A Sponsored Initiative

Friend and Foe — Maurice Schweitzer

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: schweitzerThe 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.

Daydream To Get The Job Done — Josh Davis

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).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Josh Davis, the Director of Research for the NeuroLeadership Institute, which is a global institute dedicated to synthesizing scientific research andguiding its use in the business and leadership fields. He’s a faculty member at Barnard College of Columbia University and the author of the just published Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done. They spoke about how to make the most of your time based on scientific research.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: I understand, you come from the field of neurolinguistics. First, can you just tell us what that field is, because not everyone listening knows.

Josh Davis: Josh Davis PhotoIt’s actually not the field in which I did my doctoral work, that would be area called social cognitive neuroscience. This is the study of the social contexts that we put ourselves in, the ways that we talk to each other, the ways that we use language, the ways that we talk to ourselves that can really influence actual brain function, can influence the emotions and influence whether we’re beating ourselves up or whether we’re working with ourselves most effectively. There’s a lot of flexibility we have in regulating emotions that comes from research in neurolinguistics, research in other branches of psychology, other branches of neuroscience.

SF: So neurolinguistics is really the study of the connection between brain and language, is that right?

JD: It is, yeah. Neurolinguistics is looking at what’s going on in the brain when we’re processing language, when we’re communicating or simply understanding language.

SF: Alright, so how did you get interested in using that science to understand how we can use our time more effectively?

JD: I realized we can be really effective for short periods of time. I’m sure you’ve had these moments where you have a couple hours or you figure out exactly what the lineup is going to be for the show, or for the whole fall. A big project which you can sort it out, get everything done you need to, and make tremendous progress in a short period of time. I know that I can have two or three days on end where I’m practically worthless, I’m getting very little done that actually matters.

SF: So you got those concentrated bursts of “ah, how the world seems right and I’ve figured it out”.

JD: Exactly — these short periods of time. So what I turned my mind to was this: if it happens sometimes, is there something we can learn about how to set up those periods of effectiveness, of really intense effectiveness, peak effectiveness at will, or more often. And that’s when I turned to the psychology and neuroscience research, to see what I could find about how to set up those conditions. The biggest-picture take-home was that many of the same things that help set up those conditions are also the same that create more work/life balance. So that’s the biggest-picture take-home.  But working with how a human being works, aiming to set up periods of peak effectiveness is going to help us get more done that actually matters, get to the important stuff and not be working all the time.

SF: Alright, can you give us a brief overview of what you discovered and how it’s portrayed in our wonderful book, Two Awesome Hours?

JD:  We can recognize that, most of the day, we’re actually on autopilot. We are right now, for example, in conversation mode. There’s a lot of things we’re conscious of, like deciding how to answer your questions.  But for the most part, I’m in conversation mode.  I’m not wondering how to spend my time and I’m not aware of a lot of things in the background, other things I need to get to. Once our conversation ends though, all of the sudden, the autopilot ends. Once you get to work after your commute, the autopilot ends. Once you get out of a meeting, the autopilot ends. Once you stop checking emails, the autopilot ends. In those brief moments, and we get them just a handful of times throughout the day: right before a test, right after one ends, or right when we’ve been interrupted. We get a chance to actually think much more deeply. We become more conscious. When we get to a crossroads, all of the sudden, autopilot can’t handle things anymore. We actually bring more conscious resources online in those moments, we’re more self-aware. It can be very unpleasant, it can feel like we’re not being productive, because we’re more aware of time passing, and it’s tempting to go for what’s right in front of us.  But those moments, I call them decision points, they’re moments to really savor, to step back, recognize that you got a golden moment in the day to take a few minutes.   It doesn’t need to be more than a few minutes, and just really remember what’s important.  Then go ahead and decide what task to get working on, because we waste time when we get started on the wrong task. You start checking emails it takes an hour and a half, but we don’t waste time in those moments when we feel like we’re wasting time just because we haven’t decided yet. So it’s recognizing when those come and taking advantage of them is the first step and it paves the way for all the others.

SF: Can you give an example of how that might actually occur or how you’ve done it?

JD:. Literally, 20 minutes ago I had just finished working on something, I had sent something off, and I had 20 minutes to go before this show.   And I thought, oh I have 20 minutes, how do I want to use it, I’ve got some time.

SF: How do I want to use it? I like that question.

