Contributor: Jacob Adler
Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).
Maurice Schweitzer is the Cecelia Yen Koo Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions, whose research focuses on emotions, ethical decision making, and the negotiation process. He has published in the leading journals in Management, Psychology, and Economics. Schweitzer is an award-winning teacher and, along with his co-author, Adam Galinsky, he has a new book out, Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both.
The following are edited excerpts of his conversation with Stew Friedman. Or check out the podcast:
Stewart Friedman: You note that one needs to find a balance between being a friend and being a foe; each chapter ends with a helpful summary of things you can do. Can you expand on this, before we get into what your research has to say about work and the rest of life?
Maurice Schweitzer: The fundamental premise in Friend and Foe is that in all of our relationships — with our kids, with our spouses, and at work with our colleagues, our bosses — we’re constantly going back and forth as friends and foes. We’re not constantly foes, we’re not constantly friends, rather we’re really doing both. And once we understand this, we can begin to see things like comparisons. In the first chapter we talk about how we’re driven to compare ourselves with other people, and these comparisons can make us motivated, they can make us happy, but they can also make us perfectly miserable, and in each chapter we talk about finding our balance, so you can figure out a way to harness the benefits without succumbing to some of the drawbacks.
SF: Social comparison is a crucial concept that you spend a lot of time explaining up front. We are social creatures and wither in social isolation; we need other people. Yet people can make us miserable as well enliven and enrich our lives. Tell us more about why social comparisons are so important.
MS: They’re really critical in part because we can’t get away from them. When we’re trying to make judgments about things in our lives, we’re drawn to make comparisons. So if I were to ask you, “Do you make a good salary, do you need to upgrade your kitchen, do you drive a nice car?” It’s so hard for us to make these judgments. And some are really quite important, like: how are my kids doing? Rather than making these judgments in a vacuum where there’s no objective yardstick, we’re drawn to comparisons. And so we might come back from a vacation feeling rested and great and we go on Facebook and we look at other people’s vacations, and we realize that by comparison my vacation was kind of ordinary.
SF: So, stay off Facebook is one of your major suggestions.
MS: One of the things I’m suggesting is when we’re drawn to Facebook some of the things that we do on Facebook — and if we’re constantly checking, we’re constantly comparing ourselves — there are ways for us to become miserable, particularly when we’re looking at people who have done better. And when we post things on social media, we’re typically not posting the worst things that have happened to us, but often the best things that have happened to us. Everybody’s posting…
SF: … Only the good stuff, and that’s just a vicious circle, isn’t it?
MS: It’s sort of like talking to your brother-in-law about stock-picking. People don’t talk about the stocks they pick that just tank, it’s the couple that have done well, and you’re like, “Wow, I don’t know how to pick stocks, everyone else seems so gifted at this.” The same thing goes for vacations, as we’re drawn to make comparisons, we’re trying to search the world for these comparisons. And sometimes we can do this in a really beneficial way; we might help out a charity, we might help people who are less advantaged than us, we might tutor other people. We can do things to help other people, and part of what that’s doing is also engaging us in a comparison that can make us feel pretty good. But I think we can harness it in a way that we can be motivated by people that are doing better than us if we see a way to also advance and do well. But when we’re constantly making comparisons, and one of the things we make a point of is how we use new information. You learn that somebody just got a bigger bonus than you, somebody got a promotion you really wanted. New information can turn friends of yours into foes.
SF: Because of envy.
MS: Right. We’re most drawn to envy people who are similar to us, so people who are in the same cohort, they started the same year as us — our college roommates, siblings, people who are similar in a self-relevant domain, a domain that we care about. So if I think of myself as an engineer or an artist or musician, that’s the domain that I’m going to care about, and when somebody outperforms me in those domains, the domains I really care about, that I see as reflecting myself, that’s what’s most likely to trigger envy.
SF: One of the ideas I think that’s very important about this, and that you develop in the book, is choosing the social comparisons that are going to be most fruitful for taking you in directions that you want to go; you don’t have to pay attention to everybody. What is implied in terms of practical solutions for keeping out all the social information that makes you miserable or that makes you want to pursue things that aren’t in your real best interests.
