The other side of the coin: what people get out of contributing to WordPress

The first iteration of this article, The 4 “Gets” in WordPress Community Organizing, was written in 2019. In this update, I apply these ideas to all parts of the WordPress open source project.                     

People all over the world contribute to WordPress, in many, many ways

WordPress contributor handbooks have lots of public information about what each team does, and how or what they ask people to give when they contribute. However, there isn’t always a clear explanation of what contributors might expect to get, from or through their contribution. While many people know that WordPress is made possible through volunteer time, it’s sometimes less clear what kind of reciprocity exists in the project. But for everything that a contributor gives, there is almost always something that they receive.

Photo by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Here’s an incomplete-but-good-starter list of some benefits that WordPress contributors might get, through contributing to WordPress:

Impact

As of early 2021, WordPress powers 40% of the web. That’s an enormous footprint for an open source project. The decisions made by Core designers and developers affect millions upon millions of users. Translators extend the power of WordPress to 75% of the world’s population that doesn’t speak English. WordPress community organizers bring together nearly half a million enthusiasts per year to talk about the software. Our documentation and support forum threads are viewed by millions of people every month. 

It’s hard to find another volunteer-based, open source organization that compares to WordPress, for reach and impact. 

Growth 

In WordPress, most volunteer opportunities are based on your interests, not your experience. WordPress community organizers aren’t required to have organized an event, or have managed a team, before taking on a leadership role in their local communities. No one reviews a developer’s resume, or a designer’s portfolio when considering whether to merge a patch to the WordPress core software. You don’t need to be a professional speaker or educator to create a workshop for learn.wordpress.org.

And yet, working in WordPress gives contributors a chance to develop a broad array of skills: leadership, communications, design, logistics, marketing, fundraising, management… the list goes on.  Every one of these skills can create opportunities in someone’s professional career or personal life — and generally can offer a safe place to experiment, where you’re not risking your career if your idea doesn’t work out. 

Training/Support

Most of what contributors need to know to get started, and become proficient, is publicly available. You don’t need anyone’s permission to submit a patch, share a solution in the support forums, or test a theme for accessibility.  Onboarding to many roles is unusually short, compared to many other global volunteer programs — even for roles with specialized skills/knowledge, like writing lesson plans or translating WordPress

Our training, documentation, best practices, and tools are produced by experienced contributors — many of whom do that kind of work professionally. And when contributors run into problems they don’t know how to handle, nearly every team has a group of experienced helpers available to give feedback. Through sharing feedback, contributors grow together as they work to meet the high standards that come with high-impact work.

Safety

Though this limited autonomy sometimes shows up as a “bug” for contributors (sometimes it sounds like “why are people getting in the way of my excellent & important idea?!”), I firmly believe this is a desirable feature. 

Nearly every contributor opportunity has checks and balances in place, which reduce risk when volunteers try out their bright ideas (either in theory or in practice), without endangering the success of any major WordPress components or initiatives. Code contributions are reviewed by world-class developers before being added to the core software. New event formats are discussed and refined before we try them out, are documented, and then iterated upon. Translations are reviewed and edited before they go “live.”

So! 

Those are some pretty great things you can expect when contributing to WordPress! AND… there are things that no one gets, or that only come with time or experience — and it’s important to call those out too.

What WordPress contributors don’t get (right away, and sometimes ever)

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com
  1. Complete autonomy. As mentioned above, contributors can make a lot of powerful choices when helping to build, maintain, extend, and promote WordPress — but that doesn’t mean they can make just any choice. If you accept a position of responsibility as a WordPress contributor despite disagreeing with some parts of the role, you’re still expected to do the things that everyone in that role is asked to do — they’re part of the job.
  2. Commit-level access. WordPress contributors are full of bright ideas, which is a lot of what makes this project so great. Not every bright idea meshes well with WordPress project values or works on a broad scale, though. The WordPress open source project is open source, but it’s not open commit*. Even if you are certain that your idea is a good one, it still might not work as part of WordPress core software, or in the WordPress community. Commit-level access (and similar levels of responsibility on other WordPress contributor teams) can be earned over time, of course. 
  3. And other things.  There are other things, too, which are detailed in contributor handbooks or other kinds of contributor training or resources. (For the Community team, they’re outlined in the 5 Good Faith Rules for meetups, plus Should You Be An Organizer? and Representing WordPress docs in the WordCamp organizer handbook.) To summarize, it’s best not to try to establish a leadership position in WordPress for self-serving purposes. Likewise, if your leadership approach includes hateful or very controlling behavior, WordPress probably won’t be a good fit for you.

