When Moral People Understand Politics

I wrote THE SECRET HANDSHAKE and IT’S ALL POLITICS because there is no such thing as an effective business, nonprofit, or government manager or leader who doesn’t know the ins and outs of politics.  Politics, especially the interpersonal dynamics behind-the-scenes, is a part of how things get done in every organization.

My first book was about persuasion, as was much of my early research.  But aptly choosing persuasion strategies depends on understanding the political culture in which those strategies may be applied.

Power is not as important as a significant knowledge of politics. The former does not last without the latter.  No one is above politics.  We are immersed in it.  Those who overestimate their political acumen pay a price.  Sometimes it takes a while.  But it’s inevitable.

It’s important to encourage people of high moral character to learn about politics so that those at the other end of the continuum don’t come out ahead.  Aristotle believed people could only defend themselves from sophistry if they understood the ways in which they might be duped.  Nothing has changed in that regard.

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How Well Do You Handle Your Choice Points in Conversation?

What were President Trump’s goals when he shared “highly classified” information with Russian officials?  It’s difficult to be sure.  We do know that what he said in the Oval Office resulted in a firestorm of criticism.  Was he “shooting from the hip,” trying to impress, or purposely giving away secrets?

As a rule, we don’t sufficiently consider the communication competence of presidential candidates.  Being a businessman was touted as a positive attribute during Trump’s presidential run.  But there are many failed businessmen and businesswomen.  Certainly we don’t need slick communicator presidents, but high on our list of important characteristics should be how well a candidate thinks on his or her feet — recognizes and effectively utilizes conversational choice points or turns at talk.

In the course of conversation, each statement or nonverbal expression one person makes is influenced by the anticipated and previous contributions of one or more others. Effective communicators know this.  They don’t simply talk.  They don’t just react.

Early on, especially in conversations that could have serious personal or professional consequences, it’s important to know where you want to go, topics you’d like to avoid, tone or “attitude” stances that facilitate as well as those that hinder, and potential obstacles that you’ll need to go around, over or work through.  At each choice point, opportunity exists to locate or retain a constructive path.

How do you handle your choice points?  Do you simply let conversations happen to you rather than guiding them away from disappointing or disastrous outcomes?

Conversations are the building blocks of relationships.  Relationships are the building blocks of most careers.  When we abdicate our responsibility in communication, we put our personal and professional futures in jeopardy.  Elect people to power who have no sense of this responsibility and we put all of us at risk.

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THE SECRET HANDSHAKE is Now on Audible

THE SECRET HANDSHAKE has been on a number of bestseller lists since its publication. Now, especially with all that is going on with regard to politics around the world, it’s available in audio.

Whether business, government or nonprofit politics, THE SECRET HANDSHAKE is a guide to navigating the subtle and often behind-the-scenes actions that influence your effectiveness and career.

Are you a purist who believes politics is a distraction or a street fighter who sees it as important — not only to getting things done but to protecting yourself from those who would hinder your progress or even derail your career?

What kind of political culture surrounds you at work, in the PTA or as a scout leader? Even church choirs have political cultures.  Is your environment minimally political or pathological?  To survive or thrive, you need to know.

Here’s the audible version.

 

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Was the President Suckered in the “Context of Conversation”

People who become effective leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, but they strengthen their chances of success—and avoid serious errors of judgment—through careful deliberation and preparation.  In short, their courage is calculated rather than impulsive.

Learning to take an intelligent gamble requires an understanding of what I described in HBR as the courage calculation — a method of making success more likely while avoiding rash, unproductive, or irrational behavior.

Six discrete processes make up the courage calculation: setting primary and secondary goals; determining the importance of achieving them; tipping the power balance in your favor; weighing risks against benefits; selecting the proper time for action; and developing contingency plans.