MS: I think what’s important is to recognize, first of all, we’re drawn to make these comparisons. That is, we find it intrinsically interesting to know what’s happening around us with other people. A second to recognize, “When I do go on Facebook or other social media, I’m going to engage in comparisons and some of these comparisons are going to change how I feel.” Sometimes it can be motivating. Stew, I can look at your profile and say, “Wow, here are all these things I can be doing. I wish I could shine as bright as you.” There are exemplars and I can say here’s a role model, here are positive things you’re doing that I can incorporate in my life and make these constructive changes. That can be a positive experience. But it could be that I compare how well your book is selling to how well my book is selling, and if I keep making these comparisons, it’s going to make me perfectly miserable. There are some kinds of comparisons we should really exit and pay much less attention to.
SF: That then requires a kind of consciousness about the comparisons that we’re making and a sense of agency or choice in selecting social references. How do you get to that point of being smart enough to know what to ignore and what to pay attention to in the social world you inhabit?
MS: A part of that is to recognize that there are going to be some activities like tutoring other people or hanging out with a different group of friends, they are choices we can make that can drive the comparisons that we’re going to experience. It could be as simple as going to dinner with these friends rather than those friends, or deleting some of these people from my social media feeds in a way that guides my attention. We should be paying attention broadly, but as we’re micromanaging the information that comes to us. And there’s a lot that we can do to change the kind of exposure that we’re getting to all the comparison information.
SF: Such as?
MS: You want to make sure your kids are doing okay, but you don’t need to constantly check in with every other parent to find out how everybody else did on each test, on each quiz. You can think about the kind of parent that you want to be and chart a path forward. I think there are many domains at work, when bonuses come out, when promotions come out, we’re going to have some successes and we’re going to have some failures. We have to recognize that people speak less about their failures than normal. After the US Women’s Soccer Team won, Carli Lloyd, who scored the hat trick in the incredible game, one of the things she said — she’s the star, the icon, the paragon of athleticism — was we’ve all been cut from teams. To hear that the best and greatest athletes have been cut from teams, to use some of those reference points, to recognize we’ve all fallen short in ways even though we don’t see that information. We don’t see all the rejection; that’s not what gets put on people’s résumés. Recognize that there’s a selected set of information that we’re seeing but there’s other information. If you listen to people like Carli Lloyd talk about it, or you listen to other people that will share the setbacks they’ve had along the way, I think it would motivate us and make us feel less susceptible to all the unpleasant social comparisons we’re likely to engage in.
SF: What you’re saying here is when you tell your story, don’t just focus only on the good stuff?
MS: We can learn a lot from failures. When we fail, for many people it can be crushing and we often don’t know what to do, where to go. It’s important to recognize that there are many people who have suffered similar fates and what you have to do is pick yourself up and go forward. It’s easy to be very self-focused. Volkswagen is reeling from this cheating scandal but rather than picking themselves up and going forward, they’ve been incredibly self-focused. They’ve hunkered down, they’ve shared very little information, and they’re denying everything. They’ve done almost everything wrong in trying to regain the trust of customers and regulators. What that does is reflect a sense of “I don’t know what to do.” Rather than figuring out that many people have suffered from problems like this and let’s figure out how to go forward, they’re just reveling in this failure.
SF: How do you know when to compete and when to cooperate? When do you know what the right timing is when you should be sharpening those elbows and other times when you should be opening those arms and embracing?
MS: As a general rule, I would recommend starting off with cooperation, but not revealing everything. For example, in negotiations, the idea is you want to start off cooperatively, but you don’t want to reveal all the information that you have. You might share some of it and then wait to see if people reciprocate or not. So if people are reciprocating your cooperation, you can continue to cooperate. If people stop cooperating and start competing, then sometimes the right thing is to compete back. And there are many cases where as you escalate competition, you can actually get to a better place.
SF: How’s that?
MS: Well, it could be that in a negotiation setting, for example, you start making more and more extreme demands, you start yelling at me. The cooperative approach would be to hand over resources and make concessions, but I would argue no, what you want to do is be competitive. If I take a much tougher stand, if I fight back and I say that’s not acceptable or I walk out of the room, that more competitive approach might actually bring us back to the table as equals in a way that we can get back on track for cooperation.