JD: Right. I’ll be tired later. But I didn’t just jump in and look for what would take 20 minutes, those kinds of things. I took a moment, because I’ve learned to do this now, and I said, okay, wait a second. This is a decision point. I step back, literally, because that can help to give you more perspective.

SF: You mean you actually took a step in the rear direction?

JD: I literally got up from the desk and stepped back away from it, and I let myself stare out the window for a minute until I became more aware of the mental energy I have right now. It’s towards the end of the day, I’ve been doing a lot of hard work, and aware of the importance of showing up for this interview, in a way that I really want to be able to share with people something useful. And recognize that it’s actually going to be a better use of my time to take a break, have a little coffee, sit down and let my mind wander, and be ready for this call. The work that I would have done in those 20 minutes would have been very unproductive work, because I wasn’t in a good place to be working well. I’ll do that work much more quickly and effectively by saving it for tomorrow, and after our call I may go and do something relatively unimportant because I’ll be kind of spent. It’ll be the end of the day. But I had a chance to think about that, and end up showing up more effectively for the right work.

SF: So a decision point is really an opportunity for you to reflect on what you should be focusing your attention on, is that right?

JD: That’s right. And I do think that we all can be aware of what actually matters, what’s important. It doesn’t require a lot of deep soul-searching, for someone like me. If you ask me while I’m on vacation, what matters about your work, well I should be writing stuff and I should be speaking, public speaking of some kind or another. And if it’s not one of those two things, if it’s not really contributing to one of those two things, it’s not as important. For almost any job, we can figure it out fairly easily, but it’s remembering, having a way to remember the moments that matter, to do the important things and not just see urgent things, that’s the key.

SF: Right, because otherwise you’re wasting your attention on things that aren’t important. So identifying these points where you step back, quite literally in your case, and actually think about what’s going to be the best use of your time, that’s going to make a big difference in your making intelligent choices about how to invest your attention.

JD: And stepping back, by the way, this is one of those things that came from the research. I learned about the idea of priming something called “psychological distance.” When we think of something as being farther away, when we have an expansive view, or when you think of something being far off in time, that makes you more likely to be thinking big picture, to be thinking more abstractly, and that’s very useful for this type of thinking. So it actually primes that way of thinking.

SF: So that’s the benefit of stepping back from your desk or stepping towards a window where you have a broader vista, broader horizon?

JD: Yeah, so that’s the benefit of doing that. And actually stepping towards the window also has an additional piece of research that motivates that. This has to do with the value of having your mind wander. This one is a little counter-intuitive for a lot of people. You never see the report card that says: Joey’s great in class, but he should daydream more. Creative incubation happens when we let our minds wander, which doesn’t happen when we don’t let our minds wander, or not nearly as much. So if you’ve been working on something that needs creative thinking, who am I going to put on this team, how am I going to map out this chapter of a book, or whatever the creative project is, if you then let your mind wander, even if it’s just for a few minutes and come back to it, you’re more likely to have creative solutions and more of them, than if you just spend just as much time working on the problem. So actually, you’re better off in that context having the time spent wandering rather than working on it. It doesn’t just make you more creative in general, but it makes you more creative about those things you were already puzzling over. A second thing is, you’re probably familiar with the famous Marshmallow Test, the idea of delayed gratification?

SF: I am, but our listeners might not be, so a very brief recap of the meaning of that research?

JD: There’s a great book out by the author of the Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel. It’s called The Marshmallow Test. The idea is this: you take some four-year-olds and you tell them you can have this marshmallow right now, but if you wait until I come back – and the kids don’t know how long that is and to a four-year-old it can be an eternity.–if you wait until I come back, then you can have this other treat that they had previously determined that the kid preferred over the marshmallow. Some of the kids actually waited the whole time, which turned out to be 15 minutes. Some don’t, and there’s variations in how long they waited. The ability to wait, the ability to delay gratification predicts things years later like SAT scores, college success, marital success, job success, likelihood to end up having trouble with the law, and all kinds of things. It’s not that there’s something magical about these kids, though. It’s not that they’re just gifted in some way, it’s that the kids are doing something different. And what the kids are doing is reframing the challenge in front of them. They’re thinking of it as the opportunity to get the thing down the line and not spending time thinking about how tasty the marshmallow would be. Or maybe they’re thinking about it as not a marshmallow, but just a puffy cloud. What daydreaming allows us to do is to reframe what’s going on. In the background, we tend to find new ways of thinking about challenges we face, so we’re more likely to hold out for something better in the future.

