The Wrong Question: Is This Person Worth a Favor?

People are linking all around the globe.  It’s supposedly savvy to know and be known, to connect and be connected.  But too often these connections are peripheral.  People don’t mind knowing you so long as they don’t have to provide help or advice.  It’s a one way street, and that’s unproductive politically.  Takers ultimately lose and they don’t have much fun in the process.  After all, helping other people is usually enjoyable.

If, however, you’re not of that mindset, then think about this:  Unexpected favors can be especially powerful.  While doing research for The Secret Handshake, I met a woman who years earlier had helped other middle managers by providing them with copies of two of the six systems engineering exams she’d taken.  One of these managers later became her boss.  Because of the unexpected favor she’d given him when she had nothing obvious to gain, he ordered all the books and materials she later needed to excel in the remainder of her exams.

Giving credit when it’s due is another way to do favors that cost next to nothing.  The politically astute are not arrogant.  They know that giving someone a chance to be an expert, to look good, is not their loss.  If the recipient has done his or her homework and contributes constructively, it’s a favor well deserved.  “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” “That’s a new twist and interesting too,” and “That really helped clarify things” are examples of compliments that may make someone’s day at no expense.  Yet, so many people think giving a compliment causes them to lose something.  In negotiation, we refer to such people as having a “fixed pie” view of things.  They perceive that every little benefit given to one person is a loss to them.  They want the whole pie.

What goes around does indeed come around.  So what’s the harm of sending around a little good news?  None.  When we take more than our share, others become defensive. When we give more than expected in a gracious and competent fashion, others are usually more willing to give in return.

Being politically astute is not about being the person with all the marbles.  It’s about sharing when the time is right.  I’ve consulted for organizations where too many compliments were passed around to the point that they were meaningless.  I’m not suggesting this at all.  “That’s awesome” is usually a silly compliment.  Rarely is something awesome.  If people get used to hyperbole in their compliments, there is no room for something simply being a “good job.”

So, don’t overdo.  But avoid the opposite as well.  All this connecting and linking peripherally to people without expecting to help any of them out now and then is a poor substitute for actual connectedness where reciprocity is an important part of being human and a far more important aspect of political savvy than most people realize.


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