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Giving and Receiving: Does one need the other?

Take two situations: the first, your colleague works late into the night. You feel generous, so you decide to stay and help them. You expect some level of appreciation, but your colleague shows nothing. The work gets done and you go home.

Now take the reverse situation, you work late into the night. Your colleague decides to stay and help you, to which you feel grateful. Your colleague shows displeasure, but continues to help anyway. The work gets done and you go home.

In the first case, you gave. In the second, you received. Many times when you give, you expect to feel appreciated. And when you receive, your gratitude arises based on how the gift was given. But your colleague felt no warm fuzzy feelings in either case. Is the energy of giving connected to the energy of receiving, and should it be?

A team of international researchers led by neuroscientist Jorge Moll found that when people donate money to charity, neural circuits light up associated with their personal sense of power. Giving moves us into our power. Likewise, research out of UC Berkeley found that those who feel powerful are more likely to feel grateful when receiving. The experience of gratitude is partly mediated by the fact that people in their power have higher self-esteem.

But what happens when we give or receive with an expectation on the other person’s feelings?

When we give, if we expect appreciation (or anything) in return, there is an energy of ‘taking’ in our giving. This type of giving, which is an exchange, may not tap the neural circuitry of power at all. Expectations depend on the feelings of others, and being influenced by the feelings of others is closely associated with low power. Giving with expectations certainly affects what we receive. Research out of UCLA found that giving to teammates led to higher status gains. Giving secures external power. But when giving was seen as self-serving, the status gains of giving were completely nullified. In other words, when you give with no expectations of gain, you gain. And when you give with expectations of gain, you don’t. The power of giving is not connected to the energy of receiving.

With gratitude, if you receive something of value but dismiss your feelings because you don’t like the way the other person gave it, you may undercut your self-esteem in the process. At the very least, research out of USC found that expressions of gratitude bolster positive relationships with those in power. Is it worth missing out on these benefits?

Giving and receiving are flip sides of the same coin on the behavioral level. But on the empowered level, giving and receiving are independent. You may feel better based on how the other person shows up, but how they feel is not your focus. The next time you give or receive today, can you tap into your power and embrace your experience without concern for how others feel?

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