Were any of these rational steps involved in President Trump’s decisions last week to share “highly classified” information with his Russian visitors to The White House?  Had he considered the lives he would surely put in danger and the relationship with the ally who provided the highly classified information?  Did the president consider the inevitable weakening of his trustworthiness and how that would jeopardize the receipt of future classified and secret information from allies?

Leadership at its best is not about bravado or impulsivity just as it is not about inaction.  It is about considered action even when speed is crucial.  Rarely is it a solo activity as major decisions often require the advice of perceptive, informed and intelligent advisors.

National Security Advisor McMaster today stated that the president made the decision to share highly classified information in the context of the conversation — on the spot.  As such, it was not based on preparation and consideration, but was spontaneous.

It’s conceivable that he was suckered into giving away highly classified information by a tactic used in conversation called apparent self-disclosure.  One party acts as if he or she is sharing personal or private information in order to elicit reciprocal disclosure from another.  In other words, conversation depends on patterns that can be manipulated — another reason for significant preparation before meetings with potential or current adversaries.

The president promised as a candidate to increase the protections of classified information.  Instead, we’re now told he can suddenly declassify information merely because it suits the conversation at hand.  This is not leadership.  It is playing fast-and-loose with America and all it represents simply because he can.

 

 

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A Twisted Presidential Agenda — The Firing of James Comey

Skilled observers can perceive disconnects between the nonverbal expressions and verbal comments of politicians.  Or between their spoken comments and their subsequent actions.

Given the failure of many journalists to pick up on such disconnects and trace them to irreconcilable actions, it’s more important than ever for ordinary people to become more adept at noticing and reading those contradictions.

Today, as Vice President Pence discussed the firing of FBI Director James Comey, his considerable ability to convey conviction or dismay by a mere tilt of his head or a squint of his eyes couldn’t camouflage his willingness to turn on a dime to justify the disturbing actions of the president.

Skilled observers watch for such cues as the slight sneer, the snicker, the twitch of eyes, the turn of the head, and the odd change in vocal pace, tone or volume.  Even the best of liars leak cues.  Fail to read them and you may be misled or even blindsided.

Previously on this site, I have disagreed with Director Comey’s decisions regarding then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  However, the unprofessional, insulting way that President Donald Trump fired Comey demonstrated once again a crude sense of entitlement that poses a danger to U.S. democracy.

What appears to be erratic leadership or adjusting to the job of president is a methodical ambiguity in governing.  The president gave as a reason for Comey’s firing the American people’s need to regain confidence in the FBI — yet the timing and tone of the abrupt dismissal damages the agency’s ability to continue  an effective investigation into the alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.  How can that possibly increase confidence?

Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation and its damage to her campaign was praised by President Trump only months ago.  The Director was supposedly doing his job until that job involved what Trump likely saw as disloyalty.  In this case, the response to such disloyalty has been disguised as administration recognition of a rather sudden lack of confidence in Comey by increasing numbers of key people.  First it was the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General who carried water on the decision.  According to Sarah Huckabee Sanders today, high ranking people in the FBI had lost confidence as well.

If indeed there was a growing lack of confidence in James Comey’s leadership, a process over time, what was the rush to fire him yesterday and do so before talking with him?

For how long will such discrepancies between leadership and truth pass as presidential idiosyncrasies rather than the pathological politics they reveal?  How long will it take for the press to call out Republican leaders who give boilerplate responses to important questions — that is, if they bother to respond at all since the latest fad is to rudely walk away?

When people smell a rat, that usually means there’s a rat in the vicinity.  Comey’s precipitous firing raises the odor of rats — and not for the first time.  If we don’t see the disconnect there, we’re simply not looking.  Or, worse, we’re turning our heads and justifying what can’t be justified in the service of those advancing their own twisted agenda.

 

 

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Perspective Drifts Like a Log on a River – Book Review

Perspective Drifts Like a Log on a River ( Book Review also on Huffpo)

Michael Keith’s book Perspective Drifts Like a Log on a River is a marvelous collection of exactly what the title suggests – perspectives.  Keith is masterful at guiding his readers on unique journeys to places they would not visit on their own.  It takes extraordinary imagination to forge the ironic, satirical, witty, probing and sensitive paths of this authorial treasure.

