Political Wisdom

August 24, 2014

RakeThere is an old saying “Too soon old – too late smart.” During my long career in a large organization, I somehow managed to do some pretty bonehead things politically.

I will never be someone who is politically brilliant because I am far too outspoken. But I have learned some things and want to pass on an idea to others.

In some training sessions, we learn about how people have their own unique learning style. Some of us learn only by doing, some by hearing , some by visualizing, etc. I remember one class where we all had to reveal our most useful learning style.

When it got to my turn, I said, “My style of learning is the rake.” Everyone in the class looked a little puzzled, so I explained. If I step on a rake and the handle comes up and thwapps me in the face, I have learned something that I will never forget.

That is a pretty accurate description of how I learned my horse sense on political mistakes to avoid. It is not to say I have found all the potential rakes out there. I still get konked from time to time, but hopefully each new learning is from a rake I have not seen before.

I will share my own list below only as an example. It is more helpful if you make up your own list based on your personality and situation or the mistakes you have already made.

Start with just one or two key things and build your list over time. It is a simple matter of keeping a computer file and remembering to add to it every time a rake handle hits you in the face.

Whipple’s 14 Rules for Political Survival (soon to be 15)

1. Know who butters your bread – and act that way
2. Act consistent with your values and spiritual rightness
3. Make 20 positive remarks for every negative one
4. Don’t grandstand – practice humility – no cheap shots
5. Understand the intentions and motivation of others
6. Follow up on everything – be alert & reliable
7. Do the dirty work cheerfully – not too good for it
8. Agree to disagree – walk away with respect
9. Don’t beat dead horses – repetition is a rat hole
10. Be aggressive, but not a pest – it’s a fine line
11. Constantly read people’s intentions & desires
12. Administrative people have real power – cultivate it
13. Keep an active social life with work associates
14. Always, Always be considerate and gracious

I often wonder how long my list will be when I take my last breath in the nursing home. We tend to learn political lessons in all areas of our life, not just at work.


Relationship Between Learning and Trust

September 14, 2013

PomeranianOne of my leadership students asked me a good question. She wanted to know the relationship between trust and learning. On the surface, the two words seem to have a tenuous relationship at best. However, after thinking about it, the question became much more interesting to me.

The analysis can go in many directions. In this brief article, I will describe three different perspectives and offer a few typical examples to illustrate them. The perspectives include:

1. Why learning from someone you trust is easier than from someone you do not trust.
2. What types of things you are likely to learn from someone you do not trust.
3. Why your retention of the learned material is much better if you have a trusting relationship with the teacher.

As a CPLP (Certified Professional in Learning and Performance) with the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), I do not recall any instruction in my certification training on the link between learning and trust, so I did some research of my own. If you Google the two words, you will find numerous pages on how we learn to trust, but not much information on how trust enables learning. It seems pretty obvious, but actually it is a little more tricky than it first appears.

For the first perspective, I should make a clear distinction that I am not stipulating whether you like the trainer or not, only whether you trust the person. For example, take the case of a drill sergeant who is abusive and likes to push people’s buttons. You may really hate this person, yet you trust him because he has the demonstrated knowledge based on his experience, and though abrasive, he does exhibit high integrity and equality for all. In this case you would probably learn well from the drill sergeant even though you cannot stand him. If you later get another trainer that you like as well as trust, the learning would come even easier.

The second perspective is a tricky one. Is it possible to learn something from someone you do not trust? Of course it is. For one thing you can learn how to avoid doing things that lower trust. By watching the mistakes of someone you do not trust, you can learn all kinds of lessons you can use to improve your life and your effectiveness. In this case, you are learning what not to do.

For example, I once worked for a duplicitous boss. He would tell people what he thought they wanted to hear, and shade the truth in order to make his life easier. I know this because I witnessed him telling two different versions of the same story to two different people on the same day. Word got around that this leader could not be trusted to tell the truth when confronted by a difficult situation. This leader obtained marginal compliance from people but not true loyalty. The concept I learned from that experience that it is important to have only one version of an event, whether it is popular or not.

