in: People, Podcast, Social Skills

• Last updated: September 29, 2021

Podcast #376: When to Compete, When to Cooperate, and How to Succeed at Both

Being successful in life requires social adeptness. And part of that social adeptness is balancing two seemingly opposing social strategies: competing and cooperating. But how do you know which approach to take in the hundreds of different social relationships you navigate day in and day out? For example, should you go out of your way to promote your achievements to your boss or should you spend more time helping your fellow co-workers? 

My guest today explores these subtle and often complex questions in his book Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both. His name is Adam Galinsky and he’s a professor at Columbia Business School. Today on the show, Adam and I discuss why all of our relationships— even personal ones — are both competitive and cooperative and how our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others either causes us to cooperate or compete. Adam then shares how cooperation can lead to high status and success, but how once we gain status, our natural tendency is to become a jerk, which leads to our downfall. He provides some research-backed advice on how to avoid that from happening to you. 

Adam and I then discuss why teasing nicknames are a form of social bonding and why men use them more often, as well as why putting all of your credentials in your email signature just makes you look insecure. 

A fascinating discussion about the quirks of human social dynamics.

Show Highlights

  • Why all our relationships — both personally and professionally — are competitive and cooperative at the same time
  • How social comparisons spur us on in both competition and cooperation
  • Why being an underdog can at times either motivate or hamper us
  • How does social media impact social comparisons?
  • Humility and power
  • The difference between feeling powerful and being powerful
  • The ways in which power corrupts, and how to check it
  • How to treat people with respect when you’re in a position of power
  • Why the “flat” model of hierarchy and business organization can come back to bite you
  • How teams can best navigate power dynamics and talented members 
  • Why NBA “super teams” don’t tend to perform as well as expected 
  • The power of checklists in the workplace 
  • On nicknames — how powerful they are and why you can’t give yourself one  
  • Why you should hone your ability to give nicknames 
  • What your email signature says about you 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover of "Friend and Foe" Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of ‘The Art of Manliness’ podcast. Being successful in life requires social adeptness, and part of that social adeptness is balancing two seemingly opposing social strategies: competing and cooperating. How do you know which approach to take in the hundreds of different social relationships you navigate day in and day out?

For example, should you go out of your way to promote your achievements to your boss, or should you spend more time helping your fellow coworkers? My guest today explores these subtle and often complex questions in his book, ‘Friend or Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both.’ His name is Adam Galinsky. He’s a professor at the Columbia Business School.

Today on the show, Adam and I discuss why all of our relationships, even close personal ones, are both competitive and cooperative, and how our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others causes us to cooperate or compete. Adam then shares how cooperation can lead to high status, and success, and power; but how once we gain status and power, our natural tendency is to become a big, giant jerk; which leads to our downfall. He then provides some research backed advice on how to avoid that from happening to you.

Adam and I then discuss why teasing nicknames are a form of social bonding, and why putting all of your education credentials in your email signature can make you look kind of insecure. It’s a fascinating discussion about the quirks of human social dynamics. After the show is over, check out the show notes at

Adam now joins me via …

All right, Adam Galinsky, welcome to the show.

Adam Galinsky: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.

Brett McKay: You co-authored a book called ‘Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both.’ It takes a look at social status and social dynamics. I’m curious, how did you get into researching and writing about this topic of psychology?

Adam Galinsky: I am … Both my co-author, Maurice Schweitzer and I, are both I think characterized by a love of a wide range of research on a wide range of topics. One of the funny things about ‘Friend and Foe’ is that I think its both greatest strength and maybe its biggest weakness is the fact that in many ways, it’s 11 books in one; because there’s chapters on power, and hierarchy, and social comparisons, and trust, and apologies, and negotiations. I think that really is emblematic of who Maurice and I are as researchers … is we get so excited by any interesting idea. We sort of go in that direction and explore it. He and I collectively have become sort of experts in a number of different areas of psychology.

Throughout all of that process, we really noticed that a lot of our research individually, as well as a lot of what we do in our teaching really gets at this fundamental tension, and that really drives human nature between cooperating with people and competing with them for scarce resources.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about that. You started … You begin the book by saying that all of our relationships, close family relationships, close business relationships, friends that we are … we love, are both cooperative but also competitive at the same time. Can you provide some examples of relationships being both cooperative and competitive at the same time?

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, absolutely. We see this just even at the firm level, right? We see like Microsoft and Apple often compete in order to get people to use their products; but they also cooperate as industry members. Let’s say, cooperate against the FBI or cooperate to get certain laws passed that are going to be in their favor. In organizations, we see this extremely all the time where we collaborate and cooperate as teams to produce outcomes at the collective level, but then we compete for promotions and salaries.

