How I learned to Stop Being a Doormat
Trying to support as many people as possible made me a much more effective negotiator.
Adam Grant is the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and a leading expert on success, work motivation, and helping and giving behaviors. He has been recognized as Wharton’s single-highest-rated teacher, one of the world’s 40 best business professors under 40, and one of BusinessWeek’s favorite professors. Previously, he was a record-setting advertising director at Let’s Go Publications, an All-American springboard diver, and a professional magician.
Adam earned his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan, completing it in less than three years, and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa honors. He has been honored with the Excellence in Teaching Award for every class that he has taught. He has presented for leaders at organizations such as Google, the NFL, Merck, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, IBM, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. He has appeared on CNN and CBC, and designed several experiential learning activities based on The Apprentice in which students have raised over $175,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation while developing leadership, influence, networking and collaboration skills.
Adam’s research has been featured in bestselling books, including Quiet by Susan Cain, Drive and To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, as well as hundreds of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine,USA Today, The Financial Times, Oprah Magazine, and the Freakonomics blog. Adam has more than 60 publications in leading management and psychology journals, and his pioneering studies have increased performance and reduced burnout among engineers and sales professionals, enhanced call center productivity, and motivated safety behaviors among doctors, nurses and lifeguards. In 2011, he won the triple crown of prestigious scholarly achievement awards from the American Psychological Association, the Academy of Management, and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
When I was a freshman in college I took my first job and I was working as an advertising sales associate for the Let’s Go Travel Guides. And my job was to call up a bunch of clients somewhere, hotel operators and airline people and try to convince them to advertise their services in the Let’s Go books. And I was just a disaster.
I was trying so hard to help my clients that I actually sacrificed my company’s interests along the way. I gave a bunch of discounts that were actually prohibited in my contract. I even refunded a client’s money for the previous year becoming, I believe, the first ad associate in company history to give away money that was on the books from a prior year. And I was just a complete doormat.
I had this really eye opening experience one day where I actually met an assistant manager at our company whose job was funded by advertising revenue from Let’s Go. And at that point it became clear that I had a responsibility to serve the company’s interests, not only the client’s interests. And I started becoming much more tenacious. Instead of, you know, easily agreeing to every client request I would think about how my responsibility is to try to actually serve and help job creation and bring in as much revenue as possible so that we can support more people working here.
That gave me the motivation to really try to support as many people as possible and that made me a much more effective negotiator. And I went from having almost zero success at all to setting a series of company records for advertising sales and bringing in the largest new client in company history as well as the largest ad package in history. And got promoted to Director of Advertising Sales at age 19 and my job was to hire and train and motivate a staff. And this was really all from seeing that my work could make a difference in the lives of others. And that motivated me to step up my game.
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