We often look at our relationships and human interactions in terms of extremes: black or white; competitor or collaborator; friend or foe. In reality, most relationships are a lot more complex, including some facets of both cooperation and competition, often at the same time.
In explaining how to balance between these two modes of interaction, Galinsky and Schweitzer – respectively professors at the Columbia and Wharton business schools – focus their study more on the individual than the organization. They start with the idea that we love to categorize things. Doing this really helps us navigate our way through our social experiences. Yet, what they discover in their study is that we’re competing and cooperating all of the time in every relationship.
Their approach yields fascinating and often counter-intuitive examples of when it makes sense to be friendly in a negotiation, and when it does not. Sometimes, for instance, it can be the right thing to lie (“Do you like grandmother’s pasta?”). Putting yourself in another’s shoes is important in any negotiation, be it haggling over salary or buying a house. But too much empathy, they write, will lead you to give away more than you should.
There are broad corporate lessons, particularly about trust. They point out that gracious living expert Martha Stewart bounced back after her imprisonment for perjury, while Arthur Andersen disintegrated after the collapse of its audit client Enron, because Arthur Anderson was seen as having betrayed the central reason for customer confidence in its services.
Recovery from such shattering blows to trust is possible — and may even help build trust if handled properly — but it is a long road. It starts with successful apologies and ends with an extended period of penance.
Of course, you don’t have to be a ruined corporate scion to benefit from the insights in this book. Anyone can pick up plenty of tips about how to sell their home or go about nailing their next job. For instance, if you have a choice of interview times, it is often best to be last in a list of candidates. If running for office, being first on the ballot is an advantage. The tips are straightforward, but the authors lay down a barrage of social science research to support each one.
This book aims high and largely delivers on its promise. When you’re done, you’ll have the tools to be a better friend and a more formidable foe. It lacks the definitive hard line of more simplistic manuals of social behavior, but that is the point: If you cannot shift between competition and cooperation according to the situation, you are doomed to lose out.