Share your thoughts

What do you think about this list of “get”s and “don’t get”s — does it accurately describe the kinds of personal return that contributors can reasonably expect for the time they invest in contributing to WordPress? Follow-up question: what did you expect you’d get out of contributing to WordPress, and what did you actually get?

*An ”open commit” project allows anyone, no matter their level of familiarity or expertise, to commit their code to the core code base. 

Some reflections on Dotorg dilution, and how to combat it

When I started working in WordPress, about 10 years ago, Jen Mylo warned me about about something pretty early.

At some point, you start seeing all the things that aren’t working, and you will want to fix them all, all at once. Don’t let yourself get distracted. You’re here to work on certain things, and you can’t do that if you’re working on all the things.

— something like what Jen told me, probably back in early 2011

Let’s call it Dotorg dilution.* This experience — being overwhelmed by the many places and people needing help, and taking on so many things that you suddenly find yourself spread too thin to accomplish much of anything at all — hits nearly everyone who gets involved in the WordPress open source project beyond a surface level. WordPress tends to attract helpful people (luckily for us!). The organization is vast. There’s a lot to do, and not a lot of people to do it.

I’ve seen this affect contributors differently, depending on whether they are paid or volunteers, so I’ll address both cases separately.

Volunteer Contributors

Dotorg dilution generally hits a volunteer/unpaid contributor in the Engaging or Producing stage, and it can block or slow someone’s progression on the contributor ladder. I usually notice because suddenly that person is everywhere, taking part in every new project, initiative, or experiment that comes along. Burnout is a danger at that point, and a number of enthusiastic people cycle out of volunteering every year because the dilution makes them feel (rightly) that they aren’t making a difference. Here’s my advice for avoiding that:

Stop and drop

If you’re struggling with this problem, I recommend you pause and spend some time thinking about what excites you most about contributing to WordPress. Then, identify how much time in a typical week or month you might have available for volunteer time, both in the short- and long-term. It might be someone can help in the support forums or translations while their local WordCamp isn’t in active planning, but during the 3 months of pre-WordCamp intensity, they have to step back from contributing in another area. Once you figure out what you realistically have time for, start cutting back on your commitments.

It’s OK to step away

Once you’ve decided how much time you plan to put into your WordPress contributions, communicate proactively if you need to change your role, reduce your commitments, or take a break. Very, very few contributor roles require long-term, fixed time commitments (which is great for flexibility). In the case of work that includes fixed time commitments or specialized skills/knowledge, such as WordCamp lead organizing or a role on a WordPress core release, it’s important to communicate as early as possible if you think you’ll need to step back, for a time or permanently. Nearly every contributor has had to make a tough decision about priorities in their WordPress work, so messages like “I really wanted to do this, but I’ve found that I just don’t have the time” are nearly always met with understanding and grace.

Fight FOMO with long-term thinking

For better or worse, many things move slowly in WordPress. Just because there’s a lot of energy around an idea or initiative right now, doesn’t mean you need to drop everything else to focus on a new project. Many, many (most?) projects go slower than expected, or will need a new influx of contributors in a few months or next year — in fact, that’s when they’ll need help even more! Large-scale organizations like WordPress frequently need help with sustainability even more than they do with new initiatives.

Come back anytime

Finally, I hope all volunteers remember that WordPress is a safe and welcoming place to step away from and back to. If we haven’t seen you around in a while, we probably miss you! Come on back, as soon as you’re ready or have time for a new challenge.

