Being generous to others can be surprisingly good for the giver.
You may have even heard about the research showing that generosity can benefit our physical and mental health. According to the white paper linked above, “Giving social support—time, effort, or goods—is associated with better overall health in older adults, and volunteering is associated with delayed mortality. Generosity appears to have especially strong associations with psychological health and well-being.”
I often refer to generosity as a kind of “usefulness” which at its heart involves cultivating an open, curious and willing attitude, and a commitment to hearing, seeing, and showing empathy for others.
Here are some other ways being useful can improve lives:
- Sharing knowledge, expertise, and connections brings you into contact with more people and more ideas—it’s a creativity boost.
- Giving is contagious and promotes a paying-forward attitude—improving work culture
- Generosity can build a community by connecting you with others.
- Being useful helps us to see others and ourselves in a positive light.
While it’s important to give, it is also critical that we all learn to ask for help, to give others an opportunity to experience the benefits of being useful. As a way to practice both vulnerability and usefulness, I re-created this generosity circle exercise inspired by and modeled on Adam Grant’s research in his book Give & Take.
The Generosity Circle
This exercise provides a model for how to ask for help, and also how to respond to a request for help. Creating a thriving work culture requires that individuals have a common practice around both activities. For example, a team might regularly practice sharing information with others about their current work, with an option to make a request for help. As in, “This is what I worked on yesterday; this is what I am working on today; this is the help I need.” Not everyone will need help at every check-in, but with a common practice, the framework is set so that asking for help doesn’t feel so awkward.
Practicing the Generosity Circle will refine your skills on both sides of this relationship. If done correctly, the Generosity Circle can build trust, provide mutual support, and create the conditions that allow new solutions to emerge.
Form a group of three. Each person in the group should think of a problem that they would like help solving. In each round, one participant is in the role of asker, describing an issue, then requesting help, while the other two act as “givers”.
Choose your first “asker”. This person should explain their problem or concern, and then make a request for help. Givers should remain quiet while the asker speaks.
Once the asker has finished sharing, the two givers should ask questions to make sure they are clear about the problem and the request. Then they should discuss the problem with one another and generate possible ideas, suggestions, and solutions. This might include resources and connections, in order to bring in more people who might be able to help solve the problem. The asker may take notes. After the givers finish, all three participants should share what was most valuable about the experience. Repeat the activity until each person has had a chance to ask for help.
Skills to practice when in the Giver role:
- Validate and support by thanking the “asker” for asking for help, and letting them know that you want to help.
- Communicate what you know about a subject, and inquire about what you don’t know: “I can be helpful by…,” “I can brainstorm with you…,” and/or “I want to be helpful and I need more information.”
- Listen attentively and indicate your curiosity by asking clarifying questions such as:
- Why is this important to you?
- How does this connect with your overall objectives?
- What makes this challenge difficult for you?
- On a scale of 1-10 how important is this to you to resolve?
- What obstacles have you run into in this area in the past?
- What are your expectations on this issue? Are those expectations serving you?
When we try something new, whether it is asking for help, or inviting someone to ask us for help, it can be uncomfortable. I always encourage people to pay attention to what feelings emerge in these roles. For instance:
How did it feel to ask for help? After asking for help?
Where did gratitude show up?
How did you feel after getting support?
What is it like to be asked for help? How does it feel to know that you were useful to someone?
If you have any doubt that being generous is the right way to go, consider that it is likely our natural state. “The broad occurrence of generosity across species suggests that generosity may be an evolutionary adaptation that has helped promote the survival of these species—and our own,” according to The Science of Generosity. That should encourage all of us to both give generously, and to ask for help when we need it.