What does it take to succeed? Should you radically pursue your own self-interest or should you focus more on cooperation and collaboration?
The best leaders do both, says Columbia Business School Professor Adam Galinsky. “We can look up at people who outperform us and we can look down at people to whom we feel superior,” writes Galinsky in his new book Friend and Foe. “In order to thrive in life, we need to find the balance between feeling good about ourselves while feeling motivated to perform well.”
Professor Galinsky sat down with IVY Magazine to discuss his research and offer skills to maximize your own leadership potential.
“For me, leadership is really about finding the balance between the forces of cooperation and competition.”
What is leadership to you?
Leadership is all about finding the balance between the forces of cooperation and competition. How do you navigate your world to attain higher positions? How do you manage people to get the best out of groups and individuals? The tension between cooperation and competition is less explicit than in negotiation, where you’re trying to reach a cooperative deal while also trying to get the best deal for yourself, but it is still foundational for leadership.
My co-author, Maurice Schweitzer, had also been studying these themes in negotiations, decision-making, trust, and motivation. We realized that we had developed the same core principles but were confused on complimentary topics, so it made sense to join forces and write on book together.
What was the most surprising thing you learned over your years of research?
The most transformative thing for me was realizing the extent to which every relationship is characterized by cooperation and competition—it’s literally inescapable. Even new parents experience it. You are cooperating to raise a newborn child, yet you compete fiercely over who has to get up at 3:00am when the baby is crying.
Simply being aware of this tension can have an empowering and transformative effect on our relationships. As one example, I got married in September. My fiancée and I planned our wedding in six weeks. It was an amazing experience, but there were times during the preparation where there’d be tension between us. We had different preferences and priorities about what to include and how to include them in the wedding. Having written this book, I had gained a meta-awareness which I think helped prevent us from spiraling downward into conflict. You’re planning the wedding to form a perfect union, and yet you have this competitive spirit over who is going to get to speak, who is getting invited, and what you offer your guests. The awareness of this tension made me think: ok, this is natural, we just need have an open conversation and figure out what’s really important to each other.
Every chapter in our book ends with a section called “Finding the Right Balance.” How do we make social comparisons that motivate us without producing resentment? How do we get power, but then find the balance that lets us keep our power? If hierarchy helps us coordinate but silences low-power voices, then how do we get coordination without silencing voices?
“As humans, we spend too much time inside our own heads, figuring out what we want and need—but the best way to get what we want is to figure out what someone else wants and needs.”
What are your top negotiation tips?
One of my favorite chapters hones in on a key skill that distinguishes humans from other animals. That skill is perspective-taking: trying to understand the world from other people’s perspectives, to get inside their head to see what they’re thinking and feeling. This is incredibly important for leadership and incredibly important for negotiations. As humans, we spend too much time inside our own heads, figuring out what we want and need—but the best way to get what we want is to figure out what someone else wants and needs.
Good negotiators are good perspective-takers. You need to be thinking: How far can I push? Do I know other pieces of information that will give me leverage? When is the other person going to walk away? How do I meet their needs without costing me too much?
Once, I was bumped off a flight before Thanksgiving, and I got a $500 voucher for the flight change. Then, the airline decided to offer another $500 voucher for switching to the next flight. I was a post doc and didn’t have much money. So I took the next voucher. I then went up to the desk and asked for an upgrade on that flight. They agreed. Then I asked for them to cover the hotel that night. They agreed. And the dinner that night too. They agreed. Then I asked them to pay for a car to take me back to my house when I got home. Again, they agreed.
The key insight of this story is this: If you don’t ask for something, you can’t get it. But it’s also important to point out that I only asked for those things privately. I made sure no one else was at the desk when I asked, otherwise everyone else would start asking for the same privileges, and of course the gate agent would have said no. I took the perspective of the people at the desk and asked myself, what would most likely lead them to say yes and doesn’t put them in a bind? Taking perspectives and understanding constraints helped a lot. It’s what you need to negotiate.