I have sort of two very … a great personal examples of this. One is I recently got married in the last couple years, and we had our first child; and we’re actually expecting our second child sometime in the next week or so. Raising a child, there’s nothing more cooperative than that as two parents. But then at like 3:00 in the morning when the baby wakes up, then you’re competing fiercely with your partner for who’s going to get up, who’s going to get to sleep, and you get a little salty with each other. ‘No, you got up last night.’ ‘No, you get up this time.’

Then, the other case where I can see this really well in my own life is I was actually a surprise twin. I even saw that competition in the womb where my brother kicked my ass. He came out of the womb almost 55% larger than I was. We competed and cooperated all the time as kids, and we could really see that process. It doesn’t matter whether you’re spouses, whether you’re siblings, where you’re coworkers, whether you’re firms; we’re always competing and collaborating simultaneously with everyone.

Brett McKay: As you said earlier that this book is really like 11 different books in one. I love that, because I love the breadth and also the depth you get into. Let’s talk about some of these topics you hit that factor in, in how we cooperate and compete. The first factor is we’re always making social comparisons. That this is the source of motivation for us to either cooperate or compete. How does our social comparisons with others motivate us either to cooperate with them, or to compete with them?

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, I think … Well, there’s a couple interesting things is that social comparisons, this is sort of research going back a century, has really been found to be a natural instinct of humans; but also even our non-human primate members. We naturally … We never compare our outcomes in absolute terms. All of our outcomes, all of our efforts are always done relative to other people in comparison to them.

Now, what’s I think most interesting in relation to the theme of the book is that well, who do we compare ourselves with? Well, we often compare ourselves with the people that we’re most connected to and most similar to, and the people that we often cooperate with. We, … As a twin, who’s the natural person I can compare myself to? It’s to my sibling, to my other twin. This is just a natural, inevitable part. The binds that link us together are often the ones that are the people that we compare to the most.

Now, sometimes this comparison is really good. I have … I mentioned this in the book, but I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina and Duke University compete in basketball all the time. That really motivates them in this tremendous way. UNC wins the championship in 2009, well Duke wins it in 2010. Duke wins in ’15, UNC makes the final in 16, then wins it in 17. Still hawking back to Duke’s winning in 2015. These comparisons can really drive us and motivate us, but they also create sort of deep resentments and frustrations.

Probably the famous example of this, I’ll give you just two really interesting, fascinating examples. One is with monkeys. A monkey gets a piece of cucumber. They feel really happy; but if they see a monkey next to them get a better piece of food, like a grape. Well, that monkey who got the piece of cucumber goes apeshit. They literally take that piece of cucumber and throw it back at the experimenter, even though they just ate it a couple minutes earlier very happily. That’s an example of comparisons.

A more recent one that’s sort of been talked about is in 1992 after Bill Clinton became president, they put in a new rule into the FCC that was designed to decrease the amount, the ratio between how much CEOs got paid versus the average worker. It had been steadily rising over the years. Said, ‘We’re going to put in a little rule and it’s going to decrease it.’ At the time, it was around 30 multipliers, so CEOs got paid about 30 times an average worker did. They put in this rule in designed to decrease it, it exploded it. Within a few years, CEOs were getting paid 300 times what an average worker was.

Well, what was this rule that got put in place? The rule was all CEO compensation now had to be public. What they thought that was going to do was shame CEOs into reducing their things; but CEOs don’t compare themselves to the average worker. They compare themselves to other CEOs. They started seeing the packages that CEOs get, and then it created an arms race. ‘That CEO gets this package? I want an even better package.’ ‘Oh, well I want a better package.’ ‘Oh, I want a better package.’ All of a sudden, they’re getting paid 300 times the average worker.

We can see these processes of comparison. They drive us, they motivate us, but they can create unchecked competition and even resentment.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about how to get the upsides of social comparison, while mitigating the downside. Here’s an example, I’ve been in situations where I’m comparing myself to someone and I’m like the underdog. That motivates me. But, there’s other times where I’m comparing myself to someone and I’m the underdog, but it debilitates me.

I’m just like, “Aw, I’m never going to be that good.” What’s going on there? Why is it sometimes being the underdog can motivate you, and other times, it can just be like … just depress you and not … just cause you to not want to even try?

Adam Galinsky: Yeah. I think there’s a couple things that are really important there. The first is … you have to see the comparison, especially of someone above you, as ultimately obtainable; that you can attain that level of performance. What happens is we have this … what we kind of call this sort of latitude of acceptance. Our comparisons fall within that, meaning that we think we can reach that point; versus our latitude of rejection. They’re so far away from us that we can’t even imagine competing with them, and that debilitates us.

I’ll give you one example from my own life where one of the ways that we can solve this process is what I call expanding the status pie, or we can also call it differentiation. When I was a 12 year old boy, I ran a 10 kilometer race, which was 6.2 miles, in 46 minutes; which is a tremendously good time. My twin brother ran that same race in 44 minutes. No matter how fast I ran and how good I got, my brother was always doing better than I was.