Paid Contributors

Dotorg dilution can affect paid contributors differently, due to a few factors:

  1. We’re here to do a job. Companies don’t just send employees into WordPress to do “y’know, whatever looks important.” We’re all on teams that have set goals — ambitious ones, at that! — and if we don’t work on the things we’re asked to work on, there will be employment-level consequences. That said, we all have some autonomy in our work, and we’re all very performant. It’s easy to think, “I’ll just take this on in my free time. All of those people are working on this in *their* free time, why not me too?”
  2. We have more time than most. Compared to most volunteers, paid contributors have an embarrassment of hours to work on things. Not offering to spend time on something can sometimes feel awkward if you’re the only person in the meeting or group who’s being paid to contribute, or contributing full-time.
  3. We can lend legitimacy. If an initiative or project has paid contributors working on it, that will sometimes give people the impression that it’s “sanctioned” or prioritized by project leadership (which is not always true). Volunteer contributors who consciously or unconsciously recognize this, might put extra effort into recruiting paid contributors for their passion projects/ideas.

Avoiding Dotorg dilution as a paid contributor isn’t complicated, but it’s also not easy. Here are some tactics that have worked for me and others I know:

Make all WordPress work = work

This is one of my preferred tactics: I don’t contribute to WordPress in my non-work time. I might volunteer for other organizations in my free time, and I might even help them with a WordPress site as part of that volunteer work (woe be unto them, I’m not very helpful). But if I do WordPress work after-hours, then I’m working after-hours — no exceptions.

Check in with your lead or colleagues

If an initiative seems really compelling to you and seems to need people badly, but also seems like it’ll interfere with your assigned/identified high-priority work, check in with your colleagues to see if the work fits into someone else’s work scope. If you think your list needs to be re-prioritized, definitely talk to your lead about that before you go too deep on a “new, shiny.”

Remember that challenging problems can lead to growth

WordPress is an organization that fosters growth for volunteers with many backgrounds and skill sets. We’re an incredibly supportive bunch, too. If you’re not able to help this time, or this year, that doesn’t mean an initiative is guaranteed to fail — and if it does fail, that failure may be more beneficial than you expect. Failed experiments can teach just as much as successful ones.

Share your challenges or pro-tips!

If this resonates with you, or if you have questions or wisdom to share, please comment below!

*This was originally described to me as “dotorg disease,” but I’m renaming it because…. well, pandemics.

Doing business in WordPress: missed opportunities

If you’re new to WordPress-based business, welcome! There’s never been a better time to help people achieve their goals with WordPress. The ecosystem is vast, and we’re a welcoming community.

An image of three people smiling, with arms around each other, at a conference.
Don’t we look welcoming? Here I am at WordCamp US 2016, with fellow WordPress enthusiasts Cory Miller (left) and Bob Dunn (right). I’m can’t quite make out who’s photobombing us in the background there. This photo was swiped from Bob’s social media.

I’ve worked with WordPress contributors and business owners, full time, since 2011. Anytime I meet someone who’s decided to build a business that depends on open source, I find myself hoping they’ve researched open source and its complexities. If this is you, and you’re not sure you’ve done that research, I hope this article is helpful to you!

Here are some things I think WordPress-based businesses need to know:

WordPress is Free and Powerful

Sometimes I wonder if WordPress-based businesses understand the incredible advantage that WordPress’ (lack of) price and open source foundation bring. The fact that WordPress is low-risk to try, and practically limitless to build on, has directly contributed to its ubiquity on the web. WordPress is a stable platform that can be used for nearly every purpose, which means WordPress-based businesses have an enormous built-in market.

What people often miss:

I frequently see WordPress-based businesses limit their potential by restricting how people use their theme or plugin. This effort requires a lot of work for a mediocre net return, which directly conflicts with the things that make WordPress appeal to so many people. The GPL makes WordPress possible, and it makes WordPress successful. When you try to limit your users’ rights with a non-GPL license, you’re limiting your work’s ability to grow with WordPress. Don’t work against the “selling points” of WordPress; support them and build on them, just like you do WordPress itself.

WordPress Changes

The software available at WordPress.org is stable, but ever-changing. This is great because it means that a lot of people are working to keep WordPress relevant, secure, and easy to work with. Anyone whose product or business depends on WordPress needs to keep up with the 3 or so releases per year, to know how and whether they will affect your business. It’s smart to notify your customers about upcoming changes to Core WordPress that will affect them, as well. Since you’re not in control of the Core roadmap, then your smartest move is to stay informed about how it will affect you.

