You’re at lunch with a friend who’s looking for a new job. She tells you she’s interested in a company where your old college roommate happens to work. You haven’t spoken to your college roommate in a few years, and were thinking of reaching out to him yourself for some professional advice. What would you do?

1. Tell your friend you’ll make the introduction

2. Tell her you’ll make the introduction, and then ask her for help on your professional issue

3. Tell her you don’t feel comfortable making the introduction, since you’re no longer in touch with your college roommate

It turns out that your answer to this question reflects your ‘reciprocity style,’ which is the way you approach interactions with others. According to Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, there are three different types of reciprocity styles: givers, takers, and matchers.

Givers, Takers, and Matchers

Takers try to gain as much as possible from their interactions while contributing as little as they can in return. Matchers see their interactions as quid pro quo. Their mindset is: “if you take from me, I’ll take from you. If you give to me, I’ll give to you.” Givers tend to provide support to others with no strings attached. They ask themselves, “How can I add value for this person? What can I contribute?”

So what type are you? Turns out most people hover in the middle and behave as matchers, answering option B above (I’ll introduce you to my college roommate, but I need advice from you).

Humans have an innate tendency to be reciprocal, and givers and takers represent two extremes.

While givers are the most generous in our society, matchers also play an important role. They make sure what goes around, comes around. They reward givers for their generous behavior, and seek revenge when they, or others, are being mistreated.  

But sometimes, matchers’ instinct to punish takers can lead to some pretty surprising behavior.

Two Wrongs Make a Right?

Consider the insurance industry, for example. Insurance customers are some of the most badly-behaved out there. It’s not that they’re all takers – it’s that the industry is designed to bring out the worst in them.

A survey conducted by Accenture found that a whopping one in four people say it’s okay to defraud an insurance company and cheat them out of their money. (And that’s just the percentage of people who admit that!) An even higher percentage think it’s okay to embellish claims or distort policy information.

“It’s surprising the number of individuals who feel that there’s nothing wrong with soft-fraud-related behavior. In reality, consumers often accept soft fraud as a fact of life, and in some cases view such insurance system abuse as an entitlement to balance out perceived inequalities in the insurance system.” (Contingencies Magazine)

‘Balance out perceived inequalities?’ Sounds something like tit-for-tat.

Let’s dig deeper: According to a survey by IBM, 56% of customers don’t trust the insurance industry. Why the distrust? Consumers know that each time an insurance company denies a claim, the insurer profits. Therefore, consumers have come to anticipate that insurance companies will prioritize their revenue, and be dishonest with them.

Consumers' feelings towards the insurance industry

Consumers expect dishonesty, and respond with deceitful behavior in the form of fraud. It seems that fraud is the result of matching – seeking revenge when anticipating bad behavior. That’s some pretty expensive revenge – insurance fraud costs the average family between $400 and $700 a year in the form of increased premiums. (FBI)

Talk about a vicious cycle. Insurance companies increase premiums as a result of consumers’ lack of trust, leading to even more distrust between the insurers and the insured. These matchers will continue to match dishonesty with dishonesty. When will it stop?

The Silver Lining

While the insurance industry highlights some of the worst consequences of matching behavior, there’s also a bright side. Just as takers cause matchers to seek revenge, givers can inspire matchers to behave well.

Here’s how it works: givers create a norm of helping and collaborating, and matchers catch on to that norm. When giving behavior is consistent and visible, it becomes contagious.

That gives us hope – Matchers’ tendency towards reciprocity can be leveraged for good. So is it possible to leverage matchers urge for reciprocity to improve the adversarial relationship between the insurers and the insured?

Contagious Giving

We know this much: something pretty unusual happened over the past few months in an industry fraught with distrust and misbehavior.

Several Lemonade policyholders have approached us asking to return the money they had received from a claim payout, because they no longer needed it. In an industry where we see customers taking money from insurance companies, seeing people giving money back was pretty surprising. Talk about a 180.