What did I do? Well, I kind of did what you just said is I gave up, but I switched to a different sport. I became a wrestler. Then eventually, I got pretty good and made all conference, was captain of the wrestling team. That’s one example where one of the things that we can do as organizations is kind of deal with that comparison problem by rewarding people on their unique attributes that distinguish them from others within the organization. That’s one of the things that I teach leaders to do is say, ‘Find that unique thing in your employees and identify it, and value it.’ That way, they’re not going to be comparing in this resentment way towards each other. They’re going to be able to all get their own level of unique status; and therefore motivate them further.

Brett McKay: How do you think social media is affecting social comparisons? Is it making it more perilous that you have to be a little more aware of it? What do you think’s going on there?

Adam Galinsky: Yeah. I think we see a lot of that with this idea that … you don’t want to just clutter your social media with all of your accomplishments. People want to be able to connect to people and not feel like that they’re feeling this sense of envy and jealousy. I think there’s times in which we can find actually ways to show some of our weaknesses, some of our humility, some of our days that don’t go great. That makes us actually more connected and more personable.

Since I wrote the book, I … One of the things I do at Columbia Business School, I get to interview leaders all the time, and as part of a class on leadership I teach. I got to interview a woman named Linda Rottenberg, who’s CEO of Endeavor, a company that helps entrepreneurs throughout the world. She’s been called one of the top 100 leaders in America, one of the great innovators of the 21st century. She talked about how she only became a great leader when she stopped being super and started being a little bit more human. She talked about by exposing some of her vulnerabilities, some of her anxieties, some of her concerns to employees, they actually started to connect with her better.

When she just came across a super person with this … a person with incredible accomplishments and talents, people couldn’t really connect with her. I think the same thing with social media. Finding ways to connect with people is incredibly valuable, and one of the ways that we can do that is not by just creating this outwardly super comparison; but by being a little humble and exposing some of our weaknesses and some of our fears.

Brett McKay: But you can’t do the humble brag, because that just rubs people the wrong way.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, a humble brag is pretty much the worst thing that you can do. People are very aware of what a humble brag is. It’s a term that’s gotten into literature. People have written books about it. Scientists are now doing research on this. The humble brag is not the way to go. Real humility is the way to go.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that example of the CEO, it reminded me of a story from George Washington. I think it was after Valley Forge. It was basically his soldiers were ready to mutiny. They didn’t want to fight anymore. He had rallied the troops together and he had this … letter he wanted to read. What he did, he put on his glasses; because I think George Washington was very fastidious about his presentation. He wanted to be seen as pretty much perfect.

Him putting on the glasses and he said, “I’m sorry, gentleman, but I’ve … my sight has gotten poor due to fighting to my country.” Supposedly, that moment, people just like, ‘Oh.’ They saw his vulnerability and they wanted to fight for him.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, and I think that that’s one of the surprising things I think about President Trump right now is that he doesn’t recognize that actually acknowledging some weakness can actually make people feel more connected to you rather than less connected to you. One of the things that my research shows and other peoples’ research shows is I have this great phase that I use in my class; which is, ‘You want to be super human, not human super.’

What I mean by that is you want to expose your vulnerability after you’ve demonstrated your competence and that people respect you. But if you expose your vulnerability at the beginning, then it kind of undercuts your more super qualities later on. There’s this … almost like, ‘The person I thought they were super, but now I see that they’re a little human. That makes me really connect with them.’

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about the interplay between status and power. You start off this section of the book talking about there’s a difference between being powerful and feeling powerful. How can you feel powerful but not be powerful?

Adam Galinsky: Right. I think typically when we have power, and we can have power in lots of different ways. We can have power by being a boss. We can have power by the fact that lots of people respect us. We can have power by some of our social groups. We can have power if we come from like a Goldman Sachs or a McKinsey, because they have such high status in society. Typically, our power feelings correspond to our actual levels of power that we have within a context, within an organization, within society.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes we can actually have power but not recognize the power that we have, and not utilize or leverage the power that we have to feel weaker than we really are; and therefore not get some of the outcomes that we want. For example, we might actually have a really strong alternative in a negotiation, which gives us powers because it gives us the capacity to walk away. If we don’t feel powerful, we’re not going to leverage that alterative and we’re going to make meek or weak first offers in that first negotiations, for example. Or, we don’t recognize that we have power we have at work, and we give up that power to other people by letting them take control of situations.

One of the things that I have shown in my research and some of the things I do in some of my teaching and consulting is to get people to recognize the power that they do have, and therefore to leverage that and be able to utilize that power that they have … and to recognize and to feel the power they truly have.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. You talk about, too, how power, there’s that famous quote from Lord Acton, right?

“Power corrupts.”

Adam Galinsky: Yup.

Brett McKay: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What goes on? What sort of bad behavior do we take part in once we start feeling powerful? What does the research show?