What people often miss:

Remember, the unique solution that your business brings to WordPress (if it’s code-based at least) could be added to Core WordPress and available to all WordPress users, at any time. For this reason, it’s particularly important that your business not monetize access to the software. To have a truly resilient and successful WordPress-based company, monetize something that makes the software more powerful for your customers. What you’re selling should be so valuable that your customers would still pay you for it, even if your plugin or theme were merged into Core.

WordPress is Growing

This diagram shows the percentages of websites using various content management systems.
A snapshot from today’s W3techs.com page on content management statistics.

As of February 2021, WordPress powers 40% of the web. I believe that this growth is rooted in the power of open source, and that the road that brought us here was paved by the work of thousands of global WordPress enthusiasts. The opportunity to help WordPress grow is open to all, regardless of experience or background. The work of helping WordPress grow — by translating, writing documentation, organizing events, helping in the support forums, publishing videos, creating great training content, and so much more — helps everyone who uses WordPress and whose livelihoods depend on WordPress. This results in a culture and a community that understands that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The WordPress financial ecosystem is one of the most friendly, collaborative, and welcoming that you’ll find.

What people often miss:

Companies that make brash, unsubstantiated business claims and regularly trash-talk competitors… do not flourish in WordPress. We don’t succeed here by trying to steal each other’s customers or features. We also help WordPress avoid the tragedy of the commons by giving back to the project. In WordPress, the most successful companies focus on growing the whole pie of the WordPress market (which then grows their slice as well).

Don’t miss your chance!

I firmly believe that WordPress is a great place to grow: as a person, as a leader, and as a business. If you haven’t considered getting involved in WordPress before, I encourage you to check out all the different ways to join us as a contributor. If you’re brand new to this WordPress thing, check out my list of resources for new and experienced WordPress enthusiasts. There’s lots to learn, but don’t worry, you’ve got time — we’re not going anywhere but up. 😉

What did I miss?

What other important things should businesses and people know about the WordPress ecosystem? Tell me about them in the comments!

Many thanks to Jonathan Wold for his feedback on this article!

What happens when you won’t admit (or don’t realize) you’re a leader

Hello, my name is Andrea, and I’m a recovering leader-in-denial.

I’ve spent much of my life stepping (usually reluctantly) into leadership roles, while also eagerly looking for someone else who could lead better than me — so I could stop being in charge! And that rarely happened, much to my surprise and chagrin, but only recently did I realize that was because… I am actually gifted at leadership.

“I smell imposter syndrome!” you’ll say — and you are correct! But having my own imposter syndrome pointed out to me… was not the thing that helped me get past it. The lightning bolt for me, was when I realized that my unwillingness to embrace a leadership role was causing me to screw up the actual work of leading.

Read on for my observations on how leading without admitting or realizing that you’re in charge… is really inefficient and hard!

  1. You’ll probably avoid doing *all* of the job. Many times I have stepped into a leadership role because I was in a group of people who had no direction. I would wait for someone to step up and take charge, and wait some more, and wait some MORE, and finally it was too much for me. So I would speak up and say, “Hey everyone, let’s go this way!” and then shut up again. Little bursts of leadership and strategy are usually better than nothing, but having a consistent and engaged leader is WAY more effective.
  2. You are more likely to undermine yourself and confuse others. If you think you shouldn’t be doing something, you are more likely to do that thing in a half-hearted or apologetic manner. Alternately, you might act passive aggressively, resenting that you’re in a position that you find uncomfortable. I don’t endorse an authoritarian approach to leadership, but you can lead collaboratively without apologizing for holding people accountable or setting limits.
  3. You probably think you’re failing if everyone isn’t happy all the time. Now, I like making people happy, and I think that leaders should care about the health and welfare of the people on their team. As a leader, you have a duty of care, but that duty does not always extend to “please all of the people, all of the time.” Leaders have to make choices, and some choices aren’t crowd-pleasers. Reluctant leaders or leaders-in-denial tend to stay in reaction mode — which is frequently conflict- and tough-decision averse.
  4. You are more likely to get in the way of your people. There’s a leadership adage that says, “when the conductor picks up an instrument, the orchestra falls apart.” The conductor doesn’t grab the violin when it’s time for the solo, or when the violinist is off key. If you’re laboring under the assumption that your primary value to the group is not that of leading, then you’re going to be looking for any excuse to put down that work and go back to individual contribution, sometimes by taking over the work of someone who might just need a little (or a lot of) support to do a better job.
  5. You won’t work on improving your skills. Good leadership is learned behavior, and learned behavior benefits from study and practice. By rejecting the fact that you’re a leader, you immediately cut yourself off from opportunities to get better at leadership in an intentional way. And when you do something badly, then you reinforce the idea that you’re not well-suited for it…. it’s a catch-22!
  6. You exempt yourself as a role model. People from marginalized groups don’t have a long list of excellent leaders to model ourselves after. That might even be one of the reasons you don’t see yourself as a leader — because you don’t look/sound/work like many of the leaders you saw while growing up. When people from traditionally marginalized groups courageously inhabit a leadership role despite all their misgivings, they change the very face of leadership.