SF: So it’s not good to yield to super demands?
MS: Yes, as a general rule. It depends, of course, on the specific situation. My generic advice would be that when someone’s acting unreasonably — and some people in negotiations will use aggressive anger and excessive demands as a tactic. Sometimes people will just compete. Not wanting to ruffle feathers, not wanting to express anger or being competitive themselves, what I’m suggesting is sometimes that competition can end up being constructive.
SF: Another one of the important ideas in your book is the notion of priming for power. I’d like to first ask you to describe what that is. I’d love to know how you personally prime for power and why that’s such an important and easy thing to do and how effective it can be. What is priming for power?
MS: Power is the ability to control resources. It turns out when we can control resources, it makes us feel differently. We end up taking up more space, we feel more confident, we’re more likely to approach a problem. When we feel powerful, we feel like we’re on top of the world. So one of the things we talk about in the book is that when you feel powerful, we actually care a little bit less about other people. We take their perspective less well. But in general, feeling powerful gives us confidence and enables us to act and achieve more. One of the ideas that we talk about in the book is sort of like getting a manual car into gear. We can actually gain power by feeling powerful, projecting a sense of power, we’re taking more control, more agency and people treat us as if we have more power.
SF: And there are ways that you can push the car that’s in neutral down the hill until it kicks into gear.
MS: So how can we throw ourselves into gear and get this feeling of power? It turns out that some of these feedback loops can be really helpful. I mentioned that when we feel powerful, we take up more space. If you practice taking up more space, you have what some people call a power pose that might make us feel more powerful. The approach that I particularly like is a recall task. When we recall things, they can actually bring us back to that place. This is true with emotions, so if you recall a time that made you angry and you write about it, you think deeply about it, you can become angry. Same thing about happiness.
SF: That can serve you well in certain instances.
MS: We talked about negotiations before. In negotiations, sometimes being angry is helpful. The same is true with power. You can recall a time where you had power, you think about it deeply, you write about it, and if you really get into that scenario when you had power, that feeling bleeds into the next thing you might do. You might be going into an interview or an important presentation and feeling powerful, it could be a totally unrelated time, but you bring that feeling in with you and you’re going to project confidence, agency, and it can be very successful.
SF: And you recite research which demonstrates that this is in fact true. When you recall that feeling of power, simply by recalling an experience in the past, it changes your identity in that moment and how you feel about yourself and you bring that to the task at hand. If I may askwhen you prime for power, how do you do it?
MS: We talked about two different approaches. The one that’s more physical, just taking up more space, putting your hands on your hips, I like the writing task, the recall task better. It’s been better validated by research and it’s the one we recommend more strongly in the book. It’s a little bit more effortful but I think it’s more likely to be effective. I like the writing task, bringing yourself back to a time where you had power, thinking about that, spending about 10-15 minutes thinking about it before you go into another setting where that feeling is going to come with you.
SF: Can you share with us where you bring that into situations personally when you want to prime yourself?
MS: I’ll think about different periods in my life: Sometimes as a customer, when I’ve been somewhere very nice and people are treating me with great respect and I have a lot of control. Dealing with subordinates — I work with students or research assistants — and I generally think of us as colleagues, but that’s easy to do when you’re in a more powerful position. When people are relying on you and when they really need your help, those are positions where you have a lot of power. To just reflect on that experience, when somebody needed my help for something and I had the power to deliver it; I was important. To recognize here’s a situation when I had power over other people, they needed my recommendation or my help, and I think about that and realize this is a situation in which I had power, here’s how I felt, here’s how the experience went, here’s how things worked out, and after thinking deeply about that, I can go into something totally unrelated — t could be another meeting, it could be an important presentation — and I bring that with me and it builds a sense of self-confidence.
SF: That carries over and influences your performance in that entirely different situation. That seems like a relatively simple way to change your important life outcomes.