Adam Galinsky: Yeah. I think when you just think about it, power gives you an incredible level of control over your own outcomes and also the outcomes of other people. In fact, that’s kind of the definition of power is that you control your own outcomes and outcomes of other people. That means that we don’t feel the same moral constraints that we would normally feel. Basically what power does, it kind of melts away those constraints. We feel relatively free and unfettered in our behavior.

Now sometimes, that’s good. Sometimes when we feel powerful, we act in an emergency where other people would feel constrained by fear of getting hurt, or being embarrassed if it’s not really an emergency. Often times, it leads to very bad behavior. It leads to cheating. I think we see a lot of that where banks felt very powerful in the mid 2000s, and that led to some very unethical behavior, risk taking behavior that led to the financial collapse. But we see this in some of these incredible, horrific examples that have merged recently, whether it’s Bill Cosby, or Harvey Weinstein, in terms of some of the sexual behaviors that people engage in.

One thing that I think is really important is you mentioned the idea of absolute power. Think about how much power Harvey Weinstein had to make or break so many people’s careers by green lighting their movies, by putting them into movies. He just used that power over and over and over again, by putting women in these incredibly awkward positions. I think that in some ways, that allows us to just act on whatever our impulses are or appetites are at that moment in time because those constraints melt away. We can see a number of different ways, whether it’s within business or in different types of interpersonal relationships; this absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Brett McKay: How do you put a check on that because you’re … I mean this is an interesting thing. That … the behavior that you engage in when you feel powerful can help you rise to the top, but if you continue that behavior, it can lead to your downfall.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah.

Brett McKay: What do you do to put a check on that?

Adam Galinsky: Yeah. I think that’s a really great question. One of the things that my research has shown is that something you just mentioned, which is really important. To get power, I need to be a really good perspective taker. I need to understand what other people around me want, give them what they need, and they’re going to then like me and help me to rise up the hierarchy.

One of the things that my research has shown is that we get in the power, we kind of lose a little bit of that capacity to understand other people, to connect with other people, to feel compassion to other people. In fact, there’s a lot of research shows that when we stop that perspective taking of others, that’s when people start to resent us when we’re in power; and people form alliances against us and overthrow our role. We see this even in the animal kingdom, where people aren’t tending to the needs of other.

What I just told you also gives us the seeds to solving this conundrum, because what I’ve shown in my research is that if we get the powerful who feel … this idea of agency action. I call it a psychological accelerator. In the same way like a car needs the gas pedal to accelerate, power is our psychological accelerator. If we take the car analogy further, if you don’t have a steering wheel, you crash into things.

We can take power and confine it with perspective taking, this idea of understanding other people, paying some attention to what they want, and their needs. Then we get the best of both worlds. We get this fine tuned race car where we’re flying down the highway but with control with our great steering wheel.

One of the things that my research has shown is one of the ways that we can get the powerful to actually take other people’s perspective is to make them accountable, to make them answer to other people and not just to themselves. Now sometimes in organizations, we try to do that with corporate boards. That’s what corporate boards are designed to do. But, we can also make people psychologically feel connected, with say a sense of responsibility for workers that can activate their perspective taking.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. Also going back to the status thing, because you know status is intertwined with power. If you are in a position of high power, high status, like don’t go around flaunting it because eventually, people are going to resent it. They’re going to bring you down. As you said, like monkeys do this. I think that’s the most fascinating thing. Monkeys have elections on who’s going to be the alpha. If one alpha is just really abusing their power, then the other ones get together and they basically just beat the crap out of the alpha monkey and run him off. You see that happening with humans as well.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, and you see this all the time. We see this, for example, even within academia where sometimes faculty take a vote of no confidence in their dean or in the president of the university, right? We need to treat people with respect. It’s funny and ironic that when we get power, we not taking other people’s perspective, we’re not getting them to feel the respect they need. But as I mentioned earlier with social comparisons, if we’re really good at paying attention to other people and recognizing their strengths, and rewarding them even just validating them with kind words, they feel respected and they give us actually more power. They allow us to maintain our power.

One of the things that I try to get leaders to do is to recognize that how their behavior impacts other people, but also just to recognize that probably used to have this capacity and that’s how they became powerful. I want to give you one great example of this, of how sometimes you don’t recognize the power of our behavior when we have power, or the effect it has.

One of the things that when you ask anyone in the world, you say, “Imagine you got a very short one sentence email from your boss that just simply said, ‘I need to talk to you.'” I ask people, “How would you feel?”

They’re like, “I’d freak out. I’d feel anxious. I’d feel worried. Oh my god, what’s happening?”

A lot of times when we do have more power, we know in our own minds that it’s not a big deal. ‘Oh, I just want to share an idea with you,’ right? But we forget the power that we have over others and the impact that statement, the ambiguity that that statement’s going to have on others.