I’ve learned a lot about myself on this leadership journey so far, which I love to do. I may have started out by accident — and I won’t say it’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done — but it’s a lot easier and more rewarding now that I’m bringing intent and awareness to the work. If any of this resonates with you, I’d love to hear about it! 

CMX Global online conference

It was a pleasure to present my conflict de-escalation workshop at today’s CMX Global online conference. If you signed up for the conference but missed my session, I think all sessions will be available to anyone who registered. If you didn’t register but are interested in the topic, I have published the script, bibliography and slides on this site. Enjoy!

The event used a platform called Hopin, which was quite interesting to try out. There is a “green room” tool that worked pretty well, and an “Expo” menu item, which allowed the event to offer online “sponsor booths” of a sort. There is also a Networking feature, which is straight-up video call roulette. While the one networking chat I did was quite pleasant, I can’t see myself using that feature very extensively in the future. It was anxiety-producing, not knowing who I was going to be dropped into conversation with. Unfortunately, the tool doesn’t seem to be accessible to keyboard-only users, so it’s not something we would seriously consider for online WordCamps.

The conference organizers tried a LOT of cool ideas, including live demos, networking, lunchtime stretching, an after-party DJ session, and after-conference mixology class. I’m sad I missed the Calligraphy 101 session at the end; that showed a lot of imagination.

It was great to participate both as a speaker and attendee, seeing people try out things I wouldn’t have attempted or hadn’t thought of. Kudos to the CMX team for carefully crafting this event, and to Beth McIntyre and Ann Marie Pawlicki for their attentive care of speakers! If you are looking to polish up your community organizing/management game, I recommend checking out CMX — they have some great resources (both free and behind the membership paywall) and plenty of helpful people.

The lost city of Bayocean

If you enjoy watching short documentaries, and you’re interested in learning more about Oregon, you might check out the Oregon Public Broadcasting show called Oregon Field Guide.

Tonight I watched a really interesting and very sad episode about the lost city of Bayocean, Oregon. Apparently in 1907, a family of real estate developers founded a resort town on a spit in Tillamook Bay, which they marketed as “The Atlantic City of the West.” The town was built, lots were sold and things were thriving… until a single jetty was built on the north side of the bay entrance. Because a southern jetty was not built, ocean currents immediately began eroding the land that Bayocean was built on, until eventually the town had to be abandoned. Everyone who had invested in the town or bought their retirement home there… lost everything.

Stories like this always make me so hungry for more detailed background on how these civil engineering decisions were made, and what motivated the people who made the final calls that basically condemned an entire resort development. (Not that I think it was necessarily the wrong decision; just because something is built doesn’t mean it has the right to exist or should be prioritized over other things that have also been built, or y’know, people.) 

Seemingly simple decisions can result in so many unforeseen consequences, and can affect people who weren’t considered when the decision was being made. I wonder what the relevant Army Corps of Engineers leadership regrets about Bayocean, if anything. (Maybe nothing at all!)

