Some of the world's best entrepreneurs and leaders are known for their generosity. Warren Buffet, for example, happily has thrown some $46 billion at charity since 2000, and Oprah's penchant for giving even has given rise to a unique garden of Internet memes. So how do you give the impression you're an equally generous person yourself, especially if you're just getting started and don't have a ton of resources to throw around?

 

In a series of eight experiments from the University of Chicago, scientists Michael Kardas, Alex Shaw and Eugene Caruso examined a common conundrum: If you have two options of unequal value, should you keep the better one for yourself and risk seeming selfish, or should you give the better one away and hopefully appear like a more giving person? The researchers found that, when individuals allowed abdicated the decision and let someone else to choose between the options, the recipients saw them as being more generous.

 

Why does this happen? It's likely because when a decision involves multiple people, the individual making the decision generally has to have some degree of authority over the others. If you let someone else make the call, however, you let go of this power. However subconsciously, people recognize that this is hard to do and that it puts you in a vulnerable position. They perceive you as generous because of that effort and risk taking.

 

But it gets better. The scientists also found that, when participants allowed other people to choose what to do, the recipients then typically chose to take the worse option. The researchers say this is because the initial generosity of abdicating the decision making authority prompts reciprocal generosity. So if you abdicate, you'll not only seem more generous, but you'll probably come out on top in the decision, too.

 

While you can apply this to the material stuff involved in professional and personal interactions, the broader context is that you might be able to send the message of generosity simply by letting others have control. For example, instead of dictating to the umpteenth power what a team member has to do, you could give them two decent options that both benefit your business and let them decide how to proceed. Given the study results, it's likely that the team member will choose the option that's truly best for the company as a way of giving back to you, even as they feel more empowered.

Published on: Jan 8, 2019