Any writer or aspiring one could not help but smile after reading “Blank Page” in which Gerald “urgently” wants to become a writer.  He invests heavily in reaching his goal while living a fascinating life.  But what does Gerald do?  He concludes that he doesn’t have material from which to draw inspiration even as it is before him each and every day.

You might wonder while reading Keith’s work if he finds all of us a little odd.  Surely he has met a “Book Worm” like the one who pretends to read massive tomes, even purchasing them to give to friends so they might consider him sophisticated.  Keith has likely met (or perhaps is) the man who concludes his wife is mentally unsound because she disagrees with him in the perfectly titled “Hearing Problems.”

The author takes a jab at “dumb humans” who don’t believe life exists elsewhere in the universe.  There are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the observable universe.  So surely, Keith writes, someone somewhere can actually spell out that number.

There’s no shortage of “what-ifs.”  For example, the man who lives a good life only to learn from St. Gabriel that it was too good for entry into Heaven.  Fortunately, most of us haven’t crossed that line.  But who even knew one existed?  And what if you spent your life being a florist, loving flowers, only to be asked when it’s too late: “Why do you insist on killing them?”

Keith takes one of several gender-difference forays in “Upon Witnessing a Dialogue Between Aliens.”  Two female “friends” disparage each other until their husbands must leave the room for fear of bloodshed.  Not long after, the women emerge arm and arm wondering if anyone can understand how men think.

One of my very favorites is also the title of the book.  Perspective does drift like a log on a river.  Dan Simmons, age 59, overcomes early adversity to achieve a “bucolic existence” with his loving wife and two adorable children. Yet, one day he finds himself plagued by feelings of remorse about his entire life.  Had he lost everything or, like so many of us, simply lost perspective?

This is a book about absurdities and contradictions that most of us let pass.  Michael Keith opens our eyes to them.  He toys with our expectations.  Just when you think you have his perspective down, when you’re sure the next insight will be at someone’s expense, Keith tells us of Eugene Bickford whose wife welcomes him to the afterlife for another wonderful journey.

Keith’s book is also a wonderful journey.  Whether you prefer novels, short stories, poems or vignettes, you will find delectable pleasure in the provocative Perspective Drifts Like a Log on a River.

 

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Marching For Science To Protect Our World

Today thousands of people will join the March for Science in Washington, D.C.  — to say nothing of those who will march around the world.  As a chemistry major turned social scientist, there is no doubt in my mind that, as the March for Science website states, we must all “defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies and government.”

The March for Science is a celebration of science.  It is intended to be nonpartisan. Anyone who cares about the future of the earth and its inhabitants has a stake in the support of science as a process of inquiry.  This doesn’t mean that artistic endeavors are less important or that faith should be demeaned.  There are many ways of making sense of our surroundings and the meaning of life.  But we can’t sit back and allow a rejection of science any more than we would accept a rejection of art.

The March for Science movement is described on their website as follows:

“It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world. Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense? … We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science.”

It is difficult to grasp why science must be defended.  It has brought us so much.  Without an appreciation for science and robust interactions among scientists, educators and the public, we risk becoming gullible.  Children deprived of science in schools are bound to grow up less aware of their surroundings and easy prey of those who advance their views as if true understanding is a popularity contest.

Scientists know that definitive answers are not always within our grasp.  In some fields, we have yet to learn what questions to ask, let alone have answers.  Science cannot explain everything.  But without support for science and scientific integrity, we and future generations will suffer in the darkness of ignorance.

Any country that lessens the importance of science does so at its own peril.  A weakening of scientific education weakens us all.  It gives an advantage to people who know little about the world, yet wield significant power.  It places ignorance above understanding.

Hats off to all the marchers around the world making a difference today in defending science in the service of enlightening mankind.

 

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