Does Your Political Style Suit Where You Work?
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
There’s no way to live in this world and avoid politics. It’s in our homes, schools, workplaces and just about anywhere else we turn. While there’s no shortage of people who claim to hate politics, escaping it is nearly impossible. Thus the important question is: which types of politics are you ready and willing to deal with?
The continuum consists of minimally, moderately, highly and pathologically political arenas. Whether you can function effectively in one or more of these arenas depends, to a large extent, on your preferred political style as well as how far you can stretch to accommodate your surroundings. Are you a political purist who believes that reward comes from just doing your job well? Do you detest even minimally managing how things are said, to whom, when and in what way?
If not, are you more of a team player? You understand that to get things done in some environments it’s important, within reason, to do what’s best for the team or project at hand. Trading favors, smoothing the path with interpersonal skill and engaging in relatively harmless forms of interpersonal management don’t trouble you.
If neither of these styles describes you, perhaps you’re a street fighter. People who fit this style have their eyes open for what works politically. They play along to get along, develop favor banks, help those who can also be of help, watch their backs, know how to verbally spar and obsequiously relent. These are only some of their often well-hidden skills.
Finally, there are the maneuverers. Few things are out-of-bounds in their games. They poison wells, dodge and weave to deceive, destroy obstacles in their way and have little regard for the aspirations or careers they derail or destroy. Too many maneuverers among the decision makers breeds pathological politics. Fortunately, pathological arenas usually self-destruct. Unfortunately, it can take some time and a lot of harm is done in the process.
So, where do you fit? If you are a purist and work in a highly or pathologically political arena, you likely drive home stressed to the gills. Your life is one of constant, negative surprises because you have not learned the ways of the highly political beast. If you are a maneuverer working in a minimally or moderately political arena, your skills of deception may be insufficient to pull the wool over the eyes of those who prefer to operate more honestly.
It’s useful for all of us to assess our political style or combination of styles and to ask ourselves whether we need to learn more in order to continue to work where we are or to be promoted. If that’s not comfortable, moving to another type of arena may be the answer. Not all street fighters are bad people. In fact, many get good things accomplished. But if you’re not a street fighter and that’s what is valued where you work, you may be in the wrong place.
If politics of any sort still seems distasteful to you, consider, instead, knowing your own parameters in order to avoid getting sucked into unethical political activities. Hating all politics isn’t the answer. Politics is an unavoidable fact anywhere people live or work together. Know what you’re dealing with and whether some change is needed. It far surpasses walking about blindly and letting harm come your way when a little knowledge could easily make all the difference.
Kathleen will be presenting a webinar on this topic—power and influence—for the University of Connecticut on October 14, 2014.
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