As I am glued to “Morning Joe,” “Meet the Press,” the debates and now the primaries, I can’t help but wonder if there are similarities between American politics and office politics. Once you get a bunch of people together with different agendas and beliefs, certain issues start to arise. People fight for power, darts get thrown, coalitions start to form, defensiveness develops, and people often are not operating as their best selves.
And, just as the behavior of our political candidates is the subject du jour in the news, the way that employees behave in the workplace is an ever-popular topic with our client base. Five times in two days, client discussions led to a reference to an employee’s weak interpersonal issues or low emotional intelligence. This highlights my basic belief that when people fail in their jobs the most common reason is not technical-skill-based, but interpersonal issues. Therefore, it is no surprise that at Koller Search we give great attention to how job candidates communicate and interact.
Can our sparring political candidates provide some insight for winning in the workplace?
- The political slate has been filled with different personalities and voices, leading to descriptions such as “low energy,” “boastful” or “angry.” Consider the tone and conversation style that colleagues may use when they describe you. Many labels come with judgments, so be sure that what you are projecting is what you want to be said about you.
- Candidates at town halls and on the stump can afford to present largely at one speed; in fact, unwavering consistency may even be the goal. When interacting with colleagues, however, it may be better to calibrate your approach depending on who you are dealing with. If you pay attention to the cues, you may see how to modulate your style to be more effective.
- Just as honesty and transparency are said to be important to voters, these traits are more important than ever in the workplace. The advice of when to admit wrongdoing is different for public figures than it is for an employee; the smaller stage leaves less room for “spin” and for being able to turn attention to other matters. The truth often comes out in the office setting, so it is often best to just “fess up.”
- Accountability is also an attribute we seek in our presidential choice and in our colleagues. Just as blaming the competition or the media doesn’t reflect well on the political candidates, playing the “blame game” at the office is frowned on and doesn’t even eliminate the “problem” at hand.
- Voters focus on depth of experience, and your colleagues do, too. You become more credible if, when pushing for a certain outcome or strategy, you back it up with something like, “In my experience, when X happens….the result is Y.” The more you share your experience, the more likely you will be respected and seen as authoritative.
- The pundits continually ask, “Where’s the plan?” in response to the candidates’ campaign promises. Is your supervisor asking “Where’s the solution?” to your complaints? Providing tangible, well-thought out solutions leads to a greater chance that the problems you cite will be addressed. Especially if done with finesse, delicacy and emotional sensitivity.
- Partisan politics may be a given in government, but divisive tactics are destructive in the workplace. In fact, with collaboration on virtually every company’s code of conduct today, the smallest amount of divisiveness may not be tolerated. Think instead about bringing people together and building bridges across different groups.
- Moreover, there is a level of professionalism and decorum that is associated with being a presidential candidate as well as a staff supervisor. A manager is supposed to set an example for others. Anyone in a position of authority should routinely ask: Am I living up to the responsibility given to me?
- The political candidates have set a good example of how to “say goodbye gracefully.” There is a right time to leave your job and a right way to resign. Be careful not to show bitterness or to bad mouth colleagues, but an honest exit interview is fine. And manipulative tactics to get a promotion or pay raise can backfire, so it is best to make your decision to leave or not, and make a clean break.
Both the political and office landscapes are full of bumps, sharp turns and the need for agility. While employees’ poor navigation skills may lead to more search work for Koller Search Partners, it is not the way we want to grow our business. For us, the more people in the marketplace who know how to play the political game, the better candidate pool we ultimately have. And, the more emphasis we place on assessing interpersonal skills, the better our placements will be. After all, election season will be over in 8 months, but corporate politics will be here forever.