Being Politically Adept Is Not BS

I can't tell you how many times I've heard aspiring executives ask, "Do I have to BS or kiss 'you know what' to succeed?" I've even heard CEOs ask if they really have to pretend to like board members. But there is a big difference between being emotionally intelligent and politically aware within an organization and “playing the game.”

I’m here to tell you that you can't succeed in business, in the long run, unless you are emotionally and politically adept . . . period.

Why? Because organizations are systems of both visible and invisible interconnected relationships. The ability to decipher and understand political realities - as well as interrelational ones - is essential to getting things done, no matter your actual role or level of authority.

How EI impacts your career

We all know people who can get others to do things even though they are not the boss. We also know people who have been promoted into positions because of their technical competency, yet fail miserably as a leader. As the old adage goes, "People are hired for what they know and fired for who they are."

If you want to become a champ at motivating others before you have the official authority, it's important to learn how to adjust to behavioral preferences (emotional intelligence). We've all made the mistake of trying to influence someone who is analytical by talking about how wonderful a project is, when they want to know the dollars and cents of it first.

All of us have a comfort zone from which we relate to others. Some of us are more comfortable in informal settings, one-on-one, in groups, on stage or simply by themselves in front of a computer. To be effective in motivating others, you need to understand behavioral predispositions and how to make allowances for each person.

Emotional archetypes in organizations

Generally, there are two emotional categories of people in an organization setting. These types come with a “high” scale and a “low” scale, which indicates how extreme those personalities manifest.

  • Assertiveness: Generally, “low scale” assertiveness individuals tend to be less confrontational, carefully think through decisions, exert less pressure and allow others to take the initiative. “Higher scale” assertives exert more pressure, confront readily, are more risk-oriented and make quick decisions.

  • Responsiveness: On the “low scale,” responsives usually limit gestures, come across as somewhat serious, focus on the facts, and are less interested in small talk. On the “higher scale,” they may use dramatic gestures, be highly outgoing and socially initiating, focus and embrace feelings, and be less concerned about time.

Knowing these two basic “archetypes” can help you plan for interacting with these individuals. Knowing how to interact with them can basically create a map for you, letting you know how you can make a connection that gets results.

Handling assertive and responsive people

For highly assertive types who are low on responsiveness:

  • Don't force small talk.
  • Get to the point.
  • Be prepared for pointed questions and quick decisions.
  • Give an executive summary with bullet points.

Highly assertive types who are also high responsives:

  • Require lengthy digressions that will require patience on your part, while being assertive enough to bring him/her back to the original discussion.
  • Need you to get and keep their attention. They bore easily and you'll know it.
  • Will drill you on the details.

Highly responsive types who are low on assertiveness:

  • Can't be pressured to make a decision until they have all the assurances and guarantees in place.
  • Love references and referrals.
  • Pay more attention if decision impacts people.
  • May like data. If someone is an analyzer, give them all the data they need.

Highly responsive people who are also high assertives:

  • Love attention.
  • Don't like to compete
  • Enjoy taking the credit.
  • Need you to listen carefully to them. You'll need to learn to paraphrase back to them what they said so that they can "feel" understood.

There are many other nuances here, but these are the basic first steps to political and emotional intelligence in the workplace. But before you try to work with or advance your relationship with any of these people, the first step is to understand your own predispositions. Which type are you? How best do you respond to new ideas, criticism, or change? Once you know that, you’re ready to start working with others.

Political alliances

The most fun way to connect these personality types with the people you work with is to pretend you are in a foreign country. If you want to communicate successfully, you need to learn their language - you can’t expect them to learn yours, especially if you want to establish yourself as a leader.

Emotional and political awareness also take a willingness to experiment. Take a stab at making a behavioral assessment, test your assumptions, refine and try again. People will note that you’re trying to work with them, the way they need you to, and respond in kind.