For some, political skill may be a natural, or intuitive, trait. For others, it feels uncomfortable and takes great effort. In either case, political skill must be practiced and honed in order to reap its benefits. Listen to these eight strategies to improve your political skill from the Center for Creative Leadership researchers Bill Gentry and Jean Leslie, along with Florida State professor Gerald Ferris, co-author of Political Skill at Work:
Skill #1: Seek feedback. Self-awareness is the first step to being politically savvy. By understanding your personality and getting a good picture of your behavior, you’ll be able to see how you respond in various circumstances, Leslie explains. Routine feedback and evaluation sessions with bosses, peers, subordinates, customers and others will also help you gauge how well you are developing politically.
Skill #2: Learn your environment. Each organization has its own political climate. Political skill is played out in your specific context. Get to know the formal and informal systems and limits of the organization. Then begin to figure out when and how to work within that environment.
Skill #3: Learn to listen. Ferris says good listeners are able to read and understand a situation, which is essential for knowing how to respond as a leader. Techniques of active listening – paying attention, holding judgment, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing and sharing – can be learned and practiced. Be sure to pay attention to nonverbal cues as well.
Skill #4: Turn it around. Politically skilled leaders look beyond their own immediate needs. Consider another person’s situation, suggests Ferris. What can you give them? Understand why your request might affect them negatively. Find a way to appeal to the common good.
Skill #5: Activate your network. Draw on the knowledge and resources of others, and offer your own. Be a broker of ideas and information. Find ways to work across organizational boundaries by bringing people from outside your group into meetings or ask for their ideas.
Skill #6: Learn influencing tactics. CCL describes influencing as making appeals based on logic, emotion or a sense of cooperation. The most effective influencers know how to utilize all three approaches, notes Leslie.
Skill #7: Seek out training. Leadership and team training can improve your ability to build and maintain relationships, manage conflict and work collaboratively. Other specific skills, such as public speaking or communication techniques, can also be helpful. According to Ferris, drama-based training can help you learn emotional regulation and control, recognition of nonverbal cues, management of voice tone and the like.
Skill #8: Find a guide. A coach or mentor can help you make sense of feedback and help you structure your learning agenda. Whether your mentor or coach works in your organization or is external to it, he or she can help you spot dynamics or situations that are politically charged.
These tips can help hone your political skill, but they can also assist you in all areas of your work life. And pretty soon, you’ll be the person to know.