Actually, it is fairly common for leaders to hide the real truth when faced with a difficult situation. Richard Edelman, in his 2013 Trust Barometer, determined that only about 20% of informed publics worldwide believe their leader will tell the truth when faced with a difficult question. The number in the USA is even lower than that (about 15%). Richard called this statistic a “crisis in leadership.”

For the third case, if you wish to learn a positive lesson or new skill, it is a big advantage if you trust the teacher. Reason: someone you trust has your best interest at heart and will stick with the teaching process until the full information has been transferred. Your faith in the instructor is what allows you to process the learning without hesitation, so the knowledge transfer and retention is much more efficient.

You do not need to worry about ulterior motives with someone you trust. You are not playing games, so that puts you in a much more receptive frame of mind, which also aids the learning process.

My conclusion is that most of the time it is easier to learn something from a person you trust, but you can learn something to avoid doing from a person whom you do not trust. It is easy to extrapolate that you can either learn to trust another individual or learn to not trust that person based on his or her demonstrated behaviors.


Learn Body Language

June 3, 2012

What is the most frequent employee complaint on Quality-of-Life surveys conducted in organizations? It is not enough effective communication (Chilingerhan, Credit Union Times, June 22, 2011). That is frustrating to managers and leaders who spend a lot of time and energy trying to communicate well. It turns out that nearly all of us have been saddled with a significant gap in our personal education. Most of us have never taken a course on how to read body language.

It is well known that humans communicate more through body language and tone of voice than they do with the words used to send messages (Mehrabian, A. 2009 “Silent Messages: A Wealth of Information About Nonverbal Communication”). It would be smart for all of us to take several courses in school on reading and controlling body language. Unfortunately most people are never exposed to formal training in this vital skill.

I find the topic of body language to be incredibly interesting, and I teach it in all my classes. I am an avid student myself trying to learn more all the time. I believe knowing this “language” is vital because, like it or not, we are sending hundreds of messages to others all the time that give them the opportunity to correctly or incorrectly decode our thoughts and intentions.
On the receiving side, we are bombarded with conscious and subconscious cues coming from other people. If we are not sensitive to the meaning being communicated, then we can take actions or make statements that are unwise, insensitive, or just plain dangerous.

It is relatively easy to get an education in body language if one is interested. There are numerous books on it and many good video disks that can illustrate the complexity. One of my favorite treatments is a DVD called “Advanced Body Language,” by Bill Acheson (www.seminarsonDVD.com). There are also many short Youtube videos that can help as well. Just go to Google and type “body language” for a full array of insightful help. Many of these resources are fun because they frequently lampoon the missed or mixed signals we sent to each other.

It is important to take the context and pattern of body language into account when we try to interpret meaning, For example, one typical piece of body language is when a person is talking and he puts his finger up to the side of his nose. That is generally thought to be a sign of exaggerating or lying, but it could just mean that the person has an itch. In fact, in Bill Acheson’s video, he makes frequent gestures with a finger to the side of his nose. It is a habitual gesture for him, and he does it unconsciously. Imagine, a full time expert on body language giving an ambiguous signal like that roughly every five minutes. It demonstrates two points 1) do not interpret all signals literally, and 2) you are often not conscious of the body language signals you are sending out.

The point I am making here is that if you are not studying and learning all you can about body language, then your education is incomplete and your communication is hampered. Get online and start learning all you can about the signals we send each other. Become sensitive to the cultural differences in body language because each culture has a unique set of signals that need to be factored into any dealings.

Do not take every piece of body language as a literal signal. Rather, look for patterns that can explain what is behind the words. Consider the context around the body language signal so that its meaning is more precise. You will find yourself becoming a lifelong student of body language, and your level of communication, both going out and coming to you to be vastly richer.