“Boots on the Ground” — A Close-up on Campaign Rhetoric

Today I posted a short blog at Huffington Post. Democrat or Republican, the next time I hear a presidential candidate talk about putting “boots on the ground” I might spit. Where are the journalists who should be asking exactly what that means? And I don’t just mean sending troops. I’m talking about when they return home too.

It’s one of those euphemisms that allows the user to seem tough. In reality, more often than not, its purpose is to make the person who isn’t going to be in those boots and whose child is not likely to be in them either appear patriotic. In that sense, it’s cheap. It should be dropped from the lexicon of campaign rhetoric, drummed out as meaningless drivel.

Decisions to send men and women to war are complex and should not be reduced to four words. Making oneself appear eligible to be commander-in-chief by employing those words should render one ineligible.

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That “Biden Magic” Revealed Again

In 2007, I posted a blog entitled “That Biden Magic”. That magic is depth, empathy, humor and humility. We saw it again with Stephen Colbert, who has also overcome adversity. As we continue to think about authenticity this week and as the election moves forward, it’s well worth a few moments to listen to Vice President Joe Biden share what really matters.  All candidates for the U.S. presidency could take a few lessons from this interview, including how few words it takes to convey ideas when they come from the heart.

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Additional Thoughts on Authenticity

Having read the responses here and on my Huffington Post blog, “Authentic Politics: What is That?” I think the subject warrants some additional discussion. So, here are a few thoughts.

When we’re discussing authenticity, there is being true to oneself and conveying that sense of center to others and there is adapting to the situation. They can be at odds. Or a situation can simply be new. Do we agree so far?

If we want to know the “real you,” it could be argued that it exists outside of situational demands. To some extent, this is quite possible. Your moral sense, emotional inclinations, and style predispositions, as examples, can be largely static. But, we come to know other people through how they handle situations. We can’t use a microscope to look inside their brains and see who they really are.

So, while it is preferable at times to get to know someone “warts and all,” we cannot be sure in most circumstances how that person will respond in all situations. This is especially the case with politicians. They are faced, as all of us are, with the challenge of conveying competence while also being likable. To meet this challenge, they manage how they communicate.

Right here is a problem for some people. They are looking for a candidate about whom they feel “what you see is what you get.” Any managing of behavior is dissembling and so diminishes authenticity.

But how are people supposed to just be themselves? What does that mean? Aren’t we all works in progress, growing and changing?

Some people adapt easily to situations and are as comfortable being assertive as they are being accommodating. We might call this the Bill Clinton advantage. He is Bill when angry or sad. At least we think he is. He can stretch his style and be as comfortable in one as in another. He appears to not stray far from his center for any appreciable length of time. Such people may express anger because the situation calls for it, but not become an angry person in the process. Bill gets this. He’s learned to move smoothly across styles.

Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. She is also a woman.
Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford University Graduate School of Business writes and speaks about how power looks. Appearing authoritative is important and yet so is being approachable and being able to relate to people on a human level. To appear authoritative, we tend to close ourselves off somewhat. Being approachable involves being more relaxed and open. Gruenfeld describes how we can “play high” or “play low” appearing more authoritative or approachable in the process.

Most women are socialized to use the body language of someone with lower rank. We also learn to speak in such ways. When we decide that we need to lead with authority, sometimes we leap rather than tweak and we create distance from others that causes them to judge us harshly.

Hillary Clinton tends to lead with distance rather than closeness, at least outside of her circle of friends. When you think about it, why wouldn’t she? As a woman, she must prove her competence. She’s running for president. Can she take the heat? If she sacrifices competence in order to be likable, a price is paid. If she does so suddenly, people distrust the move as contrived. The most she can do is tweak her style. Doing so while being viewed and written about in the media 24/7 is a tall order.

If Hillary were more like Bill, first of all, she wouldn’t be Hillary. Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves what kind of president we want. That is, to some extent, different than asking whether we like Hillary Clinton. Can she do the job? Is she competent? Does she stand for what we care about? Is she able to work with world leaders? Does she have an impressive track record? Does she have the best interests of the country at heart and will she act to protect those interests?

This doesn’t mean how she communicates is irrelevant. It also doesn’t mean that by stretching her style she is not being true to herself and honest with us. We all stretch, present our best selves at times and adapt to situations. We grow. So long as we don’t take this stretching too far, so long as we aren’t different people at different times with no identifiable character foundation, such adaptation is a natural part of being human.  Authenticity, I’m suggesting, allows flexibility.  At times we need to be more authoritative, at other times more approachable.  For women, especially, learning to differentiate among situations and alter our styles to accommodate them is complex because leadership has been a largely male domain.  Some of this is all new.  Many of us have been out there trying to find a good fit in positions of leadership.  It’s a struggle.  Hillary Clinton, like her or not, is out there, “warts and all,” breaking new ground.

