Receiving: The Prerequisite to Giving

By Georgina Ng, Consultant, Arbinger Singapore/Malaysia | June 17, 2022

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” I once said this to someone I hold close to my heart. At the same time, it was also a reminder to myself. As much as this is a widely-used, somewhat a little cliché quote, there is truth in this. 

As individuals living in an intertwined, widely connected world where everyone is just a call/text/email away, it is hardly rocket science that we rely on each other for many things. From asking a stranger for directions to wanting a listening ear after a tough day at work. Or simply doing a favor, however big or small, for a colleague or a friend in need. Giving and receiving is part and parcel of life because of the constant interaction with our physical and social environments. 

When we think about giving, we assume it is a selfless act. But giving is not always selfless, and neither should it be about selflessly sacrificing ourselves for others. Giving should be a purposeful and deliberated action, done after considering the needs and challenges of both the people we intend to help, and ourselves. Giving is often discussed but there is one piece of the puzzle that we often overlook – Receiving. 

It might seem like a no-brainer, but think back about a time when someone paid us a compliment. 

“You are so good at playing the guitar!” Have you ever felt like you were caught off-guard and you didn’t know how to reply? Or felt like you had to downplay your efforts or redirect the attention elsewhere because it was making you uncomfortable? Just earlier, I was commended for a job well done and all I could conjure up was a forced “thank you” with an awkward smile 🙂

Or maybe think about a time when someone offers you some help because it might help you get through a bottleneck at work. Ever felt like people were judging your competency and you have to reject politely because you’re worried you will be seen as “weak” or “a burden”? Ever felt like it was wrong to accept compliments because deep down you feel unworthy of those kind words? 

You’re not alone. 

Just like how giving isn’t always selfless, neither is receiving always selfish. Receiving doesn’t make us weak or a burden. Receiving for sure isn’t as easy as one might think. The way we interact with our environment, and the way we see ourselves, is deeply influenced by the way we have been brought up. These thoughts don’t just come from nowhere; they reflect our mindset, the yardstick with which we measure ourselves, and how worthy we believe we are in comparison to everyone else. 

Just because someone else provided that 2% of help doesn’t mean we put in 2% less of effort. 

Everyone thought hard (so hard one might start losing hair from all the pulling), did what was most helpful, and presented the best version one could. Those are the facts. That 2% made getting there easier, but it doesn’t discount the 100% effort that we invested. We deserve the acknowledgement for our effort. Knowing when to receive help doesn’t make us weak or unworthy.

On the contrary, knowing when to receive makes us stronger, braver, and more resilient. At home, it can improve the strength of our relationship with our loved ones. At work, it opens up our capacity for collaboration, teamwork and innovation too. 

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” – was what started the article. Receiving, be it help, compliment, or even a kind gesture, refills our cup so that we can continue to be the person we want to be for others, for ourselves. If we pour from a cup with limited resources, sooner or later, we will have nothing more to give. To truly receive, we have to believe that we are worthy of what we receive. Believe that our efforts are enough to warrant that compliment; that we are worthy of niceness. If giving is showing kindness to others, then receiving is showing kindness to ourselves.

Our ability to both give and receive is going to determine the quality of our relationships, the culture we want and the quality of results we produce.

There is no magic switch to flip nor a SOP to follow that will miraculously allow us to know how to receive gracefully overnight. It is an ongoing battle to strengthen our mindset and deal with our own monsters that reside deep within. Even on those days when our self-doubts are deafening and threatening to drown us, focus on the facts and learn to amplify that small voice inside us that whispers, “I’m enough, and I’m worthy.” 

I am still a work-in-progress, and I welcome anyone to join me in this journey. 

You are enough, and you are worthy. Will you accept it?