What is your favorite thing to teach that people don’t usually know?
To be a leader, you really need to be able to understand what people are experiencing, and why their experience matters. I have two quick examples on this point.
First, people in power often don’t realize that their silence can be deafening. My brother was on flight once when the plane unexpectedly dropped 1000 feet in 12 seconds. As plane plummeted, one flight attendant went up and knocked her head so hard she became unconscious (and never regained consciousness before the light landed). Yet, at no point for the duration of the flight did the pilots reach out and let the passengers know what was going on. People were wondering: Are the pilots ok? Is the plane damaged? Are we safe? Had the pilots taken the perspective of the passengers, they would have realized their fear and their need for reassurance. Instead, the silence was deafening and only intensified the passenger’s worries.
Second, imagine you’re an assistant professor. You have power over doctoral students, but less power than tenured full professors. I once asked a doctoral student, “Come by office later, I need to talk to you about something?” They came to my office meek and timid. Even though in my mind the topic was trivial, she was scared that she had done something wrong. At the end of the meeting, she demanded that I never do that again. “Do what??” I replied. “Ask to speak with me without telling me why. The ambiguity unleashed my fears that you were mad at me or I was going to be punished.” I thought, “She’s a little neurotic.” But then the next day, the chair of my department emailed me the exact same thing. I thought immediately: “What did I do wrong??” We need to know how our position of power impacts someone; we need to be good perspective-takers.
I call this effect the power amplification effect. Power amplifies the effect of our behavior: silence becomes deafening and ambiguity becomes ominous. The same principle applies to gratitude. When we have power and thank someone or praise someone, those positive statements get amplified and puts a skip in that person’s step. Often, we lose the opportunity to make someone’s day by offering a small piece of gratitude or praise.
“It’s hard to apologize! People think that if they apologize they’ll lose face and power and seem weaker…But if you apologize correctly, you’ll have people respect you even more.”
Your book covers how to repair trust once it’s broken—can you elaborate on that?
In the book, we talk a lot about how to apologize. We look at apologies that are successful and apologies that are unsuccessful. One example we give in the book—one that’s unsuccessful—is when Steve Jobs refused to acknowledge that calls on the iPhone 4 were getting cut off frequently because of an antenna problem. He delayed and delayed the apology, denying the importance of the issue so long that it turned into “antenna-gate”. On the flip side, when a Southwest Airlines plane ran off a runway in Chicago, the airline took responsibility immediately. They showed remorse, and they talked about how they were going to compensate individuals and to make changes to prevent this from happening again.
The three things that matter in apologies are: quickness with accepting responsibility, empathy for the people who were harmed, and some sort of promise of change. In the book, we write about the story of a small girl who went to the hospital one day after she fell down. The doctors were doing a medical procedure, and she basically stopped breathing. But the doctors didn’t have the right resuscitation methods on hand for a child, so she was severely brain damaged.
Yet, within a short period of time, her parents became advocates for the hospital, even to the point where they were on the hospital’s promotional material. How did this happen? The hospital took responsibility right away and apologized immediately, without worrying about any of the legal ramifications. And the hospital took very clear measures to make sure that nothing like that would ever happen again.
Why don’t people apologize like that all the time?
It’s hard to apologize! People think that if they apologize, they’ll lose face and power and seem weaker. It goes against our instincts – we think we need to defend and justify to protect ourselves. But if you apologize correctly, you’ll have people respect you even more. You won’t lost face or power.
What do you want every IVY member to know?
To be a great leader, to be a fantastic negotiator, to have a happy marriage–it comes back to perspective-taking. Perspective-taking can even explain mistakes that entrepreneurs often make – they focus on their talent and what they want to do, rather than who their customers are and who their competitors are. It’s egocentric. This idea of knowing your own preferences but understanding those preferences in the larger context of the market is extremely valuable. My advice is to have both a deep and a broad view: look deep inside yourself and far outside yourself.
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