SF: So a wandering mind helps you to delay gratification because it opens you up to thinking about alternatives?
Garrison calling from Texas: You’re talking about brain activity as it relates to linguistics and the workplace environment and all the distractions and understanding when you’re in the zone, knowing that time of perfect efficiency and how social media and all these distractions play into it. I have friends and colleagues that are constantly distracted by what could be considered some alternate form of linguistics … How do you get in the autopilot? How do you get out of it? What’s the brain doing?

SF: Great question Garrison, and thank you for that. Josh, tell us, what are your thoughts about that question, how social media affects neurolinguistic functioning and our ability to focus on the things that matter?

JD: It’s right on target. The hardest thing for us to ignore when it comes to different sounds in the background, for instance, is speech. It’s been shown that people doing almost all kinds of work were more effective in silence, and what’s most difficult for us to tune out is speech, rather than white speech or music. We’re definitely designed to pick up on speech, but also there’s another element in the social media piece. It is quite linguistic, information is usually text-based. So whether or not we’re hearing it, it’s still information-rich, and it also has a very strong social nature. We are social creatures. There’s an argument that our brains have evolved in the ways that they have in large part due to the need to track the social environment that we’re in. There’s a study showing, across species, the size of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most different in humans than in other animals, right up front behind the forehead, the size of that correlates with the size of the social network that an animal needs to track across species. That and other data suggest that processing social information is very important to us. Social obligations, as everyone knows, are hard to put out of mind. They tend to be quite distracting, and social media is all about that. It’s about, am I getting back to this other person fast enough? Am I navigating this social relationship in the way that I need to? There’s excitement, because we’re learning where we fit in the social order, and we’re making friends, we’re making connections, and there are other social obligations involved. It’s the stuff that’s designed maximally to grab our attention. Our attention systems in our brain are not designed to stay focused. They’re designed to pick up on what’s changed. They’re designed to help us detect what’s changing in the environment.

SF: So we need to stop fighting distractions?

JD: That’s right. Trying to fight and use willpower, it backfires. It just increases the likelihood you’ll be thinking of exactly the things you’re trying to fight and makes you more likely to go searching for them.

SF: We just have another minute or so. We’re going to have to have you back; this is so fascinating and so important. Can you just give us a very brief recap of the other key strategies that you describe in your book?

JD: One of them, as you mentioned, is stop fighting distractions and it’s about what you can do instead. In what ways can you have compassion for yourself so that you can work with your attention system. Another one is to leverage your mind-body connection. We’re biological creatures, and there’s quite a lot we can do in terms of moderate exercise, food, coffee, water that actually has quite a big impact on the ways that we think and feel, and our concentration. And then finally, there’s making your workspace work for you. There are some things that anybody can do, regardless of how restricted your workspace is that have to do with controlling when you have noise, controlling the light that you have, controlling the clutter on your desk, understanding in what ways that’s affecting you, that you can make some choices about it. For those times that matter, recognizing you don’t need to be on all the time, and we can’t be, but we can be on when we need to be on, for short periods, and that’s really how to take advantage of a human system.

SF: And your strategies based on research are very useful in helping people to develop the skills, to be able to do just that.

To learn more about Josh Davis visit www.twoawesomehours.com.

Jacob Adler, jacob adlerW’18, is a sophomore at Wharton and contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.”

Adriano Olivetti (1901–1960) and the Relationship between Work and the Rest of Life

Contributor: Marcello Russo, Assistant Professor of Management Rouen Business School

Adriano Olivetti (11 April 1901 –  27 February 1960), the son of the founder of Olivetti, Camillo Olivetti, was a luminary Italian industrialist, known worldwide not only for the high quality of the company’s products, including the innovative Lettera 22 typewriter, but also for his efforts to apply in management a utopian view grounded on a positive integration between employees’ work and family roles. In his discourses with the workers of the Ivrea and Pozzuoli subsidiaries in the 1950s, he exhorted managers and workers of his company to acknowledge the powerful bond existing between the company and its people and to behave accordingly, with a spirit of cooperation, care, and reciprocal respect.

