In which I say a whole bunch of things that are unpopular.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing”
Let’s face it, there are some people who have read the previous posts in this series and thought “This advice is fine and dandy, but there are so many roadblocks to accessibility where I work that none of this stuff will work for me”. To those people, I say: I sympathize with you. I’ve been there. Sometimes you may find yourself dealing with people that are impossible to deal with. Some roadblocks are insurmountable. Sometimes you have no access to the real decision makers in the organization. Sometimes none of the things I’ve discussed so far are at all applicable or useful to you. For you, it may be time to embrace the Dark Side.
“Amoral, cunning, ruthless, and instructive, this piercing work distills three thousand years of the history of power in to forty-eight well explicated laws. As attention-grabbing in its design as it is in its content, this bold volume outlines the laws of power in their unvarnished essence, synthesizing the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun-tzu, Carl von Clausewitz, and other great thinkers.”
Much of this book goes against my very fabric – against everything I was taught as a kid and everything I live as a man. However, there’s something to be said for fighting fire with fire. When such time comes that your cause becomes marginalized by those who couldn’t care less about accessibility, one might seriously consider whether the “high road” is the road that must be traveled to reach the desired goal. Morality and ethics aren’t black-and-white issues and frequently each of us make decisions regarding situations requiring us to decide how far we’re willing to deviate from our own morals. Many things within the 48 Laws of Power are just plain wrong to me, venturing into territory more reminiscent of Might is Right than Art of War. That said, I’ve selected a number of tidbits from 48 Laws of Power that I think can advance our cause without venturing too far into the amoral and deceitful. Heck, some of these may make you a better person, in my opinion.
How you Conduct Yourself
Somewhat surprisingly, given its rather amoral tone, is that when it comes to discussing how you conduct yourself the 48 Laws of Power (as I interpret it) sounds a lot like “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “Enchantment”, and the other books I’ve mentioned in this series. The main difference being whether you mean it or not. The general point is this: A solid reputation increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths without your having to spend much energy. How you conduct yourself matters. Your reputation matters. How you’re perceived by others matters and having others think positively of you matters. In Selling Accessibility – Positive Factors (Internal), I mentioned that you should strive to “be a mensch”. When embracing the Dark Side, being a mensch really isn’t enough. You must be seen as being a mensch. Being a good guy counts if all you want is to do good. If you want to gain power, others must be acutely aware of what a good guy you are.
One of the most important aspects here is ensuring you interact frequently with others – especially those others who can contribute to advancing your cause. Remember: A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. This is why so many of my other posts focus on collaborating and integrating with others. For those of you whose specific job role is related to accessibility, you must get out of the silo and socialize with others. This isn’t just because cooperation makes things go more smoothly in general but also specifically because socializing adds to your personal visibility, especially when you’re socializing with the right people.
During socialization, your attitude is vital. Presenting yourself as a source of positive energy, a solution finder, and a friendly ally to others will go a long way toward getting cooperation from others. To that end, you should also seek to gravitate toward prosperous, cheerful, and gregarious people and avoid the naysayers. Engaging in “bitch sessions” with your coworkers is unproductive. Criticizing your company, peers, or even worse your boss is nonproductive and very likely to cost you the loyalty and cooperation of others. Let someone else be the Negative Nancy while you’re the source of joy for others.
Your appearance and presentation are vital in gaining respect from others. How you carry yourself reflects what you think of yourself. If you dress like a bum, people will treat you like a bum. Instead, you must exude confidence and the feeling you were destined for greatness. People are always impressed by the superficial appearance of things and people so it is vital that you look your best, speak your best, and act your best. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence discusses, at length, many examples of scientific studies in which handsome people, well-dressed people, and people who appear to hold authority can gain compliance from others very easily. Use this to your advantage to gain trust and credibility.
Dealing with Adversaries
Considering the many negative factors that can stand in the way of accessibility, the possibility of making enemies seems all the more likely the larger the organization in which you operate. How you deal with adversaries can make a big impact. It is vital that you learn to properly deal with your adversaries and avoid making new ones.
The proper management of frustration and anger is key when dealing with your adversaries. You must be the one to choose what bothers you and, when it comes to outward appearances, let nothing appear to bother you. Allowing yourself to give in to anger and frustration is giving your adversary the upper hand. It is strategically unproductive for you and generally people who are visibly angry end up looking rather ridiculous to others. To that end, you may attempt to make your adversary the ridiculous one by intentionally angering them. Though that may work, it can also backfire. I find it a better approach to kill them softly, as they say. For instance, in a case where a person is clearly taking an adversarial stance, you may find it more productive to sidestep them altogether by remaining calm and cooperative. The more adversarial they behave, the more kindly you must react. In a work environment, this has the effect of making the other party look more and more ridiculous while making you look correspondingly better. In fact, the higher the disparity between their hostility and your kindness, the more likely they’ll be to calm down lest they risk making themselves look bad to their peers or bosses. The essence of deception is distraction. Behaving toward your adversary with kindness, generosity, or honesty will distract and disarm them, allowing you time to devise how you’ll finally take them down – on your time and on your schedule.
