Although people tend to view the people in their lives through either a competitive or cooperative lens, Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky argues this is both overly simplistic and inaccurate. Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both, which was co-authored with Wharton Professor Maurice Schweitzer, is designed to help people “recognise that every cooperative relationship has the seeds of competition while at the same time remembering that competitive relationships still have the opportunity for cooperation. It’s not about being better at cooperation or competition. It’s about getting better at finding the balance between the two.”

Although many people see the downside of competitiveness, there are potential costs associated with cooperation, which can surprisingly extend to our negotiation partner. As Galinsky explains, “if someone makes us an offer and, in the spirit of cooperation, we accept it out of the gate, this can actually backfire because the other person will likely feel their initial offer wasn’t strong enough. They would actually feel better if you demanded concessions and there was some back and forth because it is more representative of a typical negotiation.”

Our close relationships tend to compromise our ability to learn and practice these skills because we are worried about coming across as competitive or otherwise hurting the relationship. This is why research has shown that two friends negotiating together tend to reach less efficient deals than two strangers. However, when both parties can be honest and open with each other about what they want, they maximize the chances of both parties being happier.

Galinsky shared a personal example where he had a direct opportunity to put these skills into practice. “I got married around the time the book came out and my wife and I had a lot of competing feelings about exactly what our wedding should like. Taking a cue from the book, we sat down and openly shared the things that were most important to us and we found a way to maximize what each of us wanted. We were both very happy with our wedding as a result because we knew what each other wanted.”

Although people sometimes try to compensate for the potential downsides of cooperation by being more competitive, this can also create major problems. In a clever chapter entitled, “It’s Good to be King….. Until It Isn’t” Galinsky shows how too much self-focus can cause the powerful to lose their position of authority. “Kings often lose their favour and eventually their power because they’re not cooperative enough.”

Striking the right balance can seem like a challenging and potentially impossible puzzle to solve. However, Galinsky believes one skill, perspective-taking, is crucial to help us navigate this complex landscape. Unfortunately, many people don’t employ this powerful technique because they mistakenly assume that understanding the perspective of others will cause them to abandon their own interests.

Leaders are particularly at a high-risk of falling victim to this trap because power fundamentally transforms our basic psychological processes. Based on almost two decades of his own research, Galinsky has found “high and low power people occupy very different psychological worlds. In its purest form, power is a psychological accelerator. It makes people feel more optimistic, see the big picture, and take more robust action.”

However, despite these benefits, “the problem with power is that it also takes away our psychological steering wheel in that we lose perspective-taking. This makes sense because powerful people have more things to think about and are less dependent on others, so they pay less attention to the other people around them.”

The disconnect between the psychological orientations of the more and less powerful can create many problems at work. For example, when a boss simply walks by in the hall and casually asks an employee to come by their office later, the employee immediately starts feeling anxious and wonders. Am I going to get fired? Did I do something wrong? This creates a great deal of tension, even if it is unintended.

Galinsky believes that once the powerful recognize this blind spot and engage in more effective perspective-taking, it can lead to stronger and more effective working relationships. Building on the last example, rather than ask the employee to come to your office, explain why. For example, let the person know you have an idea for a concept you would like to discuss with them or you want to go over the latest marketing campaign.’ That specificity really helps alleviate anxiety.

Galinsky’s research and insights have led him to speak with corporate audiences around the world. He says this notion of the importance of perspective-taking is one that continually hits home. “Perspective-taking solves a lot of problems. It helps the powerful maintain their power. It helps us apologise effectively. It helps us know when to be vulnerable. It helps us be better entrepreneurs because we know when to jump in by taking the perspective of competitors and customers. It helps us know how and when to be ambitious in negotiations. People understand the powerful role perspective taking plays in solving a lot of this cooperation/competition dilemma.”

Craig Dowden (PhD) is president of Craig Dowden & Associates, a firm focused on supporting clients in achieving leadership and organizational excellence by leveraging the science of peak performance. Dowden delivers evidence-based executive coaching and leadership development training to his clients.

His first book, Do Good to Lead Well – The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership, will be published by Forbes in February 2019. You can connect with him by email or LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @craigdowden.


  • Craig Dowden, Ph.D.

    Certified Positive Psychology Coach and best-selling author of "Do Good to Lead Well"

    Craig Dowden, Ph.D., a certified positive psychology coach, is on a mission to share evidence-based leadership principles. In particular, he is passionate about sharing the science of leadership, team, and organizational excellence with the people he serves. An inspiring and thought-provoking executive coach and an award-winning keynote speaker, Dowden partners with clients from diverse industries and sectors, who benefit from his drive, passion and insight. Dowden prides himself in providing world-class content to his clients. To date, he has interviewed over 65 CEOs of top North American companies, including McDonald’s, IKEA and VIA Rail. He has also interviewed widely known best-selling authors and TED speakers, including Marshall Goldsmith, Daniel Pink, Adam Grant, Susan Cain, Barry Schwartz, Marilee Adams, Adam Bryant and Doug Stone. He routinely integrates these conversations and insights into his client work. Dowden combines the key learnings from these interviews, along with evidence-based principles from the fields of psychology, leadership and organizational excellence in his best-selling book, Do Good to Lead Well: The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership (ForbesBooks, Feb. 8, 2019). The book outlines the return on investment of the six pillars of positive leadership – self-awareness, civility, humility, focus on the positive, meaning/purpose and empathy – and provides a practical and engaging roadmap showing how executives can effectively demonstrate these behaviors within their day to-day leadership practice, for their benefit, as well as for the benefit of the teams and organizations they lead. Called “ideal reading for people who want to make a positive impact in their organizations” by best-selling author Daniel Pink, Do Good to Lead Well is resonating with top corporate executives and international thought leaders, with endorsements from best-selling authors and top-rated TED speakers such as Adam Grant and Marshall Goldsmith, as well as over 20 CEOs of leading organizations. Dowden shares his views and expertise through articles published regularly in business and HR publications including the Financial Post, HR Professional, Canadian HR Reporter, Canadian Manager, the Huffington Post (U.S.) and Psychology Today. Dowden was recognized as one of Ottawa’s “Forty under 40” business leaders by the Ottawa Business Journal, a select group of individuals who “exemplify leadership, entrepreneurship and community building.” He will be a regular contributor to in February 2019 upon publication of his book. Dowden received his Doctorate in Psychology with a concentration in Business from Carleton University and completed his Bachelor of Science in psychology at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He currently lives in Toronto. For more information, please visit