What is the role of generosity in our professional and personal relationships?

When many of us hear the word “generosity,” money or some form of it comes to mind.  At work, we think promotion or a raise.  With our families, we look toward the holiday season or birthdays and all the material gifts which these events typically bring us.  Yet generosity also has a much deeper connotation.   And our use of it can attract people and more pleasant situations to us.

On the professional realm, generosity is considered the backbone to relationships built on trust.  Those of us who belong to referral groups may have heard of “giver’s gain,” a concept whereby it is believed more rewarding to bring something to the table than to take something away. Have you ever been to a networking event in which one or several people showed little concern for you as a person, being more interested in what they could sell you (or, more like, in what you would buy from them)?  Or how about an office setting in which the taunting behavior of certain colleagues made you feel pitted against them, in separate camps?  These situations certainly sound like turnoffs to me.  Now take a moment to reflect on those business relationships which have meant the most to you:  that networking buddy who hooked you up with some fantastic contacts in the industry you are targeting, that boss who stood up for you to some complaining customers, that colleague who worked late for you so you could get home to your newborn.  What did being on the receiving end of their giving open up for you?  It’s likely you wanted to engage with them again. When someone steps in to help me with no strings attached, I feel honored and want to give back even more to that person or to others.  It just feels good.  Generosity is one of those virtuous circles:  the more one experiences it, the more one wants to bestow it.   What a concept:  in a world of “what’s in it for me?”  How refreshing to think in terms of “how can I help someone else?” And how attractive we become as people and as professionals when we carry this mindset.

In our personal lives, carrying out behaviors “for fun and for free” can change the dynamics of our more challenging relationships.  Several years ago, one of my advisors gave me the homework of not doing anything for a whole year unless I could do it with no strings attached.  That meant presents I bought, words I said, “good deeds” I carried out, etc..  It was a great exercise for me because it helped me to see just how much I had been gauging my behavior on how I thought other people might react rather than on the person I wanted to be.  So, in acting for fun and for free, I literally became freer myself because I began behaving more in alignment with myself.  And those around me did, too. Not commenting when my mother says something which gets on my nerves or not getting all riled up when my spouse wants to play another round of golf not only liberates both of these individuals to be more themselves, but it also gives me more space – in my mind and life – for enjoyable things.   And what could be more attractive than that?

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