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Turning Adversity into Advantage


15 min read
5 take-aways
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The right perspective lets you turn obstacles into advantages.

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Harvard Business School associate professor Laura Huang provides a playbook for finding a competitive advantage in situations where you are clearly at a disadvantage. She points out that you can’t prevent people from forming quick perceptions, because evolution wired the brain to make rapid judgments based on minimal clues. But you can influence what people think by offering alternative cues. Huang shows how to turn disadvantages into advantages by gently “reframing” other people’s perceptions.


Gain an edge by turning possible disadvantages into advantages. 

When you engage in negotiation – trying to land a job or raise start-up capital, for example – you need to contend with other people’s perceptions of you. You could have the right skills and a sound business plan, but people may not take those into account when they form an impression. Particularly when you first meet someone, he or she will form hasty judgments generally based on cues they can observe, like how you look, act, speak or dress. Many of these perceptions will be inaccurate or superficial. Often that individual’s personal biases will drive how he or she evaluates you – on your looks, your race or on the prestige of the school you attended.

You can gain an advantage, an “edge,” in such situations if you understand how perceptions develop and polish your strategies for reshaping those impressions to your benefit.

This is not about deception, but about delighting others with your authentic self. You won’t try to hide that you didn’t go to an elite school, for example, or that English is not your first language. Never apologize for these essential parts of your ...

About the Author

Laura Huang is an associate professor at Harvard Business School. She earned a 2016 Kauffman Foundation Fellowship for her research. Poets & Quants named her one of the 40 Best Business School Professors Under 40.

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