Can Politics Be Learned?

I’ve been asked this question many times.  And also about persuasion, which I have studied and taught even longer.  I learned long ago that all the persuasion strategies in the world are useless if you don’t understand the political climate in which they’re being applied.

Probably, the real question being asked is can political skill be improved beyond what is learned as a child.  We know children aren’t born knowing what it means when someone poisons your well at work.  We learn over time that people operate often in their own best interests and when those goals cannot be overtly expressed, they turn to subtle, sometimes damaging, forms of managing others.  As they take hold within a group, these practices become part of the culture.  The ones who created them may leave, but their mark remains.  It then becomes the task of those who follow to figure out how things are done aside from how they’re supposed to be done and to keep track of changes.  That takes study and often learning the hard way.

Mentors can help in the learning process — if they’re adequately skilled at understanding and managing politics.  To help further, I wrote a few books on politics at work, including The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics.  To show how virulent politics can function beneath the surface and because it’s a story I couldn’t get out of my mind, I wrote a fictional account of how politics can usurp an otherwise good environment — Shadow Campus.  Here you see how political operatives work behind the scenes, applying unwritten rules, forcing others to follow them all in the context of academia — but it’s much the same everywhere.  I know because of the years I’ve spent consulting for various types of organizations.

Stories are how we learn much of what we know and so while Shadow Campus is a mystery-thriller, not a how-to about politics, it is a means of learning politics by observing the characters’ attempts to unravel and understand how their political climate functions.

Elizabeth Warren’s stories in her new book, A Fighting Chance, are ways that women, and men, can learn what it takes to deal with negative politics.  There are no step-by-step instructions in the book, but you do get a sense of what it takes to fight against people who are used to working behind the scenes ruining careers, if need be, to get what they want.

At this blog site, you’ll find more on politics.  What to say to whom when, issues of timing, how to identify unwritten rules, using choice points in conversation to turn things around, and more.  There are tutorials for women (see category list in right column) and more. You’ll find blogs not relevant to your interests, but hopefully ones that are helpful in expanding your knowledge of politics or helping your son, daughter, grandchild or someone you’d like to see avoid being blindsided.  Welcome to the blog.  If you have a specific question, send it along in the comments section.  I’d be glad to hear from you. Kathleen

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