IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Give and Take': The key to advancement is thinking of others

In "Give and Take," Adam Grant offers concrete examples of how a simple shift in your thinking can make a world of difference when it comes to negotiating. Reconsider your role to reach your goal. Here's an excerpt.Sameer was ranked at the top of his class and the top 10 percent of all employees in the northeast United States at his firm, and dedicated much of his time to helping colleagues and me

In "Give and Take," Adam Grant offers concrete examples of how a simple shift in your thinking can make a world of difference when it comes to negotiating. Reconsider your role to reach your goal. Here's an excerpt.

Sameer was ranked at the top of his class and the top 10 percent of all employees in the northeast United States at his firm, and dedicated much of his time to helping colleagues and mentoring junior employees. Despite being a star performer, he watched his friends at other firms get promoted faster and earn more income, and he never negotiated his salary or asked for a raise. On several occasions, he watched assertive peers who were no better performers negotiate raises and promotions, sailing past him in the corporate hierarchy. “I did not push hard enough to make that happen for myself. I didn’t want to make others uncomfortable or overstep my bounds.”

Growing up in India, Sameer was a pushover, which made him the butt of jokes in his family. His father came from a background in poverty, and learned to be a hard-nosed negotiator who bargained for everything, clawing his family up to the middle class. Sameer grew up shielded, protected from having to assert himself. His submissiveness bothered his wife, who was a tough negotiator. When they first started dating, Sameer was about to sign a lease on an apartment. His wife intervened, negotiated on his behalf, and reduced the rent by $600 a year. He was impressed, but also embarrassed. Since then, whenever they make a purchase, he has turned to his wife to negotiate, knowing that he would be a doormat. “To be honest, I’ve been ashamed of this for a long time,” he admits.

'Give and Take'

After he left the professional services firm, Sameer completed an MBA and received a job offer from a Fortune 500 medical technology company, his ideal employer. He wasn’t entirely satisfied with the terms of the offer, but as usual, he was reluctant to negotiate. “I felt awkward. I like my boss, and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable.” Weakening Sameer’s position further, the economy had just crashed, and his peers were all signing without negotiating.

But something was different this time. By a couple months later, Sameer had negotiated increases in his total compensation to the tune of more than $70,000. He had undergone a chump change, transforming from his traditional doormat status into a more assertive, more successful negotiator. “My wife was stunned, and she complimented my persistence and effectiveness as a negotiator,” he says. “For her to see me as a good negotiator is the ultimate validation.” What was it that drove Sameer to step up to the plate?

The answer can be found in an ingenious experiment conducted by Linda Babcock and her colleagues. The participants were 176 senior executives from private and public organizations, with titles ranging from CEO and COO to president, general manager, and chairman. The executives all started with the same information: an employee in a software company was being promoted, and they were negotiating compensation for the new position. The male executives playing the role of the employee landed an average of $146,000, 3 percent higher than the women’s average of $141,000. But with a single sentence, Babcock and colleagues helped the female executives boost their averages to $167,000, outdoing the men by 14 percent.

All it took was to tell them they were playing a different role. Instead of imagining that they were the employee, the female executives were asked to imagine that they were the employee’s mentor. Now the women were agents advocating for someone else. Interestingly, they didn’t set higher goals, but they were willing to push harder to achieve their goals, which led them to better outcomes. In a similar study, researchers Emily Amanatullah and Michael Morris asked men and women to negotiate the terms of an attractive job offer. Half were instructed to imagine that they had received the offer themselves and negotiate accordingly. The other half were instructed to imagine that they had referred a friend for the job and were now responsible for negotiating on behalf of the friend. Once again, all of the participants set similar goals, irrespective of whether they were male or female, or negotiating for themselves or a friend.

But their actual behavior in the negotiations varied strikingly. Regardless of whether they were negotiating for themselves or others, the men requested starting salaries averaging $49,000. The women followed a different path. When they were negotiating for themselves, they requested starting salaries averaging only $42,000—16.7 percent lower than the men. This discrepancy vanished when the women negotiated on behalf of a friend. As advocates, women did just as well as the men, requesting an average of $49,000. In another study, Amanatullah and Morris found the same results with experienced executives negotiating: male executives landed the same salaries regardless of whether they were negotiating for themselves or others, whereas female executives did much better when negotiating for others than themselves.

Advocating for others was the key to Sameer’s chump change. When he shied away from negotiating with his initial employer, Sameer was thinking about his own interests. With the Fortune 500 medical technology company, he put himself in a different frame of mind: he was representing his family’s interests. Although he might be a doormat when he was responsible for himself, being a giver meant that he didn’t want to let other people down. “I used it as a psychological weapon against myself, to motivate myself,” Sameer says. “The solution was thinking about myself as an agent, an advocate for my family… I feel guilty about pushing too much, but the minute I start thinking, ‘I’m hurting my family, who’s depending on me for this,’ I don’t feel guilty about pushing for that side.”

By thinking of himself as an agent representing his family, Sameer summoned the resolve to make an initial request for a higher salary and tuition reimbursement. Although advocating for his family helped him succeed, Sameer was still concerned about how it would affect his reputation at the firm and his relationship with his boss. When the negotiation was finished, his boss shared a surprising sentiment: he admired Sameer’s assertiveness. “It was part of why my boss wanted me,” Sameer says. “He respected that I wasn’t going to be pushed around anymore.”

But Sameer didn’t just earn respect by virtue of negotiating; his boss was impressed with how he negotiated. By asking on behalf of his family, he showed that he was willing to advocate for others, which sent a positive signal about how hard he would work when representing the company’s interests. Babcock and colleagues call this a relational account—an explanation fora request that highlights concern for the interests of others, not only oneself. When people ask for a higher salary, they run the risk of violating expectations that they will be “other-oriented and caring, giving rather than taking in character,” Babcock writes with Hannah Riley Bowles. By offering relational accounts, people do more than just think of themselves as agents advocating for others; they present themselves as agents advocating for others, which is a powerful way to maintain their self-images and social images as givers rather than takers.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Give and Take by Adam Grant. Copyright © 2013 by Adam Grant