Do you give more than you take from others? Certainly, most of us would say that we give more, but do we? You might want to read this story before you answer.
Every time I entered the large hotel conference room, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was attending a three-day intensive program, and after every break the instructors would completely change up the room to accommodate the next experience. This time was no different. The room had been completely cleared out except for 95 chairs, neatly arranged in a large circle in the center of the room.
Now what are they going to make us do? I thought. I was still a little apprehensive about being at this personal development workshop.
The room felt cold as we were instructed to quickly take a seat. I looked around the circle, exchanging nervous nods to anyone that would look back. Within a couple of minutes every chair was filled. The doors slammed shut. It was exactly 2:00 p.m.
The lead trainer’s voice bellowed over the sound system. “Please number off.”
From across the circle I could hear the faint, “One…two…three,” and so on until the ascending numbers came my way. “Sixty-two,” I yelled, thankful I was still paying attention. Within a minute or so, all 95 of us had our numbers.
“Now take out a pen and pad of paper and divide your sheet into two columns. Label the first column Giver and the second column Taker.”
The lead trainer continued. “All those with odd numbers will remain seated. Those with even numbers will stand and face the seated person to their right. For those of you standing, you are to look at the person seated in front of you and call out either giver or taker. There is to be no additional conversation. This needs to be done quickly. Then move to the right and do the same thing with the next seated person, and then the next, until you’ve made your way around the whole circle. Do you understand?”
We all nodded.
“What? I didn’t hear you!” yelled the lead trainer.
A resounding Yes! filled the room.
“For those of you seated, keep a running count of your giver and taker scores. Once everyone standing has provided a rating for everyone seated, you will switch positions. Those seated will stand and those standing will be seated, and we will repeat the process. Is that clear?”
Before I could look up, a participant was standing in front of me, gazing at me with uncertainty. He paused.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” yelled a nearby assistant.
“Taker.” His apologetic eyes moved to the next participant on my left.
Taker! I thought to myself. Are you serious! I’m not a taker!
A woman who I had briefly talked with earlier faced me next. “Taker.”
OMG! What’s going on here!
Then Jack, a member from my small group came through. Surely, he’ll give me a giver. He knows me, for Pete’s sake!
I gazed down at the floor in confusion. What am I missing here!
As each participant shuffled by, so did my distorted scores…taker, taker, giver, taker, giver, taker, taker, taker…and on it went.
By the end, I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach. How could people be so wrong about me! I lamented. I knew I was a giver—or so I thought. Something was wrong. Why, even my small group—the group of people who I thought knew me—primarily scored me as a taker.
Just then the lead trainer’s voice came over the sound system. “Now add up your scores in both columns.” He paused. “Once you’ve done that, I’d like you to rearrange yourselves in the circle beginning with highest to lowest scores in the giver category. Quickly now!”
I could only shake my head. Are you serious! I’m already humiliated internally and now I get to be humiliated in front of everybody. Can this workshop get any worse!
The group moved in all directions as people frantically compared scores to find their spot. It had that organized chaos feeling of lining up for a Southwest flight; only this time I clearly wasn’t going to be in the “A” or “B” group for boarding.
I gazed at my giver score of 33. A large gentleman was seated in the second-to-last seat, looking dejected. “What’s your number?” I asked, trying to downplay this exercise.
“Twenty-eight,” he replied. “You?”
“Thirty-three,” I said in shame.
”You’re next to me then,” as he pointed to the seat on his left. “Welcome to the losers!”
To add insult to injury, just as everyone found their seats, the trainer entered the circle and asked us all to recite our giver scores to the whole group, beginning with the highest score on down to the lowest score.
At this point, the only thing that kept me from leaving was knowing that our small groups would be getting together again in a few minutes to process the exercise. As embarrassed as I was, I felt compelled to hear from my own teammates why they gave me the taker scores. I just needed to know. Besides, as I saw it, I already was at rock bottom on the humiliation scale, so the only place left to go was up!
The “Aha” Moment
I headed over to Breakout Room B where my group was assembling. I could hear loud talking and laughter as I entered, which surprised me a bit. I’m so glad they are having such a good time at my expense, I thought, as I took a seat at the conference table.
The topic of conversation shifted over to the exercise. As group members shared their experiences, the energy in the room was booming, which made my sullen disposition stand out even more. I’ve never been very good at masking my feelings, and this was no exception. I was confused, shook up, and a little angry with the group.
Suddenly the room became quiet—too quiet. I looked up only to see five pairs of concerned eyes looking right at me.
“Are you okay?” asked Kathy.
“What’s going on?” she asked softly.
The rest of the group leaned in to hear my response.
“I was humiliated out there, that’s what!” I said. “Everybody, including most of you, called me a taker.”
Jack jumped in. “Greg, I don’t think you are a taker. In fact, I know you’re not.”
“Then why did you say taker?” I asked.
“It had nothing to do with who you are or our relationship. It was all about how you were showing up in the moment.”
I was confused. “What moment?”
“The moment when I was standing in front of you. That moment.”
Heads were nodding around the table.
Jack continued. “Dude, you looked scared sitting there in that chair, like you were expecting something bad to happen. Does that make sense?” he asked.
Before I could respond, Janice stepped into the conversation. “For me it was based on how I was feeling in your presence—and truthfully, I was having trouble connecting to you. Believe me, I wanted to say giver so bad, but I wasn’t feeling it.”
“What was I doing that said taker?” I asked.
“It was what you weren’t doing,” replied Tom, another member. “The people that were smiling and radiating love while sitting there were the people who I gave giver scores to. When I got to you,” as he paused to search for the right words, “I didn’t get anything back. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but you weren’t giving me anything. It felt like you were taking.”
Just then it started to make sense. I jumped up. “What you’re saying is, you weren’t judging me as a person, but responding to my body language in that moment?”
Everyone in the group simultaneously nodded. “Exactly.”
I could feel a lightness come over me. “I think I’m getting it. Instead of embracing the moment and welcoming each person that stood in front of me, I braced myself for the worst.”
“Yes, yes, yes!” yelled Jack. “You got it!”
I was smiling now as I looked at the group. “This was powerful. Thank you!”
“Say more?” asked Kathy. “What was powerful?”
“The insight you all just gave me about myself.” I replied. “I’ve been responding and reacting to life instead of simply welcoming it. Just like in that exercise, I was guarded, apprehensive, and in self-protective mode.” My voice started to crack as my emotions took over. “I didn’t realize it…until now.”
“So, what are you going to do differently?” asked Janice.
“I’m going to embrace all of my experiences, both good and bad. I’m going to welcome people into my life instead of holding back. I’m going to get out of my head and reveal my true self more.”
As I glanced around the room, everyone was smiling at me. Tom was the first to come over and hug me, followed by the rest of the group. It was of those rare moments in time when I could literally feel the love in the room.
“I told you,” said Jack, as we headed out of the room after the lovefest ended.
“You told me what?”
“That you were a giver. You made that happen,” as he pointed over to Breakout
I smiled. “I told you I was a giver!”
*From Greg “Geese” Giesen’s book, It’s All About You: Stories and Insights from the Geese.