When we asked one of our policyholders, Alan, why he returned the money, he responded, “didn’t think much of it… it was the right thing to do.” In other words, Alan saw his act of giving as an obvious natural reaction, taking an opposite view from most people who see taking from insurance companies as an inherent ‘fact of life.’

So why did our policyholders commit such unusual behavior?

Perhaps it’s because Lemonade’s business model eliminates matchers’ instinct to seek revenge. By paying a flat fee, and having the remainder of the premium geared towards claims, policyholders’ interests are no longer conflicted with their insurer. They don’t anticipate dishonesty, and feel no need to be dishonest with us. Tit-for-tat.

But something else is also at play here. It’s not just that these policyholders didn’t seek revenge- they went out of their way to act generously. They gave back money to an insurance company without expecting any sort of reward.

These policyholders must have sensed a norm of giving, perhaps because of Lemonade’s Giveback. Lemonade gives unclaimed money to charity, and policyholders have taken notice:

“Generous treatment often brings on the emotion of ‘elevation,’ what NYU professor Jonathan Haidt describes as a warm sensation people feel in their chest,” Grant explained in an interview. “The effect is that giving becomes contagious; people want to be more like them – following this lead, spreading the norm, modeling this behavior.” (Fast Company)

So what we’re seeing here is matchers once again matching the norm set by their insurance companies. Yet this time, the norm was different: by dissolving the conflict of interest between the insurer and the insured, and giving unclaimed money back to charity, Lemonade inspired a completely new type of behavior amongst our policyholders. One that even our Chief Claims Officer, Jim, had never seen before in his decades working for traditional insurance companies.

Room for Change

So what have we learned? For one, matchers have some pretty strong instincts. Get on their bad side, and they’ll have no problem seeking revenge. But set of norm of giving, and they’ll copy that generous behavior and pay it forward to other people.

So do yourself – and others around you – a favor. The next time a friend comes to you with a favor, ask yourself: “What can I contribute here? How can I add value?” Whether you make an introduction, give feedback, or make a recommendation, your favor will go much further than helping a friend. It will set a tone of giving, which will likely inspire your friend to pay it forward not only to you, but also to others.

Step by step, giving will inspire other people – and even other industries – to improve their relationships, themselves, and the people around them.

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Are you a giver, taker, or matcher? Here are a few more questions from Adam Grant’s Give and Take quiz to help you find out. For the complete quiz, click here.

1. You and a stranger will both receive some money. You have three choices about what you and the stranger receive, and you’ll never see or meet the stranger. Which option would you choose?

a) I get $8, and the stranger gets $4

b) I get $5, and the stranger gets $7

c) I get $5, and the stranger gets $5

2. In 2006, after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, a US bank executive led a team of employees on a trip to help rebuild New Orleans. Why do you think he did this?

a) He wanted to make headlines for being a generous, giving organization

b) He felt compassion for the victims and wanted to do whatever he could to help

c) He wanted to show his support for bank employees who had family members in New Orleans

3. You’re applying for a job as a manager, and a former boss writes you a glowing recommendation letter. What would you be most likely to do?

a) Go out of my way to make a good impression on my new boss, so I can line up another strong recommendation for the future

b) Offer to write a recommendation letter for one of my own former employees, so I can pay it forward

c) Look for ways to help my former boss, so I can pay it back

4. You’re working on a project with two colleagues, and there are three tasks that need to get done. As you discuss how to divide tasks, it becomes clear that all three of you are extremely interested in two of the tasks, but view the third as quite boring. What would you do?

a) Try to convince one of my colleagues to do the boring task

b) Volunteer for the boring task without asking for anything in return

c) Volunteer for the boring task and ask my colleagues for a favor later

5. A few years ago, you helped an acquaintance named Jamie find a job. You’ve been out of touch since then. All of a sudden, Jamie sends an email introducing you to a potential business partner. What’s the most likely motivation behind Jamie’s email?

a) Jamie wants to ask for help again

b) Jamie genuinely wants to help me

c) Jamie wants to pay me back

If you answered mostly A’s, you’re a taker. If you answered mostly B’s, you’re a giver. If you answered mostly C’s, you’re a matcher. 🙂

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