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The Yes-And Rule and Confessions of a Wannabe Giver

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — Luke 6:38

When I read Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, I was impressed by the simplicity and novelty of the idea. He contends that there are three types of people, givers, takers, and matchers. The givers that do the best find ways of giving that are gracious and not depleting, yet they don’t worry about getting something back from the source they gave to. They give with the full belief that their giving comes back to them, almost in a karmic fashion, through other channels.

The matchers are those that extract their value for giving directly. They give when they are expecting and seek something back for what they have given. The takers — do they really need to be defined? Just think of the people who drain you and you’ll know everything you need to know about a taker.

It is hard to admit, but as much as I thought myself to be a giver, I think I was more of a matcher. Somehow, even though I thought I gave a lot, I wasn’t really behaving like the givers Adam describes in his book. The best givers discern takers and don’t let themselves be depleted. They give in a way where the value of their giving nature returned to them through other resources. They gave at point “A,” but instead of expecting to receive from source “A” they had confidence it would return to them through sources “X,” “Y,” or “Z.”

That wasn’t me.

Maybe I could blame this on my family of origin, or my heritage, or maybe on growing up in an inner-city environment — but whatever the reason, I was not living my life as a giver. This was an uncomfortable realization. I’m a psychologist — and thought my life was set on a foundation of giving. Nope, not really. By Adam Grant’s definition, I was a wannabe.

Therefore, I tried an experiment. The experiment is now two years old and I thought it was time to report. I began to give with more intention on how I could serve someone’s needs (making certain they were not a taker, of course) and then setting out to focus on the quality of the giving, not the remuneration, compensation, or payoff. If I could offer to give, I gave.

Proof Positive

I was surprised at how unusually difficult this simple act of giving was. While I thought the behavior was very much like me, at one level it awakened me to the niggling thought that somehow my previous giving — though not always — was largely tied to an expectation. Of course, I gave in the past, but I’d never given prospectively. I’d not given with this more karmic sense of receiving. I used to think that donating clothes, or my time, or some money was being a giving person. What I was learning is that there is a difference between giving something because you have it in abundance and giving because you are sharing.

I began by offering no-cost consultation to mental health facilities and agencies. This was not in the spirit of if-I-give-you-this-I will-get-work-from you, but rather in the spirit of giving the group something that was needed. These agencies had no future fee-for-service opportunities. My time and energy was offered as a gift.

I then offered my services as a writer for publications that needed help. I didn’t need exposure, or platform, or a demographic outlet. I gave them what they needed because they needed it and I had something to offer.

For some individuals I removed my sliding scale for services and provided psychotherapy for no charge. I taught classes in my community on topics within my expertise, and designed a web-based training program for a university I have no affiliation with that needed something for their students.

Don’t get me wrong here. I didn’t become Mother Teresa overnight. It has taken time for this process to take shape. I now give in ways that are within my capacity to give and don’t compromise standards of quality. In other words, I do what I’d normally do, just without the idea that it needs to be compensated.

This new way of thinking about giving was surprisingly easier, and more difficult, than I thought. On the easy side, I found myself saying yes to these opportunities, which had been always there, but I hadn’t tried them. Almost immediately after making the decision to give, a variety of chances to act on it came my way. I was reminded of improv training I’d had earlier in my life where a principal strategy for training is called the “yes…and” rule. It is a guideline promoted in improvisational comedy that encourages you to completely accept what another person has created and go with it. You take what is offered and add to it spontaneously: Accept what is proposed and then give.

The difficulty was that I didn’t have time to invest in this experiment, so the first few forays challenged my attitude of benevolence. Something along the line of “…this giving thing better work.” However, I was astonished how rapidly this restrictive attitude vanished once I was involved in a project. Once I was engaged, I was engaged. There was no difference in what I did in my giving and what I did for a fee. If I took something on, it was met with the same energy and enthusiasm of anything attached to extracting a value from a service.

Almost instantly, I found several hidden delights in these endeavors. The first was feeling good about doing them. There was a shift in how I showed up. I was doing something that was a different type of helping than I’d ben used to. It has become a treasured feeling.

Secondly, financially and experientially beneficial opportunities began flowing in my direction. This didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen steadily and at levels that hadn’t happened before. Literally the more I gave, the more came back, and in novel ways. New venues and opportunities opened. Possibilities I’d never considered appeared in my inbox, office, and voicemail.

What has emerged is a different way of being in the world. The experiment worked. If it is at all possible, I now respond to what needs to be done — and let the universe, through the “yes-and” rule and Adam Grant’s nudge, take care of the rest.

Girl with bouquet photo available from Shutterstock

The Yes-And Rule and Confessions of a Wannabe Giver


Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D.

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.


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APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). The Yes-And Rule and Confessions of a Wannabe Giver. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 26, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-yes-and-rule-and-confessions-of-a-wannabe-giver/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.