5 Ways To Give Without Getting Taken

You want to be a team player, but the more you give, the more folks take– without offering much in return. It’s not that you’re keeping score, but you’ve noticed a pattern, and you know something’s wrong.

You look around and realize that others seem to have more balanced relationships. But there you are, once again, left feeling like a sucker. If this sounds like you or someone you love, read on. Some of the best givers I know get taken. It doesn’t have to be that way.

How to Give Without Getting Taken

  1. Continue With Generosity – Although this sounds counter-intuitive since that’s what got you into this mess to start with, don’t lose that giving feeling. I’ve seen over-givers swing their defenses too far in the other direction. They put up their guard, and miss the beautiful relationships and productivity that comes from balanced giving and receiving. Don’t keep giving to takers, but stay open to the possibilities the rest of the world has to offer.
  2. Exude Confident, Humility – Don’t be cocky, but do be confident. Other leaders admire and respect peers who show up strong and open. Showing up weak makes you an easy target for takers. Radiate the same respect for yourself as you give to others.
  3. Articulate Your Feelings – Over-givers have a tendency to give until it hurts, but not talk about the pain. Resentment secretly builds and sucks out necessary energy. Letting someone take advantage of you weakens leadership– yours and theirs. Teach people how you want to be treated. Usually these conversations have to do with boundaries. It’s not a matter of if you want to help, but when and how much. I’ve seen many cases where people are shocked when an over-giver suddenly erupts with pushed down emotion, after appearing to be “happy to help.”
  4. Question Your Motives – Without getting to deep into psychology here, if you’re repeating an over-giving pattern, consider what you’re “gaining” from all the giving. Are you a people-pleaser looking for affirmation? Are you feeling insecure about your place on the team? Getting clear on the underlying issues will go a long way toward building more balanced relationships.
  5. Ask For What You Need – It’s easy to assume that others know what we need and how they can help. Tell your teammates how they can be most helpful to you. Ask for what you need, and don’t be afraid to receive the support. You may be surprised at how relieved your teammates feel when they finally have a concrete way to return the favor.
“Sometimes, teams are moving so fast and are so focused on results, they don’t take time to talk as a team about what’s happening,” says leadership expert Karin Hurt, author of the blog Let’s Grow Leaders. If no one is articulating their feelings and everything seems to be going great, says Hurt, negative patterns get embedded and can be hard to reverse.”
~ Karin Hurt, Founder of Lets Grow Leaders
Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Communication, Results & Execution and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Karin- this is a fantastic post. I like what you wrote “It’s not that you’re keeping score, but you’ve noticed a pattern…”. Truly, once a pattern form it becomes difficult to deal with. Now, you offer guidelines that are practical.
    Yesterday, I published the presentation on “Leadership Fruition: Creative Metaphor”. What are the commonalities between rare leaders and rare fruits? On Slide 11 i discuss that star fruits only show a star if hedges are opened together and only then a star emerges. A leader should alert his followers that they form together a star and not by exploitation.

    I shall love your comments and criticism. I hope we form a pattern here that we make stars together.


    • Your presentation is a great idea for a book. I love the extended fruit metaphor, and the meaningful juice you extract from each fruit. I also think it’s really a great idea to test and track your ideas through LinkedIn, a great way to understand how your ideas are resonating.

  2. I haven’t seen many good people get taken. It’s rare.

    Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar 2014 acceptance speech: “He [God] has shown me that it is a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates,”

    I believe the same is true with giving. The more you give, the more will come back to you.

    When I coach a team, it’s all about everyone giving more than their 100%.

    Do we always achieve this goal? No. However it’s something to aim for.

    • Steve, My personal experience is that there’s an abundance of generosity. On the other hand, I have had several folks in our community reach out to me on this topic for advice. I do think it’s a challenge for some very good people. I’m curious what others think?

    • Karin- only parents give without asking for some return. If this is a lopsided affair feeling of exploitation shall surface out and this may fire back.
      The story: I was in Istanbul for a month. During my first days a friend insisted to invite me for lunch at home. Every next day he dropped “accidentally” at lunch time to share lunch!!! Not only sharing lunch, but also forcing himself on others. Sometimes, enough is enough when somebody doesn’t understand that.

  3. Thanks Karin, lovely thoughts. I think another motive of overgiving is being the only real professional on a team, where others are less motivated.

    My lovely spouse is a public school teacher, always doing other people’s morning duty. It comes from a profound sense of professionalism. However over time when people don’t express gratitude, it starts to wear thin.

    I tell her, they’ll eat as much of you as you’ll let them eat.

    • Bill, Really great point. Professionals don’t want to lower their giving and teamwork standards just because some aren’t helping… I see that happen often, particularly in giving fields like teaching.

  4. Karin, thank you for the refreshing blog. Bill, your story reminded me of a situation years ago. I, as a baker back in the day, found myself in that very same relationship doing other peoples work daily. We would have a coffee break, I would go back to work, they would remain on break but bakery goods had to be produced in the bakery. I would dutifully do my work and cover for them because the patients were counting on our product. After a couple of weeks, I devised a strategy. I stayed out on break with them and they very quickly noticed ‘the pattern’. Because they were professionals too, they suddenly realized ‘the pattern’. I would make the case that it’s possible that some takers don’t even realize they are taking because the givers allow their world to get ‘too comfortable”. It’s all about boundaries.

    • Beverly, What an important way to stand your ground. I so agree with you that often “takers” don’t realize the impact they’re having.

  5. Hey Karin,

    I think this is a theme day…your post is right in line with Jon Acuff’s today. I don’t have the link handy but check it out. It’s about saying “no” to favor requests.

  6. As long as I’m learning there is a positive ROI and I don’t feel taken advantage of. For me, giving is about passion and learning. I try and give as much as I can to the people and projects that engage me, are meaningful, teach me and inspire deeper curiosity. If it doesn’t meet these criteria then it makes it is easier to say no, because there are more worthwhile things for my energy.

  7. Love all your points, Karin.

    I really do think that questioning our motives leads to deep answers. This means we have to be honest about who we really are and embrace both light and shadow sides.

    This takes brave leadership…

  8. What a shock it is when the giver freaks out…. when they’ve reached their limit and it’s too much. Every “yes” is really saying “no to self-care and personal priorities. There comes a point that we all have to say yes to ourselves so we have even more to give.

    Great points here, Karin!

  9. Karin- what a timely piece. I was just having this conversation earlier today. Our conclusion: Some people just give while others just take, but most are in the middle. The trick is to identify the “just takers” very quickly and run as far (and fast) as possible!

  10. Karin
    Thank you for this important post. Getting taken as a result of being a giver is voiced as a struggle by quite a few of my coaching clients. Your first point about continuing with generosity is powerful as thats exactly what people stop doing and its a downward spiral from there.

    I can also resonate with the point about questioning your motives as It’s not always the taker who is being irrational or unreasonable. Underlying beliefs sometimes manifest themselves into the ‘being taken’ behavior. Becoming aware of these and working to develop empowering beliefs can help bring a better perspective on giving and being taken.

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