Dancing with production

I always enjoy the excellent podcast Hurry Slowly (hat tip Josepha Haden Chomphosy for the recommendation), and a recent episode called “Are you Satisfiable?” really resonated with me this week. The episode centers on the ideas of writer, facilitator, and activist adrienne maree brown, who recently published the book Pleasure Activism.

The whole interview is wonderful, but this particular passage caught my attention:

I think in the workplace, it’s been interesting to see how that kind of thinking, like “oh everything should be scheduled and controlled and managed,” moves us further and further away from the natural and organic rhythms at which creativity and miracle actually want to happen.

And I’m getting curious and interested about spaces that are starting to adapt to… what does it mean to acknowledge that we have organic human beings, um, in these places, and that there are processes that have an organic pace to them….

There’s something about being in right relationship to change that acknowledges that not all change is mean to be driven; some of it is meant to be experienced in other ways. And that perhaps the changes we’re in now, which are climate apocalypse changes, perhaps those changes are only happening because we’ve been trying to drive production, and instead we need to slow down and learn to dance with it, dance with what’s happening in the world, and I’m really getting curious about that.

adrienne maree brown, on the Hurry Slowly podcast “Are you Satisfiable?”

Personally, I am very comfortable when everything is scheduled and controlled and managed, but have found that I am much more able to think creatively when I am not scheduling and controlling and managing.

Likewise, I frequently find myself with a seed of an idea, that escapes me when I try to force it into being. If I leave it alone, though (I think of it as allowing the idea to gestate in my “back brain”), the seed is much more likely to grow and bear fruit. It resonates with me that my organic brain might best create on an organic pace.

I also love the idea of dancing with production, rather than trying to drive it. So much of technology work — development, design, documentation, support — is creative work. What could happen if more respect and space were given to the non-linear, non-schedule-able process of creation?

Innovation and Empathy for Loss

In reading Megan Risdal‘s excellent article, Reflections on Stack Overflow: Building Successful Communities, I was struck by a particular passage:

Have empathy. Loss aversion is a very real thing. Even if simplifying something is the best thing for users by all other accounts, taking something away still hurts. And this impacts not just end users, but the people who originally worked on a feature. You can have empathy by understanding how they use the feature and asking about the historical context around its original creation.

– Megan Risdal, Reflections on Stack Overflow: Building Successful Communities

Here’s a good definition of loss aversion: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-loss-aversion/

I think technologists in particular — because we are so fond of innovation — tend to look down on people who express aversion to loss. That disparaging attitude isn’t very respectful, and thus doesn’t lead to very respectful or productive conversations.

Certainly, change is a part of life, but likewise every change is a kind of a death — perhaps the death of something that should die, but any loss can cause deep sadness… and even a crisis of belonging. When innovating, it’s worth asking yourself whether you can find a way to give people the space to grieve the loss associated with the change, holding space for their pain, rather than just brushing them off as short-sighted enemies of progress.

Talking leadership, events, and open source with Cory Miller

I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with my friend Cory Miller about leadership, event organizing, and open source today. Check out that conversation if you’d like to hear about the three epiphanies that have changed the way I think about my work!

Cory has a ton of great content on his Youtube channel, too — he’s a wise leader with a strong sense of ethics, who has also shared some important insights around mental health in the tech entrepreneur space. If you care about those things too, check out his body of work; it’s great.

Successful Givers

My job is all about helping people:  I help WordPress volunteer community organizers make great events for their local WordPress community members. I’ve done this work for over 4 years. There’s been wonderful and difficult times for me in that time, and I am still passionate about what in-person events do for the WordPress open source project.

So this week my enjoyment of Krista Tippett’s interview on her show On Being of organizational psychologist Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, was also relevant to my (work) interests. I started thinking a lot about how I give to people in my life, how to deal with people who are entitled or bullies, how to recruit volunteers and do fundraising work in my job, and whether I model generous behavior to my kids.

Below are some of my favorite quotes from the podcast, and here’s the whole podcast, which I highly recommend listening to. (You could also read the transcript.)

On successful givers and failed givers (SO MUCH THIS FOR ME):

Dr. Grant: And that always begs the question, what’s the difference between the failed and successful givers?