I was working with a financial institution. The president of this company would do this all the time. The employees complained to me about it. ‘Oh my god, this happens all the time.’

I talked to the president and I said, “Why don’t you just share what it is?”

He’s like, “I don’t have time to do this.”

“okay, what can we do so that you can alleviate these people’s anxieties when you want to just get them in a hurry to come by and see you?”

They eventually negotiated a deal. The deal was, ‘If it’s not a big deal and we shouldn’t worry, just add a smiley face at the end of it; like that takes you two seconds.’ He agreed to do that. ‘If it’s not a big deal, I add a smiley face. Relieves everyone. Now if it is a big deal, I don’t add a smiley face and people know it’s a big deal, but that’s okay, too.’ But it’s just that not recognizing that the impact that we have on other people.

I think that’s a good example. Remembering the proper emoticon to send to someone when we have power to alleviate any concerns that they might have.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s a great example, because I’ve had that happen to me lots of times, where they say, ‘Hey, let’s talk.’ I’m like, ‘Ugh.’ I think some people might do that intentionally, because they know. They understand there’s a power … The power’s in their favor, because you know what you’re going to talk about but the other person has no clue. You get to just steamroll them without not being aware of what’s going to go on.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, but I think you know … how do you maintain your power in the long term? We can use what’s called dominance, or domination, or these strategies of bullying people, or making them feel unsure of their standing. That’s kind of what Donald Trump tries to do. Notice all the resentment that builds up over time.

What my research shows and I think what other people’s research shows, too, is that that’s just a wrong view of power. It’s an erroneous view of power. It’s this idea that, ‘Oh, that’s what happens in the animal kingdom,’ but that’s … As you just mentioned two minutes ago, that’s not what happens in the animal kingdom. It’s actually when we treat people with respect, that’s when we keep our power the longest.

People who believe that the way to keep my power and to maintain it is to keep other people off-guard, cut them down in meetings and show them who’s boss. That’s a recipe for long term disaster. It may work in the short term, but it’s not going to work in the long term.

Brett McKay: This segues nice to our next topic. Knowing that if you treat people with respect and as equals, or somewhat of an equal, then you … It’s better in the long term. You hear all this talk amongst companies and organizations, like okay, we need to get rid of strict up/down hierarchies. We need to flatten our organization. Be hyper-transparent, and everyone’s opinion is just as valid as ever.

You are … You show in the book that … that doesn’t necessarily gonna lead to success. It could actually just lead to utter chaos. Can you explain that dynamic there where yes, you need to treat people with respect, but you need … here’s a place for up/down hierarchies.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, and I think that … looking across the world, that hierarchy exists, first of all, in every species in the world. It also exists in every culture in the world. It exists in every organization in the world. In trying to understand this, why is hierarchy the most prominent form of social organization that exists? It’s because it actually solves a lot of problems that groups face.

For example, groups face the problem of how do we coordinate behavior? A hierarchy actually gives you a coordination mechanism. How do we motivate people to behavior? Well, if people who work hard move up the hierarchy, that makes people invest in the group and work hard for the group. How do we deal with conflict? Well, we need to have patterns of difference to resolve conflicts. If there’s four cookies and three people, who gets … and one cookie’s indivisible? Well, if there’s a boss in the room, people kind of defer to the boss.

Hierarchies solves all of these problems for groups. That’s why I think you can see what organizations have the highest hierarchy? Well, the military. What does the military need? They need lots of coordination. Hierarchy really solves their coordination aspect of it. They need … To have that coordination, they need low conflict and patterns of difference and cooperation. They get it through hierarchy.

What’s interesting is that so many organizations have tried to eliminate hierarchy to disastrous results. First example, Google. Google came in, their engineers, ‘We hate our bosses. We hate managers. Let’s get rid of managers.’ You said the word chaos, that’s what happened. Zappos, Tony Hsieh comes in, says ‘We’re no longer a hierarchy. I’m going to change the world, ‘holacracy.’ We’re going to have no titles, no hierarchy.’ And, what happened? Well, typically, 2% of the organization quit in any given year. In the first year, almost 30% of the organization quit. Why? Because they described it as chaos, as miscommunication, not knowing who was supposed to do. Hierarchy actually solves a lot of these problems.

Now, we can see again when hierarchy matters and when it’s really important, and when it doesn’t, by understanding again, what it solves; which is hierarchy really good when we need to coordinate our behavior with other people.

One of my favorite areas of research that I’ve done is a concept that I call the ‘too much talent effect.’ When we have too much talent on a team, that’s bad. When we have lots of talent on a team, that’s really bad when the team has to coordinate their behavior. Research has shown in basketball is if we have too many talented people on a team, the hierarchy breaks down. They start squabbling over who’s the alpha on the team. Their actual win percentage goes down. But baseball, where we don’t really have to coordinate our behavior, where each pitcher goes out individually, where each batter bats in a determined sequence. More talent is aways better.