In many cases you may have frequent interactions with your adversaries. Look at each interaction as an opportunity to learn about your adversary and develop a strategy to defeat them. Every person has a weakness or insecurity you can use to your advantage. As I mentioned in Positive Factors, every person has something which can be used to form a connection with them, to build a relationship. Using the Dark Side, you can use these to your manipulative advantage. If you can find the specific need that goes unfulfilled in their lives, or find the insecurity they consistently try to cover up at work or in interpersonal settings, you can use these things to your advantage. For instance, in the case of a person who always wants to dominate every conversation to show how smart they are, praise them for their great ideas. Don’t overdo it, but rather remain discreet in this flattery so as to not seem fake. Instead, make it seem like you’re seeking their expertise and knowledge. Ultimately, the adversarial behavior toward your goals will dissipate as your one-time enemy is now your friend or at least more willing to cooperate.
There’s one negotiation tactic that sadly most salespeople I’ve worked with fail to understand and yet is the most important advice I can ever give: Shut. The. Fuck. Up. In nearly every job I’ve had, the sales people talk to darn much. There are three reasons why less is more when it comes to opening your mouth. First, if you spend too much time talking you aren’t spending enough time listening. The reason why this is so important is because if you let the other party talk then chances are they will tell you what they want. They may also tell you what they’re willing to give in exchange. When they do, you are now empowered to negotiate. Often the person who makes the first offer is in the weaker position because they’ve shown their hand. Even in cases where they haven’t explicitly said what they want or what they’ll give, they still may reveal information you can use later. If you’re too busy blabbing on and not letting the other person talk then you never get to hear those things. Second, the more you talk, the higher your chances of saying something that will hurt your position. Your risk, when being the one doing all the talking, is that you may say something that turns off the other party – for instance, by telling them something that is actually a negative in their opinion and would create yet another roadblock for you to have to work around. Third (and this is my favorite), remaining silent forces the other person to talk. People have an inherent need in conversation to end silence. You can manipulate this need by remaining silent. In doing so, you force the other party to do the talking to break the silence. Their choice when breaking the silence will almost always be to talk more about their position, which gives you an opportunity to understand what they want.
In any case, your best bet during the conversation is to ask open ended questions, even when responding to one of their questions. For instance:
Them: “How much will this accessibility stuff cost?”
You: “How much budget is available for these types of things?”
By conducting the conversation as much as possible through open ended questions, you’re able to again stop talking and get the other party back to being the one doing the talking. If you lead them through the right questions, this also has the nice side-effect of the other side coming out as the decision-maker which is, of course, that they make the decision you lead them to. On this latter point it is important to understand that in any negotiation people are more likely to be cooperative if they feel they’re getting a good deal. If they feel like they’re getting forced into something then they will begin throwing up roadblocks and excuses as to why they cannot agree with you. Even if you do get your way, actually getting them to live up to their end of the bargain will be difficult or even impossible.
Another thing to keep in mind during negotiations is that people avoid things that are difficult, time consuming, and expensive. If what you offer to the other party appears to cost a lot or be hard, you will fail in persuading them. Show them instead why what you offer is easy, short, and cheap. How expensive is Accessibility? One thing’s for sure, it is entirely possible to pay too much. In the case where you do end up getting some sort of buy-in from others, make sure it doesn’t backfire on you by mismanaging the process. If you get the support of others based on the easy-short-cheap idea and the reality is anything but easy, short, and cheap, you can count on never getting their support again. Get your business case established properly, based on clearly defined & measurable goals and take it one step at a time. In doing so, you set yourself up for further success.
The one-step-at-a-time approach has a great side effect of increasing your chances for further compliance. Some people, like Robert Cialdini, would call this the foot-in-the-door approach. Whatever you call it, success in initial phases of accessibility are a clear demonstration of your point. You can save time, gain political capital, reduce your number of adversaries, and gain further executive sponsorship if you refrain from arguing and let facts do the work for you. Nobody can argue with a demonstrated proof, so don’t bother arguing with others if time and experience will eventually teach the other parties what you are trying to say. Take one step at a time and let the successes do the arguing for you.
Is the Dark Side right for you?
That’s up to you. I chose to use the Star Wars metaphor for more than just the typical geeky reasons. What I find interesting is that George Lucas intended the Dark Side to serve …as a metaphor for the universal human temptation towards cruelty and inhumanity as a means of gaining ‘power’, or advantage, in life. (Wikipedia)
While the methods I talk about above may not rise to the occasion of being considered cruel or inhumane, I think the comparison still stands in cases where deception and manipulation are being used to gain advantage over others.
The other thing I think makes the comparison work is that “good” and “evil” aren’t really mutually exclusive. A dualistic belief in good and bad doesn’t really fit well in reality where sometimes we have to consider the cost & benefit of our actions to determine what is appropriate. Is it bad to befriend people who you otherwise wouldn’t really like, or may even internally despise, just to manipulate them into agreeing with you? Is “keeping it real” more important to you than making progress on selling accessibility? That’s your call. Perhaps some of the methods I discussed in this post may help without leading you too far into the Dark Side.