MS: We talk about cases where colleagues of ours did that before job interviews, and it really made a profound difference for them. We’ve done a lot of experiments that have really replicated that finding that there is something psychological behind feeling a sense of power and confidence and we can change how we feel.
SF: Simply by recalling a time when we felt powerful. In brief, what are the one or two most important elements behind coming up with your own power recollection story, your priming story?
MS: I would pick a time when it was clear you were in control, where you controlled resources, people needed you. You were in charge, and it could be when you were leading the Boy Scout troop, it could be when you were in charge of deciding how to split up some sum of money, when you had the expertise, when you had the resources, when people needed you. It’s a time when it was clear, that worked out well, and if you take yourself back to that time what you’ll find is you probably felt great in that moment. You felt important and in charge and that confidence can carry over and give you that agency, the confidence to pursue something, to take action and have an approach mindset when sometimes as we’re careening through the day, we feel a little less confident, we’re not likely to take that chance, we’re not going to call that client, we’re not going to approach that customer, we’re not going to do that tough thing on our to-do list. When we feel powerful, we’re more likely to approach and tackle those things that we needed to do.
SF: What’s the story with hierarchy?
MS: I started by saying that throughout history, every human society is characterized by hierarchy, and it’s not just true of humans, it’s true of animals as well. We’re hardwired for hierarchy. When we go out to dinner with our friends, there’s hierarchy. In our families, there’s hierarchy. At work, there’s certainly hierarchy. Some companies like Google started off with a holacracy, and Zappos has tried to move to holacracy, often that move to holacracy really fails because we’re just pretending. That is, if we say there’s no hierarchy, what that means is that we’re leaving it as an exercise for us to navigate that whoever speaks the loudest or takes the first crack at something is going to create a hierarchy and we’re going to end up with a hierarchy that is less explicit. The first idea is that we’re hardwired to fall into a hierarchy, and hierarchy can be extremely functional. It allows us to coordinate our actions, it allows patterns of deference, so we can accomplish things together, and some of the most hierarchal organizations are also some of the ones that have lasted the longest. Organizations like the Army, organizations like the Catholic Church, very hierarchical and very robust. The Roman Empire, super hierarchical: not permanent forever, but very strong and very impressive. Hierarchy coordinates many people in a way that allows them to accomplish things that are much, much bigger than what an individual could do. However, hierarchy is not perfect. Hierarchy sublimates the individual will and the ideas and goals for the larger collective, and what we lose in a hierarchy is the creativity, the contributions of people lower in the hierarchy. The comparison I like to make is if you go to the Army, it’s incredibly hierarchical, but the Army created one subset of fighters that’s less hierarchical and those are our Special Forces. Now those Special Forces, they have less hierarchy, their junior people can challenge senior people, they have more space, more voice. We can tap the creativity, ideas of those lower-ranked people and it allows us to harness that creativity. It only works with a smaller group. It works with a more creative, more highly-trained group, where we want to tap all that intellect. You can think about the nature of a task. Is a task more mechanical, are we in manufacturing? Or is the task creative, like trying to create new products? If it’s creative, we need to tap the creativity of the highly-trained people around us, and then we’re going to want to do things to break down that hierarchy, so we can tap the knowledge of everybody else.
SF: In order to do that, in any kind of organizational setting, this phenomenon of psychological safety has to be there. People have to feel safe enough to offer their ideas and to take the risk and make the courageous act of saying what they think, especially if the idea seems a little off the wall, a little different, or if they themselves feel different. Perhaps it’s a woman in an all-male environment or a person of color in an all-white environment. It gets harder and harder. What can be done based on your own research and what you’ve written about in Friend and Foe? What do you do to create that condition of psychological safety so you can feel powerful enough to bring your ideas forward?
MS: Imagine there are three separate tasks we’re trying to do. One task is we’re trying to generate ideas. A second step is to criticize ideas. A third step is to execute those ideas. The execution step needs hierarchy. There, we need to snap in a hierarchy, it’s a more mechanical kind of task. Those first two steps, generating ideas and criticizing ideas, that’s where we need psychological safety. That’s where we need people with divergent opinions, maybe they have less status, maybe they’re outsiders, maybe they’re somehow different from the rest of us. We need to create a place for those people to feel safe to challenge the other ideas. We can do that in a couple of ways. Now with technology, we can do this with computer-mediated systems that allow us to anonymously submit ideas. We can all sit around the table, we all submit ideas and they pop up without attribution on the screen.