It’s really interesting is when we look at this idea is, is that hierarchy really helps when you need to coordinate. Basketball has more coordination than baseball, therefore, we can get too much talent in basketball; but we can never get enough talent in baseball.

Brett McKay: Now, the basketball example is a great one. It’s relevant to me, because I’m … I live in Oklahoma. I’m a big Thunder fan. The Thunder just got George and Carmelo Anthony added Westbrook.

Adam Galinsky: Yup.

Brett McKay: You got these three really powerful, dominant players. Everyone’s like, ‘This is going to be the year that you’re going to the,’ … they’re going to win the championship. But as you said, it might not be the case because there’s … they’re going to be jocking for who’s the top.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, and I think we saw this with the Miami Heat a few years ago when it was Dwayne Wade and LeBron James; who are both A) friends, but still each want to be the alpha dog. They really … They only won the title actually when ironically, Dwayne Wade hurt his knee.

Bill Simmons had this great quote where he was like, “Dwayne Wade became 60% of Dwayne Wade.” Solve the dueling banjos problem, and then they won two championships in a row.

We saw this a little bit where Oklahoma City almost won the other night where Westbrook deferred actually to Carmelo Anthony, which is kind of an unheard of thing last year, right? Everyone would have expected Westbrook to take the final shot; but because everyone knew Westbrook was going to take the final shot, they were horrible in their final shots last year. You can see how if you can win when you have a lot of talent and you learn how to defer with that talent. We saw that last night where Durant passed to Curry in a critical point when Durant was covered, where he might not have done that if they hadn’t sort of solved some of that dueling banjos problem.

Brett McKay: Let’s go back to this. How do you … When should you implement a hierarchy and when should you implement a more flat organization structure?

Adam Galinsky: What I would probably say is first yes and yes. We want both more hierarchy and flatness. What do I mean by that? Well, we need hierarchy in the sense of we need to know who’s decision ultimately matters. We need to know who needs to go to whom in an organization. There’s a reason why people want flatness in hierarchies, is because we recognize that people have great ideas anywhere in an organization. We want to make sure that low power people’s perspectives aren’t silenced.

Just to give you one example of this, is I analyzed a 100 years of Himalayas data; every expedition that went up the Himalayas for over 100 years. What we found is, is that when an expedition came from a country that was very hierarchal, like Japan for example, they were more likely to summit. Capturing the coordination benefits of hierarchy; but they were also more likely to have people die on the mountain, capturing … They weren’t maybe utilizing everyone’s perspectives.

I think that what we need to do is we actually need to try to create organizations that do have hierarchy, but still create the opportunity for everyone to contribute and for low power voices to be heard.

Now, there’s a number of different ways that you can do this. For example, one really simple way that research has shown to get the best decisions made but still have the hierarchy is to let low power people speak first before the leader does. Once the leader speaks, everyone just gives them what they think the leader wants to hear. The leader needs to still make the decision, but they want to get everyone’s thoughts out on the table. That’s just sort of one simple example.

Another example is we can create the right type of rules in organizations. For example, during idea generation, we need to create rules that allow everyone to speak up. Some of it is no criticism of ideas during the generation phase, or no interruption when people are speaking during the idea generation phase. But, we need to also implement those ideas eventually; so then we put in a little bit more hierarchy and a little bit more structure when we get to idea implementation.

What I want people to do is not say, ‘Have hierarchy, don’t have hierarchy,’ is to know when to have hierarchy, when the more coordination is required; but still to allow low power voices to be heard with even in that hierarchy. I just want to give you just one other just great example that we mentioned in the book, which is that … John Hopkins Hospital discovered that every time we do surgery, there’s a risk. That’s the risk of infection.

They solved that risk through a five step sterilization checklist. The problem was, A) doctors didn’t always follow a checklist and two, nurses didn’t feel comfortable speaking up. How do they solve that problem? They actually put nurses in charge of the checklist. Now, doctors have no problem telling nurses if they missed a step, and nurses also felt more in control of the situation. We can start to see, understand how we can have hierarchy with low power voices still being heard.

Brett McKay: That’s great. Yeah, there’s a book, ‘The Checklist Manifesto,’ that goes into-

Adam Galinsky: I love that book. That’s where I actually got that example from.

Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah.

Adam Galinsky: ‘Checklist Manifesto,’ anyone out there, it’s a fantastic book.

Brett McKay: Just the idea of a checklist can be useful, too. You’re giving authority to this checklist instead of to yourself or to other people.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, and I think that’s … What you bring up with the checklist as being really useful going back to why hierarchy is useful, is … we need structure in our lives. We need structure, because we need that to feel in control. Again, structure … a checklist helps coordination. We’re trying to solve this, but we also need flexibility. We don’t want to rigidly apply checklists al the time when we need some flexibility to deviate from that. Part of what I’m trying to help people do in this book is find that right balance between structure and flexibility, and just …

I’ll tell you just really quickly. Some new research just got published. It’s not in the book, but I just really love it, … is we actually hired workers to do work for us. We actually … made situations where we had no contracts, really rigid contracts, or contracts that weren’t too specific, more general contracts. We actually got the best outcome and the best performance when people got contracts that weren’t too rigid. The structure of the contract was really good, but the flexibility within it allowed people to still have room to move about and still get motivated, and still feel like they had some control over the process.

