Daily, we engage in dozens or hundreds of social transactions. We greet others; we say farewell; we yield (or not) in hallways, on the street, or entering elevators; we shake hands, wave, or hug; we hold doors open for others; we let doors close; we place lunch or latte orders; we leave voicemail; we send email thanks; and on and on.
We can choose from dozens of different approaches to these engagements. There are degrees of intensity, cheerfulness, and enthusiasm. Usually we make these choices without thinking much about them.
Some social transactions are reciprocal: one party initiates, and the other responds. Each chooses a style, more or less voluntarily. Waving hello from afar is an example of a reciprocal transaction. Other social transactions are mutual: the two parties usually engage in the transaction in similar styles, because of the nature of the transaction. Shaking hands and hugging are examples of mutual social transactions.
In mutual social transactions disagreements as to style are awkward at best. They can even result in insult. One stance that leads to disagreement is insisting on doing it one's own way, despite the preferences of the partner. Another stance, perhaps even more problematic, is being completely unaware that one's own way is just one way, and that it might differ from the partner's. The former entails at least an acknowledgment that others have a point of view, while the latter might be considered a form of cultural ignorance.
Here's an example of a disagreement. Interviewers of candidates for employment report that occasionally, at the end of an interview, when the interviewer extends a hand for a parting handshake, the candidate will approach for a hug, effectively brushing aside the extended hand, saying, "I'm a hugger." In effect, the candidate says, "We're doing it my way."
Sometimes, a power differential between the parties settles the question. The less powerful yield to the more powerful, because resistance can be socially — or financially — In mutual social transactions
disagreements as to style
are awkward at best. They
can even result in insult.expensive. Whether we have the greater power or not, we tend to accept this resolution, but when viewed from outside the power system, it's clear that using power to settle differences in approaches to social transactions is no more fair or right than is using any other form of coercion.
Our personal preferences probably arise from the cultures and microcultures of our early years. Yet, as adults, we mix with others from many different cultures, and then we must make choices about how we engage in mutual social transactions. We can demand that our own preferences prevail, we can yield to others, or we can seek a mutually acceptable arrangement. Reflect on how you've dealt with this issue so far today or so far this week. How do you feel about that? What can you change? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Workplace Politics and Integrity
- Some see workplace politics and integrity as inherently opposed. One can participate in politics, or
one can have integrity — not both. This belief is a dangerous delusion.
- Big Egos and Other Misconceptions
- We often describe someone who arrogantly breezes through life with swagger and evident disregard for
others as having a "big ego." Maybe so. And maybe not. Let's have a closer look.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: III
- Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost
way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control
of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.
- The Costanza Matrix
- The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if
you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.
- Hidden Missions
- When you meet people who seem unfit for their jobs, think carefully before asking yourself why they
aren't replaced immediately. It's possible that they're in place because they're fulfilling hidden missions.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
- And on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.