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Grant: And I’ve gotten a lot clearer about this since I wrote Give and Take. I think that it fundamentally comes down to the choices we make every day about who we help, when we help, and how we help. So the “who” is, I think, pretty simple. Failed givers are the people who help anyone. Successful givers are much more likely to be thoughtful about what is this person’s history and reputation like? Before I go and overextend myself and give you 17 hours, I might want to find out if you’re likely to take advantage of me.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Grant: And exercise just a little bit of caution or self-protection there. The “when” is basically about protecting time to make sure that you achieve your own goals. One of the mistakes that failed givers make is they drop everything for any request that comes in.

Ms. Tippett: Right. Right.

Dr. Grant: And what you see with successful givers is they’re much more likely to prioritize and say, “OK, I’ve got these windows blocked out to make sure I can progress on my own tasks.”

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Dr. Grant: “And then I have other periods of time set aside to try to be helpful and responsive to others.”

Ms. Tippett: So there is a balance between the concern you have for others and the concern you have for yourself, the value with which you also hold yourself.

On giving critical feedback (this reminds me of some under-appreciated people in my community, whose feedback is always so spot-on but not always valued because it’s critical):

Ms. Tippett: Another thing that I found really interesting is that this giver profile — that these people, it doesn’t necessarily correspond to outer veneer, like, who would come to mind as the most cheerful and nice, in terms of presence and affect.

Dr. Grant: This is also a surprise to me.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Grant: I tended to associate agreeableness with generosity.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Grant: So the agreeable people are the nice, friendly, welcoming, polite — and I just assumed if you’re nice to somebody that means you care about them. But there’s this whole class of people who would actually score in the data as disagreeable givers. They might be gruff and tough on the surface. They’re skeptical, critical, and challenging. But at the end of the day, they have other people’s best interests at heart. And they’re actually, in my experience, the most undervalued people in our lives.

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Dr. Grant: Because if you’re a disagreeable giver, you’re the person who gives the critical feedback that nobody wants to hear, but everyone needs to hear. Right? You’re playing devil’s advocate, you’re asking tough questions, you’re challenging…

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Grant: …the status quo, and we need to appreciate those people much more in our lives than we currently do.

Ms. Tippett: This one is so interesting because on the surface it’s a little surprising. Then the minute you start thinking about it you think of those people who, as you say, might be gruff or stern in a way that makes you rise to the occasion, but who also have huge hearts. And you always know that. And you’re right, they’re kind of these bedrock people.

Dr. Grant: They are. And there was a software engineer at Google who had a great way of describing them. He said, “Oh, a disagreeable giver is somebody who has a really bad user interface, but a great operating system.”

On “takers:”

a lot of people think that power corrupts, but I think, if you look at the evidence on this, it’s more likely that power reveals — in the sense that if you’re a taker, you don’t have to pretend to be a giver once you’ve gained a lot of status and influence. Now you have the freedom to express your values. And so I think what happens is takers often rise by being fakers, and then you get to see their true colors once they’re in a top leadership position.

On meaningful connections at work (and food, and how eating together creates connections):

Ms. Tippett: And you wrote, “Whether we bond at work is a personal decision, but it may involve less effort and vulnerability than we realize.”

Dr. Grant: Yeah, this is from one of my mentors, Jane Dutton, who studies high-quality connections in the workplace and finds that you don’t have to have a long-standing relationship to experience a genuine sense of connection. That even just a single interaction marked by mutual respect and trust is enough to energize both people. And I think if we thought about having more high-quality connections, more moments where we just treat each other with respect and trust, and we open up a little bit, it actually becomes the foundation for having meaningful interactions, even if we don’t call somebody a lifelong friend.

Ms. Tippett: And, interestingly, you say that, in terms of how a workplace would generate this, is not about, like, having mixers, or having special events, but meals, which is so obvious. I have to say, we moved our show into an independent production two years ago, and I think one of the most — I mean, we have a wonderful, open, hospitable space, but we have a kitchen table, right? And that the fact that some combination of us have lunch together every day. I cannot imagine this workplace without that. And I’ve never been in a workplace that had that before. But it’s so obvious, isn’t it? I mean [laughs] we know as human beings that relationships happen around meals.