Posted in Politics, Tutorials for Women, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

What is an authentic politician?

Is there any such thing? That’s the focus of the blog I’m posting at Huffington Post. Given the media’s propensity to accept “some people say” support as journalism, it’s difficult, at best, to get at what’s real. The task of political candidates is to somehow get past such loose requirements for sources to get their message out. For Hillary Clinton, the task is huge. The blog explores what authenticity should mean and how candidates, especially Clinton, can begin to break through with an authentic message. The task is tougher for women, though that isn’t intended as an excuse. Warren Buffet thinks Clinton should have been “blunt” earlier about the email fiasco and admires Bernie Sanders for being so.

How does she go from explaining at length issues that most people don’t care to dissect to letting people know who she really is?  And is the real Hillary Clinton necessarily one-dimensional? In other words, is authenticity a trap if what it means is communicating the “real you” as if people are that simple?

Most of us have complex characters. Is authenticity being used by people like Andrea Mitchell as a weapon against Clinton, by defining it in a way that makes it impossible to achieve? Worth exploring.

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Faculty Gender Issues on Campus — Aren’t They Gone Yet?

Just in case you were wondering if the gender issues and politics in my debut novel, Shadow Campus, really happen with professors on campuses where people are supposed to be open-minded, you might want to read this article by six very accomplished female Cornell professors: “Let’s Face It:  Gender Bias in Academia is Real.”  Shadow Campus is fiction, but fiction doesn’t just spring from nowhere.

If you haven’t read Shadow Campus yet, you can click on the photo of the book in the right column of this page.  The sequel is almost finished!  Still some editing to do.  Shamus Doherty and the other main characters will be back!

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The Skilled Negotiator now on ebook!

My book, The Skilled Negotiator, has had an unusual journey.  I published it as a trade book with Jossey-Bass and Wiley (parent company) published an academic version (much more expensive).  As is often the case, to make sure a book sells as an expensive academic book, the trade book version did not get the publicity.  For some time, that was just the way it was.  For a few years lately, however, I tried to get an e-book version made available.  I just discovered that The Skilled Negotiator is now available as an e-book in the U.S. on Barnes & Noble Nook and on Google Play and Kobo. It’s also on Wiley’s list on e-book in the UK.  I’ll be looking into when or if it will become available for Kindle.  Sometimes the author is the last to know.

This book comes from my years of teaching and consulting in negotiation.  It’s packed with information which may be somewhat advanced as it’s geared to becoming a truly skilled negotiator. It’s great stuff, if I do say so myself.  I love this book.  I’ve had waiting lists of two years for my MBA negotiation classes and finally this book is available to everyone.  It just takes a little searching, which fortunately I did recently after reading an e-mail from the Author’s Guild about how long publishers hold onto book rights (35 years after the author’s death or more) keeping authors from getting their books out there.  The Skilled Negotiator has recently found its way out there via Wiley, so long in the shadow of its academic version for far more money.  Take a look!  Hope you enjoy it!

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Back on the Hillary Media Watch

Today I posted a blog on Huffington Post about the return of gender insults perpetrated upon Hillary Clinton — this time particularly by CNN’s Gloria Borger. As a communication professor and researcher, I’m always intrigued by how words are used to shape our perceptions.  As a woman, I’m also particularly attuned to how those words are used to keep us from senior positions in business and equal pay.

Words are weak vehicles of meaning at times.  We use them quickly and sometimes find that they haven’t conveyed our intentions.  But they are also weapons when employed by those who are inclined to manipulation.  In The Secret Handshake and my other books, I look at how easy it is to “poison a well” at work.  When it comes to women, that poisoning is readily accomplished in some arenas merely by calling up negative associations that have taken root — usually by not being quickly and adequately challenged.

In They Don’t Get It, Do They? I wrote about how women are labeled at work.  My view: “It’s going to happen, so you might as well have some input.”  By that, I mean it’s important when a word is used, intentionally or unintentionally, in a manner that disparages you or your work that it doesn’t stick.   Words can be altered along with impressions. If someone says, “You’re stubborn,” you are at a choice point in conversation. What are other ways to describe the characteristics one person might refer to as stubborn? Here are a few:  persistent, determined, and committed.  “Yes.  I was persistent” is a response that turns something negative into a positive.

The Huffpo blog is about how some “journalists” use words they know are disparaging of women to describe Hillary Clinton.  Not only do such words repeated over time come to be ‘attached’ to her, they’re distortions of who she is as a person and presidential candidate. Whether in our own lives or observing the labeling of women running for political office, it’s important to be aware of how words and phrases damaging to women’s credibility are employed.  If a woman isn’t going to win in 2016, at least it should be because she wasn’t the right person for the job — not because she was constantly labeled in gratuitous ways and we just didn’t bother to inform the press that we noticed.

Posted in Choice Points, Comebacks, Politics | 4 Comments