The Power of Authentic Generosity to Strengthen Relationships
Turbocharge your relationships with the high-octane fuel called Generosity
In addition to having stronger relationships, how would you like to sleep better, have less anxiety and depression, and live longer? Well, according to extensive scientific research, people who are generous with their time and money accrue all of these benefits—and more.
If trust is the universal lubricant of relationships, generosity is the fuel. Several studies of couples, for example, show that generous behavior increases relationship satisfaction and longevity. There is also now strong evidence (see Adam Grant’s Give and Take) that people who are giving in their professional relationships are more successful than those whose approach is mainly to take from others.
The qualities that are the opposite of generosity—selfishness and stinginess—are repulsive and the people who embody them are usually disliked.
I can still recall a friend who, when we would go out to lunch together, would never just split the bill down the middle. Rather, he would add up exactly what he had eaten and insist I pay my “fair share” of the meal, saying things like “You had iced tea and I drank tap water.” He was, literally, counting pennies—and it was not endearing.
In contrast, one of my clients, a large consulting firm, was determined to build a relationship with a company that repeatedly told them, “We don’t use outside consultants—you’re wasting your time.” For one full year they met with executives throughout the company’s organization, learning their business, and adding value in their conversations. The company finally did hire them, saying, “You’ve been very generous and responsive even when we were not a client. We think that says a lot about the kind of relationship we will have and the level of service you’re going to provide us with.”
Generosity strengthens professional relationships in several ways:
- Generosity signals important information to a potential client—or anyone else you’re trying to build a relationship with—about the kind of character you have and how you will act in the future.
- Generosity also begets generosity from others. It creates reciprocity. When someone gives, we want to reciprocate and give back.
- There is substantial research that shows that generosity is a key to successful, mutually-productive, long-term personal relationships as well as to professional relationships and personal career success.
Generosity is powerful, but I don’t think most of us are as generous in practice as we’d like to be. Here are three barriers that can and do get in the way:
- A “me” focus. Most of us are, well, pretty focused on ourselves—on our goals, our deadlines, our success, and so on.
- A lack of role models. It may be that you didn’t grow up feeling others—your family or friends—were generous and giving towards you, whether in terms of time, money, or praise.
- Fear of being taken advantage of. No one wants to be perceived as a pushover—or even a doormat—someone who is always helping others but never looking after themselves and their own responsibilities.
Here are six habits that will help you be more generous in your relationships, and reap the mutual benefits that can follow.
1. An abundance mindset. This is the belief that there are plenty of opportunities to go around for everyone, and that helping one person helps everyone. With clients, this also means having an expansive view of their business and inspiring them to see possibilities, not just risks and barriers.
2. Gratitude. Gratitude begets generosity. If you’re grateful for what you have been given—by your family, friends, and colleagues; by God or the “universe” or just through random chance, depending on your worldview–you will be more able to show generosity to others. According to the magazine Psychology Today, gratefulness can “elicit a surge of feel-good hormones and build enduring personal connections.”
3. Giving to give, not to get. You’ve probably read that doing little favors for people will put them psychologically in your debt. While there’s truth to that idea, it quickly becomes transparent if this is the main reason you are being generous! You should be generous not because you expect something in return but because it’s the right thing to do.
4. Giving of your time, wisdom, and resources. With clients, this means acting as their trusted advisor at all times—not just when you have a big project going on; adding “surprise value” that the client wasn’t expecting; and also providing “personal value” around their career and personal priorities. One senior executive I interviewed on this subject told me “If we have a major contract with your organization, I don’t expect to be hearing that every other request we make or question we pose is out of scope, and getting an additional bill for every single extra thing we ask you for, even if it’s quite small.” Of course, you have to safeguard your own investment in a relationship and ensure it is profitable, but don’t act like a Scrooge.
5. Acknowledging other peoples’ successes and accomplishments. This is an indirect but very powerful form of generosity. When someone is successful at something, or receives some good news, do you passively acknowledge it—“Oh, that’s um…great…yeah” –or even worse, do you ignore them and change the subject? Or, do you enthusiastically affirm them? This costs you nothing, is easy to do, and has a huge impact on others. Don’t forget: Your clients also need positive reinforcement! If they trust you, hearing from you that they have done something extremely well will mean a lot to them.
6. Forgiving generously. Can you be resentful or even hold grudges, or, do you quickly set aside a slight and forgive the other person? Forgiveness is transformative in relationships. You will always experience behavior from others that you feel is hurtful—it’s inevitable. The question is, will you hold onto your anger and hurt, or forgive and move on?
Remember, forgiving someone doesn’t mean you absolve them or that what they did was OK. Rather, it means you give up your resentment and your demand for payback. That’s what Nelson Mandela did after being imprisoned by the South African Apartheid regime for 27 years. He was hardly a non-controversial figure himself, but after being released from prison he forgave the politicians, the police, the jailers, and others who had wronged both him and many others. He founded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past abuses, and became the president of his country and an admired leader.
The best way to strengthen your generosity muscle is to jump right in and make a plan to be more generous in an important client relationship you are trying to develop or deepen. Who do you have in mind? What actions could you take to be more generous in the relationship, in terms of giving your time, wisdom, and/or resources?