely ENABLING dysfunctional behavior. It’s the guilt that perhaps causes the greatest confusion for people.
And as you stated so eloquently, one way relationships are sick. Yet if the biblical passage weighs to heavily on a persons conscience, the chronic ‘giver’ will tend to feel guilty for stopping the UNHEALTHY giving. Does this make more sense?
It seemed (and still seems) that we are sort of on the same page in some ways. Although I’m sensing the Bible reference is and may be a more sensitive issue.
On a personal note, I seriously had to do some major work to come to terms with some of those beliefs in my own heart. I won’t elaborate it on it here. Suffice to say, I can understand you mentioning feeling awkward about your post.
Anyway, thanks for the response Dan. And again for the post. Today’s post and my response isn’t the first time I’ve mulled over the whole giving and taking ‘dilemma’, yet your post triggered my thoughts on an ongoing exploration.
Have a great week Dan.
Reminds me of the old “emotional bank account” idea. If 2 capable people see their relationship in terms of deposits and withdrawals (maintaining a healthy relational “bank account), it seems that too much generosity would be a non-issue.
Thank you Scott. I remember reading the bank account illustrations. I hated it then…now, it seems I’m endorsing it… 🙂
I think we need to separate the business side from the philanthropic side of this post. When considering giving to the needy I believe wholeheartedly that you give with no expectation of return.
However, I think in the business context that Dan has it right on today. We live in a hand-held society now days. Yes, yes, I know there is double meaning here. we do live in a world ruled by handheld devices, but we hold the hands of those around us. What I got from Dan’s post was that we should provide support but we should expect the recipient to give something in return in the form of improvement. For example, I often have employees request to leave a few minutes early for an appointment. I will often bend the rules to allow this type of modification to the work day. In return, I expect them to plan better and make their appointments later to avoid this. If they don’t give in return then I will stop allowing this type of change.
I think some expectation of reciprocity is not only appropriate, but necessary to maintain a healthy professional relationship. One way giving in the work place will lead to negativity between co-workers and ultimately a decrease in productivity,
Just my 2 pennies.
Again, Dan, great stuff! I appreciate your thoughtful posts.
Giving anything (money, love, time, advice etc etc) in any situation without expectations is not realistic. The act of giving is part of our relationship building. While it would be great to give without ever expecting anything from the recipient, especially if you have given to them on a regular basis, the fact is we are human and we are attached to our gifts. They are seeds we plant and we have expectations for them to grow and benefit others.
Granted every situation is different. The type of giving in a work environment differs from a family situation or a charitable fundraiser.
In a work or family environment, being the person who always give and not ever feeling that you can lean on the person you given too to help you in your time of need is unhealthy and makes for poor relationships in the future. Currently I am dealing with that feeling from a family member..
In the past I have given my time and money to non-profits/charities, family, projects, etc etc.. over the years. And while I did it because I wanted to help and I did not expect anything in return FOR myself, I do expect that my time and money given be used and not wasted. I want to help others and if I don’t see how my gifts are helping others then I would rather find a place where they would be appreciated and of good service..
Interesting responses today…seem to have hit a nerve or two Dan.
Rather than look at the backwash of generosity unreciprocated, which sounds a bit like an untenable oxymoron, your question regarding how does leadership establish reciprocity could be a whole other thread.
How to establish mutuality flies in the face of most relationships because there usually is a helper and helpee. (Edgar Shein’s book, Helping, is a great little read on that dynamic.) It is about trust too.
Overt mutuality might clearly point out that for this cycle I am the helper and next cycle I will be the helpee. The thing is, leaders tend to eschew being a helpee. Getting past that is huge. Owning that “I don’t know it all, I can’t do it all” is rarely in the leadership bag o’ leads.
One side entry into this dance would be the spirit of continuous improvement. I know I can always improve, which means I can be wrong, which means I need help from time to time to improve and if you are on that same trajectory, then perhaps we can help each other. That sounds like mutuality, however, have to have those open discussions to set it up.
Great post Dan. I like to put it this way: “Nobody Truly Loves Martyr”. A common thread throughout martyrdom is that essentially all were killed by those they were trying to save.
Control the situation, don;t become a martyr.
Sounds like a book I recently read called “Toxic Charity”. Everyone can contribute something, regardless of the level of the contribution.
Could part of this debate be based on the semantics of using the word generosity for a leadership/business application? When I expect a return, it is because i invested money or time in something or someone, where the goal is to earn a return. But when I donate money or time to a charity or cause as an act of generosity, I do not expect a return, other than the knowledge that I may have helped someone who can benefit from my actions, and that I have contributed to the universal spirit of generousity, knowing that the recipient of my generosity may not be in a postion to provide a return, but also with the knowledge that at some point(s) in my life, someone may offer me their generosity when I am in need of a helping hand. When someone invests time of money in my development, such as training and education, I feel compelled to earn a return to reciprocate, as this is just good business and the way the business work works. In conclusion, I would offer that investing in someone or something (or giving) without expecting a return is sick (as in poor business strategy), but also that helping someone truly in need and expecting a return is not an act of generosity but an investment in that person. Generosity and investment are different in that one demands a return and the other doesn’t. A very interesting subject with some great feedback for which I am grateful for the generosity of those who have taken the time to respond, it is an inspiration and honour to be a part of this discussion…thank you.
Thanks for the post. And have enjoyed reading the comments. Honest giving, that is speaking the boundaries to what help you are able to help and how long that help is offered seem to help me the most. Then I know what is expected of me, to know that due to this situation or that situation I am being helped, corrected, taught, so that I can later do it on my own. It makes me aware of my responsibilities. I learn to have gratitude for the help, which in turns shows me how to help others. If someone just does something, I may not be aware that I need to do it, or learn how to do it myself accurately. Open communication I think is the main factor.
For another perspective on this topic, check out the work by the Chalmers Center and a book caled “When Helping Hurts” by Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett (http://www.whenhelpinghurts.org/). Good stuff.
Reblogged this on Inspiring a World of Listeners.
A very late post but the subject is very relevant to several fairly recent experiences where I’ve learned this about generosity:
“Never give anyone more than what they are emotionally capable of receiving or they will have no choice but to resent you for it”-is the receiver using your generous acts to lift themselves up and improve or are they exploiting the inch to the length of a mile with a sense of bloated entitlement and taking advantage.
Never give someone something that you are not prepared to receive nothing in return for, a monetary loan for example, keep it to an amount that, if you were not to receive it back, wouldn’t cause you grief. And if someone is asking you for something that you would not think of asking someone else (for example replacing a vehicle and a friend asking if they can “have” your old vehicle without offering to buy it from you) then the answer is “no”.
Generosity is an art.