We’re trying to find that right mix, holacracy doesn’t work. There’s not enough structure. Too rigid contracts also don’t work because there’s too much structure. It’s really kind of like we’re trying to find the Goldie Locks world, that proper balance between just the right amount of hierarchy and structure, and just the right amount of flexibility and low power voices being heard.

Brett McKay: One of the fun sections that I enjoyed was this about nicknames. It reminded me of an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza, he was at this office. All these employees had nicknames except for him; or he didn’t like the nickname he had. He tried to give himself a nickname and it didn’t fly. It just frustrated him. What’s going on there? Why is it that you can’t give yourself a nickname and you have to rely on other people to give you a nickname?

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, I mean I think that part of what nicknames are, are a social bonding mechanism. It’s kind of the seeds of cooperation. We connect with people by emerging from us a name that we give other people.

One of the things that I mention in the book is that what happens in a number of different areas of the military is that, in basic training, the troop gives each member a unique nickname or a marker. It actually becomes their signature. We can even see this in Top Gun, right? With goose and … what was the …

Brett McKay: Maverick, ice man, merlin, yeah.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, Maverick, ice man, goose, right? We see all of these names coming into place. It’s part of the way that we initiate people into groups. This happens in fraternities and sororities also. It’s a part of the way that we’re saying, ‘Look, we’re connected and bonding with you by the name that we give you.’

Now, … we want to have some control over the nicknames people give us; but it sort of speaks to the idea that we can’t give ourselves our own nickname.

Another thing that’s interesting is when we’re really good at giving people nicknames, that’s how we also connect with people. I like this part of the book where we talk about George W. Bush had a way with language. We think about all the ways that George W. Bush messed up the English language, right? Even telling kids, I think he said something but you have to … be good at reading, or messed up even the way the talk about reading in the English language.

He was such a master of finding the right nickname for people that gave them a sense of feeling unique, but also valued in status.

One of the great examples is he called the California senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Bockers, ‘Ali and Fraizer,’ like sort of saying, ‘You’re heavyweights. You’re like Muhammad Ali and Joe Fraizer. You’re the heavyweights that I have to deal with.’ When we’re good at giving people nicknames, that’s another way that we can gain our own sense of status and connect with other people.

Brett McKay: I think this also raises an interesting point. I think … Something I noticed different between men and women, in terms of status and sort of status, social dynamics, is that men will often use ribbing and teasing as a way to like nurture. I think sometimes women see that and they’re like, ‘What is going on there? That … You shouldn’t do that.’ It’s weird because you’re okay with that, because there’s a line you don’t cross. That it’s actually … It feels good to like, ‘This guy’s ribbing me because it means I’m a part of the group.’

Adam Galinsky: I think, I mean but that also … We even see that actually between the sexes in terms of flirtation. A lot of flirtation is actually really gentle ribbing of our spouse, our partner, a prospective romantic partner is … Again, it’s about this idea of the theme of the book. We do this at the end of every chapter, ends with finding the right balance. It’s because it’s really about finding that balance. If we can find just the right way to tease someone, we can make them feel really connected.

I have a good example of this from my wife and I met each other a little bit later in life, as I mentioned. We wanted to have kids. We got engaged and then married six weeks later in a crazy wedding in another state with over 100 people that we threw together. Anyway, my wife had all these great ideas. She woke up in the middle of the night one day and she had all of these ideas for this wedding that were completely A) monstrously expensive and B) impractical. I didn’t want to just condemn those ideas, but I teased her.

I said, “Those are such great ideas, and you know, we should get Barack Obama to do the ceremony, maybe get Paul McCartney to come sing, and maybe get Sarah Silverman to come do some comedy for us.” She ended up giggling and … because my teasing made her recognize how impractical the ideas were.

Finding the way to tease people can be really good. Actually, my wife and I have actually nicknames for each other that are actually on our wedding bands. She would always get frustrated with me. I’m sure anyone who’s ever been married to an academic can appreciate this, of how precise I always was.

She would say something, it’s like, “Oh, we walked four miles.”

“No, we walked 4.2 miles today.”

She started calling me ‘Professor Precision.’ My wife is like five two, 105 pounds; but she just walks like a troglodyte, kind of makes like really loud stomping noises, especially in the middle of the night when she would always wake me up. I started calling her ‘stampy,’ kind of like an elephant stamping around.

