Beyond Self-Interest in Relationships and at Work
Monday, January 29, 2007
Rowell Huesmann | Adam Grant
Dept. of Communication Studies and Psychology| Ross School of Business
University of Michigan
Close personal relationships and especially romantic relationships are characterized by subtlety negotiated decisions about progressive interactions (sometimes verbal, often non-verbal). The common assumption in much of the “close relationship” literature for years was that progression depended on sacrificing self-interest for mutual or other interest. However, in a theory and set of computer simulations I developed with George Levinger in the 1970’s, I showed that this was not necessarily true in the commonly understood sense of sacrificing self-interest. In my talk, I will briefly discuss this theory, show how it explains some phenomena in close relationships, and suggest that the common conception of “self-interest” needs some rethinking. I argue that self-interest, mutual interest, and other interest in fact become congruent in lasting close relationships.
Although many employees do work that has a prosocial impact– it makes a positive difference in the lives of other people– they are often distanced and disconnected from their impact. My research program focuses on building and testing theory to examine whether connecting employees to the prosocial impact of their work can enhance their motivation. I present field experiments with fundraising callers and lifeguards that examine the behavioral effects, psychological mechanisms, and boundary conditions of connecting employees to their prosocial impact. Taken together, the results challenge dominant assumptions of self-interest in motivation theories, illuminating the conditions under which the experience of making a positive difference in other people’s lives is most likely to make a positive difference in employees’ lives.