Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Behave for success: Part 2

[A recent commentator responded to the post below with the question of whether I do any of these things. I am pretty sure that I do not. I am not as outspoken as I once was but it has nothing to do with strategic behavior designed to advance my own interests. Instead, as a friend advised me, I was just spitting into the wind.]

It's not an official term but what I use to describe those with working class backgrounds who end up in the world of academics is "socioeconomic displacement." In other words, your parents did not go to college, you are the first in the family to do so and your natural career path might be middle management somewhere. Instead you end up is a strange world. The big advantage of the displacement is to observe the behavioral traits of those born to privilege and choose whether to imitate them. If you are willing to imitate, here are some sure fire tips some of which have appeared before in this blog.

1. Be careful not to overuse "please" and "thank you." These are words of weakness. They suggest you are asking for something to which you are not entitled or have received something that was not rightfully yours all along. So you write to a college and ask, "Could you explain the difference between Marx and Ted Koppel." When the careful answer comes back do not instantly write. "Thanks. That really helps!" No, say nothing or if you feel really pinned down when you see the person say "Thanks for your response." This does n0t mean that the response helped -- that would be too much to concede -- but gets you off the hook from expressing any sense of obligation.

2. If you do anything ever, no matter how greedy you were about it, remember to express it as "volunteering." You know. "I am volunteering to let you pick you the tab for lunch." Or, "I volunteered to fly to Paris for the law and fashion conference." Volunteering means someone owes you, not the other way around.

3. Never oppose the administration on behalf of someone other than yourself. A faithful employee gets fired, not your problem. The dean says he is giving his buddies a raise and asks you what you think. It looks good to you as long as you were not eligible for the same raise.

4. Take no position unless you have a great deal of company. This is important. There is no right, wrong, good or evil. It is all about protecting your options. Even if you teach professional responsibility, talk about ethics or attend church or temple. Lying, half-truths, nondisclosure are all permitting in service to yourself no matter how low the benefit to you or high the cost to someone else.

5. If you take a position, show that it does not matter that much. If you show passion or caring you show weakness.

6. Use information strategically. If you have information that someone else wants it is of value to you if only because someone else wants it. Even if it seems worthless to you, hang in there. Some one may ask you and instantly your importance increases.

7. If you are in a discussion and feel you are not convincing the other person, quickly pull out one of the old favorites -- incivility, bullying, offensive behavior. Forget the fact that overuse of these words minimizes real instances of cruelty and inequity.

You are on your way to being a true "professional."


Anonymous said...

I think you pretty much covered the bases on that one. However, I couple of things I might add that would help contextualize this. Relating to my earlier comment about networking, actual productivity and the like, one of the useful conceptual tools that I use to understand this type of behavior is that it is useful to think of this type of behavior as quasi economic "brand management". I say quasi because it is not really economic in the sense that people are making decisions based upon actual situations that involve cost benefit analysis, it is more that they are managing their own "personal brand" much like Lexus or Infinity manages their image as a luxury brand that is some how different from Toyota and Nissan (which incidentially are their parent companies). If you assume that people are doing this and then add in a heaping mound of passive aggressive behavior (obviously no important person would ever dear be direct about what they think) you end up with academics. For instance the habit of not replying to people immediately can be seen as individuals trying to create the image of aloofness and importance (being their own scarce luxury brand) since only unimportant people get back to right away (that is being available and cheap)...... Needless to say it is not particularly efficient from an organizational perspective and frequently boarders on comical.....

first thing said...

I am in academia and I am from a strong working class background. In fact, I would venture to guess that my identification is strong enough to make many people I work with a bit uncomfortable. That being said, while I agree with some of your list, I feel that a few of them would cost me my own personal integrity, something I am ot ready to do. For instance, I would not avoid standing up to someone who had been wronged. Nor would I be afraid to stand up for myself, even if I were the only one standing.

I know that sounds a bit pollyanna, but I really believe in principle and integrity.

Which I'm sure I will continue to have after I have lost my job. HA! I'm here all week!

But seriously, is it not more of an indication that we are unworthy of our positions if we adamantly refuse to take a principled stand for fear of losing our jobs? can only privileged people stand up for themselves or take unpopular stands?

I dunno; maybe you were just being comically cynical, in which case, ignore what I said...

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Actually it was a tongue in cheek description of how elites behave and how non elites would have to behave to "pass."

CLEP exams said...

Thanks for the comment.

nisha said...

This is an excellent thought provoking post.

shorter college georgia said...

Thank you for the advice. I think there’s nothing wrong saying “Thank You” as a manner of appreciation but following your tips is not a bad idea at all. I guess it’s time to be different than before and become strong and professional.