When you can find the right nicknames, it’s actually a really bonding mechanism for each other. That’s why we have our nicknames on our wedding bands.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. So yeah, advice there, don’t … You can’t give yourself a nickname or you’ll end up like George Costanza.

Adam Galinsky: Right.

Brett McKay: Then I guess you have to be in a position of power to give a nickname, because you can’t just be like … You couldn’t give your boss a nickname, because that would not go over well, probably.

Adam Galinsky: Probably not, right. I think that’s … in very rare circumstances could you give your boss a nickname, right? It’s got to be the most gentle of nicknames and the most kind of praiseworthy of nicknames. The slightly cheesing, ribbing nicknames are very, very difficult to give to someone who has more power than you. Now, it can work like in a fraternity. It can work in the military. It can work in with spouses when there’s equal power; but when that power gets very distant, it becomes very hard to do it up; but you can do it down all the time.

Brett McKay: This is another interesting bit of research you guys highlight in the book, because I’ve noticed this myself, is I’m engaging in email with somebody. Sometimes I’ve emailed some like really prestigious professors who are out there doing incredible work. They’ve got books out. They’re doing the TED circuit, yadda yadda. They have all these great acronyms after their name that they could put; but they just sign off with like, ‘Bob,’ or ‘Jill,’ or ‘Jane.’

Then, there’s people I’ve emailed who haven’t really done that; but they make sure to put all their acronyms after their name in their email. You’re kind of like, ‘ugh.’ What’s going on there?

Adam Galinsky: Well, so what’s going on there is that when we have high status and everyone knows we have that status, our titles, in a sense, become kind of irrelevant in our own mind; because we know we’re respected for who we are. When we are insecure in our status, that’s when we really feel the need to do that. Just I see this all the time in academia where you see assistant professors sign their emails ‘Professor X,’ or ‘Dr. Y.’ When you’re kind of an established professor, you sign it ‘Sincerely, Adam,’ or ‘Sincerely, Maurice.’ I think that ‘Sincerely, Brett,’ we can see the way that these things come into play.

There’s actually research that has been done on this. They actually went and they looked at the email signatures of professors in psychology departments around the country. They found two things that were really interesting. The first was if you came from a very high status school like a Harvard, or a Stanford, or Columbia, you didn’t have any titles in your signature. Two, if you were an individual researcher, even if you came from let’s say, not a very high status school; but you were well known in your field, you also didn’t have it.

If you came from a lower status school or you’re, let’s say a young assistant professor, then you have like lots of these titles in your signature; because you’re trying to prove to people, ‘Look, I deserve your respect. Look at my titles.’ I think that’s one of the things that we do. We see that earlier with my example of Linda Rottenberg … is that once she recognized she had respect, showing some vulnerability, not showing her titles, allowed people to connect with her even more. In fact, actually taking those titles away once you’ve established respect actually is a way for you to gain even more respect.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I think this ties in nicely because like I said, there’s research that shows people from lower economic, socio-economic status, they’re more likely to engage in conspicuous consumption.

Adam Galinsky: Absolutely.

Brett McKay: Than people who aren’t. I think it’s sort of the same thing is going on.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, and I often refer to that as the ‘Great Gatsby effect’ where Gatsby, if anyone remembers the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald thing, he came from humble beginnings but ostentatiously had these parties to display this wealth whereas the people from true money across the river or the lake didn’t have those same ostentatious displays.

Brett McKay: What’s your advice there? Should you put all the acronyms after your name, or should … or does that look like, ‘Eh, you’re trying too hard.’ Or, are there times when you should, or times when you shouldn’t?

Adam Galinsky: I think actually the research shows is that early on, it probably is a good thing. It’s to remind people that you are deserving of respect. There’s some research out there, for example, that female faculty who sign their emails with professor or doctor actually get treated better than signing it with their first name because … especially when you’re a young female professor, people … will kind of refer to you as ‘Misses,’ for example, and almost sort of undermine your authority.

I think there is some evidence that it … you want to do it but at a certain point, you want to let go of it.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. Well Adam, there’s a lot more we can talk about. As you said, there’s like 11 different books in this single book.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah.

Brett McKay: So much there. Where can people go to find more about your work and your book?

Adam Galinsky: Well, ‘Friend and Foe’ is … you can get it from Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, online. It’s an audible book, Kindle, everything that you want. I also have a TED talk, a very popular TED talk that I did last year on how to speak up for yourself. You can look that up, too. You can just put the name ‘Adam Galinsky’ into Google and see other exciting stuff that I’m doing.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Well, Adam Galinsky, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Adam Galinsky: Yeah, thank you so much. It has been a great pleasure.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Adam Galinsky. He’s the author of the book, ‘Friend or Foe.’ It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. Also, check out our show notes at where you find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness’ podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at If you enjoyed the podcast, appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you so much. Please share the show with a friend or family member. That’s how the show grows, word of mouth.

As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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