It was the summer of 2005. Or maybe 2006. A hot, sweltering New York City kind of humidity – impossible to escape except directly under the blast of air conditioning.
My phone rang at 10 p.m. The kind of call that yanks a parent’s heart out of their chest, spins it around, and dumps it on the floor before grinding cruel fate’s heel right into its core. A call from the head of camp, with serious and bad news about my son.
What could it be? Dismemberment of a color war rival during archery? Dealing nickel bags of heroin to the pubescent set? Leading a pantie raid of the girls camp across the lake?
No, none of those things. He’d been caught cursing – again.
Okay, I guess dropping the f bomb and other colorful bon mots isn’t particularly charming in a ten year old. You have to wonder what kind of future my son, the juvenile potty mouth, could ever expect if he’s going to swear like a delingquent and cuss like a down at the heel drunk. How could he grow up and hold a position of respectability, power and influence if he was known for profanity instead of well articulated thought?
Oh. Yeah. Right. Scratch that. I guess Malcom was just ahead of his time. And it wasn’t like I could fire him to get rid of the problem, could I?
Here’s what I don’t get.If all those expletives, which are still bleeped by censors in some strange, patronizing overly protective way, are no longer verboten, then I want my two favorite words in the English language to be widely and lovingly used by all my clients. They’re words that mark you as an evil corporate citizen, reviled and avoided by all.
Manipulation and politics.
I know that politics is a dirty business, but any one who’s had a job for twenty minutes recognizes that it’s a key part of getting ahead. And I think “office politics”, as a term, has been badly misunderstood.
I’m not defining it as back stabbing, plunging knives in the back (or the front, thank you Mr. Mooch!) of your colleagues, but instead recognizing the need to build strategic alliance among peers as well as building a strong relationship of trust with your boss. Want a project to succeed? You’ll need allies. Want to get promoted? You’ll need your boss’s support. Have a mortal enemy in the office? You’ll need a strategy to neutralize their impact so there’s no blow back on you. All of these actions are political – and there’s nothing dirty about them.
Manipulation has also gotten a bad rap since the 15th century, when your friend and mine, Niccolo Machiavelli, became known for recommending unscrupulous behavior to Florentine leaders, including deceit, deviousness and out right killing of opponents.
But that’s a little one sided.
Scholars have argued that Machiavelli was a major indirect and direct influence upon the political thinking of the Founding Fathers of the United States due to his overwhelming favoritism of republicanism and the republic type of government. Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson followed Machiavelli’s republicanism
Manipulation at work can mean a nuanced message that’s thoughtfully written for a desired response. That response is a direct result of you considering your audience: what matters to them? What do they need to hear? What’s the right tone? The right sequence? It doesn’t mean lying – but it does mean sharing information in a way that is persuasive and compelling. If you want to influence someone, you are always slightly managing and changing yourself to reach people and get through. The dictionary definition includes being clever and skillful. It’s not the word that’s dirty, it’s what you do with it.
I don’t know about you, but I would trade clever and skillful alliance building and sensitivity in a heart beat for profanity laced rants and raves from people in positions of power – be they walking the corridors of power in Washington D.C or prowling the trading floor on Wall Street. Add to the pile that guy on the 6 train, snarling at me just because he was having a lousy day. Isn’t life in the big city tough enough?
And as for my son? He comes by it honestly. His grandfather was a sailor.