SF: It might be the bosses; it might be the secretaries.
MS: Exactly. Now, the problem is that when the boss speaks, everybody else now has two different objectives. One is to find the best solution, and the other is to manage impressions, advance their career and not upset their boss. Life is better when our boss likes us, although life is better when our boss thinks we’re really brilliant. We often think that our boss is going to think we’re brilliant if we’re championing their ideas. And so one way to stifle ideas is for the boss to come in and say: “here’s what I think, what are your reactions?” Instead, we can either do this computer-mediated idea, or the boss could exit the meeting and say: “why don’t you generate some ideas and I’ll step in in 20 minutes or a half an hour” or “I’m going to be in this meeting but I’m not going to speak first and I want everybody to speak first.” Or the boss might say, “Hey, I’m not sure what to do. There are a lot of different approaches we could take here, I’d love to hear what ideas the rest of the group has.”
SF: The key is to be really genuinely asking and inquiring and following up with inquiry: “Tell me what your view is, why do you think this way, what’s your rationale.” Are there other things beside removing herself from conversation that a boss can do to ensure that her people are comfortable enough to offer unfiltered critical input or the creative input that the boss requires for the best output?
MS: There a couple of other ideas here. One is to create rules. It could be rules like no interruption, or in this idea generation stage, we’re saying for the next 45 minutes we’re going to generate ideas, and as we generate ideas there’s no criticism. There’s rules against criticism for 45 minutes, then we go to the second stage and we can critique ideas. We can impose rules like that. Part of the problem stems from the following idea. When we’re in a position of power, we think differently, we act differently, but we don’t realize how differently that experience of power is.
SF: From the subordinates’ point of view?
MS: And we don’t take their perspective. When we’re low-power, we feel it. We’re constantly monitoring the environment, we’re trying to figure out what that person thinks. We’re constantly trying to feel out other people’s perspectives. As we gain power, we quit early. We don’t invest that effort to take someone else’s perspective, probably because we don’t have to. Here’s the problem: when it comes to tapping other people’s creative ideas, it’s easy to mis-assume that people are going to be candid and forthright.
SF: Why should we be afraid of me?
MS: Right. As bosses, we have to work extra hard to realize how our power comes across. And this is why I suggested sometimes leaving the room can be helpful, because like it or not, we can be really intimidating to other people. That’s one idea. The second is to be very careful with criticism in that first stage. Really let people run with ideas. And sometimes you can even do things like throw out a bad idea. Say: “Here’s a crazy idea, but I’m sure you could do better.” This creates psychological safety that makes it easy for other people.
SF: Others might then feel safe enough to say, “That is stupid, boss. Let me tell you what’s wrong with that.”
MS: Or the boss could say, “Here’s my idea. I don’t think it’s very good and you can probably come up with something better.” We often think of our leaders as if they’ve had some perfect career path, and if you look at their résumé it only has successes.
SF: One step up the ladder to the next rung.
MS: Here’s where I took two steps back, here’s where I got fired; we don’t put that on a résumé. We just have this carefully manicured picture and it’s helpful for people to realize we have foibles, we’re not perfect, we need help from others.
SF: That really needs to be conscious and deliberate because it’s so easy to be ignorant of how you’re coming across. This notion of creating psychological safety is something that people in power really have to be mindful of if they want those around them to feel comfortable enough to be challenge them. What about for parents who are in that position of authority, how can we cultivate in your children a sense of safety so that they can both feel confident in themselves and also enrich the family by adding their unique perspective to the mix?
