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:
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- On Snitching at Work: II
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- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
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It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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.