Here are two illustrative quotes:

By working every day in the factory to produce something that we then see living and running in the streets of the world and returning to us in the form of wage, which then becomes bread, wine, and house for our family, we contribute to the vibrating life of the factory, to its smallest as well as to its biggest things, we end up loving it, growing fond of it and, in this way, it truly becomes part of us. The work becomes little by little part of our soul, like an immense spiritual force” (Olivetti, 2012: p.33).


On us [the management] is the responsibility to make the factory a fair place that cares for the justice of each one of its members, is supportive of the goodness of their family, is thoughtful of the future of their children and is participative of the life of the local communities, which will draw from our growth economic nourishment and incentive to social advancement” (Olivetti, 2012: p. 31).

These words were written in 1955. Olivetti’s innovative view of the work-life interface was at the core of work-family enrichment theory, later elaborated by Friedman, Christensen, and DeGroot (1998), Rothbard (2001), Friedman and Greenhaus (2000), and Greenhaus and Powell (2006).  The idea was as powerful as it was shocking for its simplicity: Encouraging employees to fully participate their lives inside and outside the company could produce momentous benefits in terms of positive mood, knowledge, skills, abilities, self-confidence, resilience, and optimism, just to name a few; and these in turn, improve organizational performance and the overall quality of an individual’s life.

Adriano Olivetti can be rightly considered a groundbreaker of the work-life interface and a pioneer of the work-family enrichment movement because he had a vision that presaged in several ways the basic principles of this movement that arose decades later. On many occasions, Olivetti exhorted his managers to care for workers’ personal and professional development and think about all possible initiatives that could favor a positive integration between work and family lives. The company, he argued, has a moral obligation toward its workers because through their intellectual contribution and physical efforts the company is able to grow and flourish. Therefore, the company must do the best it can to repay workers for the fatigue it causes them, for the competencies it exploits, for the time it takes from family life, and for the stress it causes them. This must happen not only with economic inducements but also by promoting cultural and social initiatives that help workers and their families to flourish, just as the company does.

Olivetti offered an extraordinary view on the ultimate goal of a company that is worthwhile to reiterate nowadays, given that the severe and prolonged economic crisis might instill a belief among employers that integrating work and the rest of life is an irrelevant argument, not a priority anymore during economic downturns. The goal of a company does not coincide with profit only, but it has a more spiritual nuance; it benefits from favoring the individual thriving and by providing moral and cultural redemption in the workplace, as well as in every other domain of life.



Friedman, S. D., Christensen, P., and DeGroot, J. (1998). Work and life: the end of the zero-sum game.  Harvard Business Review, 76(6), 119–129.  

Friedman, S. D. and Greenhaus, J. H. (2000), Work and Family – Allies or Enemies?  Oxford University Press.

Greenhaus, J. H., & Powell, G. N. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work-family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 31(1), 72–92.Friedman, S. D. and Greenhaus, J. H. (2000), Work and Family – Allies or Enemies?  Oxford University Press.

Olivetti, A. (2012), Ai lavoratori (Italian Language), Edizioni di Comunità, Roma.

Rothbard, N. (2001), Enriching or depleting? The dynamics of engagement in work and family roles, Administrative Science Quarterly, 46: 655-684.


Marcello Russo is an Assistant Professor of Management at Rouen Business School in France. His research interests include the benefits of work-family enrichment, the psychological consequences of accent diversity in the workplace, and error reporting in healthcare.

About / Contribute

The Work/Life Integration Project Forum is a platform for the exchange of ideas about the relationship between work and the rest of life.

We publish perspectives and commentary on these issues, informed by both personal experience and research; recommend new research on work/life topics; and provide news about the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project activities at the University of Pennsylvania and beyond. Our mission is to generate awareness and stimulate cross-generational dialogue about how to foster greater harmony between work and the rest of life. The Forum offers practical insights and informed opinions to help people gain a meaningful perspective on the integration of work, family, community, and the private self (mind, body and spirit) so that they are better able to engage in discussion that drives change in their workplaces, in their communities, in their families, and for themselves.

Our authors include researchers and academics, experienced professionals, and students, and our content is written to be relevant to men and women at every stage in their careers. We invite readers to comment on and share our content.

Content on the Forum is managed by University of Pennsylvania undergraduate and graduate students and faculty (see About Our Team). We can be reached through the comments section of any post or by email.

We welcome contributions from guest authors.  Here are Forum Guest Post Guidelines. If you are interested in writing for the Forum or have other questions, please email us!