MS: The ideas are similar, and I think as parents, we often fail to appreciate how powerful we really are and how our kids not only love us in a familial way, but they’re also incredibly reliant on us. It could be scary to disagree, contradict and feel like we’re going against a parent. Even for a rebellious kid, it sometimes can be scary. So first, think about criticism. When we criticize our kids, that criticism has an amplification effect. That is, the criticism can sound very harsh in a way that we don’t intend it to. The way I think about criticism, it should be scarce. Criticize when it is appropriate, when things really might go off the rails. Second, criticize only one-on-one. When we criticize in front of other people — and the worst thing for teenagers is if you criticize them in front of their peers — there are few things worse than that. Third, think about ways to give them more agency, give them more controls. You might say, “Here’s a problem. I’m not sure what to do with this. You have some experience with this technology or something else, maybe you could help me try to figure this out.” Or, “Here’s a family vacation. There are a bunch of things we could do, I’d love to hear your ideas.” Again, in that idea generation stage, there’s no criticism. Say, “Why don’t we all sit around and come up with ideas? Let’s hear your thoughts.” We can take these steps and I think the psychological safety is really important because there’s a creativity we want to nourish, there’s self-confidence we want to build. And we can do that by giving our kids space, and as parents, we feel that’s bad parenting, but sometimes stepping back is actually the best way to help them go forward.
SF: Just as it is for bosses at work. One of the things that we talk a lot about on the show is how to create flexibility in your life, particularly at work, so you have room both psychologically and physically for the other things that matter to you. Do you have any thoughts about how to encourage that kind of conversation and create the psychological safety that’s required for subordinates to feel empowered, to negotiate for conditions of work that enable them to lead the lives they truly want?
MS: I think I would start by asking this question: what’s most important? What is it that we’re trying to accomplish? As a boss, what’s the most important objective for us? As employee, what’s the most important objective? I think there’s a lot of intersection that I think the traditional answers — “I need you here 9-to-5” or “I need you at your desk whenever I need you” — those traditional answers miss the bigger picture. That is, if we figure out what is our key objective, really, then I think we can figure out and begin to look for that intersection where the underlying objectives could be something that allows us to think differently about the work, think differently about the process that we go about achieving those goals.
SF: So if you’re an employee and you’re looking to create flexibility in your schedule, what’s a way to approach your boss to get at the critical objectives that you’re both aiming for? How can we create a shift in my schedule or my availability that enables me to provide the value that you expect of me?
MS: Here, I’d offer two ideas. One is to take the perspective of your boss. What makes your boss look good, what helps your boss get the work done? What is it that they’re trying to do? Second, think about how I can my help my boss achieve those goals. And it could be that what they need to do is staff this one project or they need to develop this report, and if you say, “I could pull over my colleague Sue from this other section” or “I could access this other resource,” or if I could figure out another way for me to address those needs more completely, I might approach my boss and say, “Help me understand the goal here. My thinking is that we need to get this report done and we need it to be of this quality and have these components, that’s my understanding. What am I missing?” So make sure you really understand the full picture of what needs to happen and then begin to offer an approach. Say, “Here’s another idea for achieving that goal, here’s why this would really meet these requirements and even exceed what you’re looking for, and here’s what would help me feel enthusiastic, motivated, and excited about this work. Here’s something that’s important to me, and I think I can balance these things in this way. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are for a way to make this work.” Those are the two ideas I’d suggest.
SF: Starting with what’s critical for the other and what your shared objective is. I’d love for you to talk in these last couple minutes about what you see as the main purpose of this work that you’ve put together in Friend and Foe, what you’re trying to achieve with it and what listeners ought to know about its essence.
MS: At its core, this idea that we’re navigating this balance, we’re friends and foes. With our spouses, with our siblings, with our kids, we’re incredibly good friends, but our interests are not perfectly aligned all the time. We have different opinions, we have different goals, and we need to navigate our relationships as friends and foes. Things like this perspective-taking idea that we were just talking about, we talk about this in one of the key chapters in the book. I think perspective-taking is an incredibly important tool. It helps us understand others better. Also, as we talked about before, as we gain power, we take other people’s perspectives less well, and there are many things that make us better and worse at taking perspective, and it’s important for us to think through how we can understand our relationships as friends and foes better and how we can navigate those relationships. The goal isn’t to be very effective foes all the time, it’s to be friends and foes in a way that allows us both to get more of what we really want.
About the Author
Jacob Adler , W’18, is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.