“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” -Maimonides
“Give a person some wise words to say and she will sound smart for a day; teach a person a sound philosophy and she will remain wise for a lifetime.” – Jimmy
I recently ran across a blog article that cited the 5 things you should never say to a professor. A related article stated the 5 things you should always say to your professor– as in real specific words and sentences. After reading these articles I thought of the above quote. It struck me that giving such advice is akin to offering someone a fish rather than teaching them how to fish. I realize that receiving a free fish every now and then is fine, yet telling someone specifically what to say or not to say word for word is not instructing the wisdom behind the suggestions…I want to learn to fish.
Thus, today, I am inspired to offer my blog followers, “Jimmy’s Eight Great Guidelines for Gaining Compliance” (Gaining whaaat? Give me a sec kiddos)
The guidelines suggested transcend academia or any particular context. Good communication is just good communication, no matter when or where.
As a precursor, it is so important to understand that when you are attempting to achieve an objective and need to “get your way” (academically referred to as “compliance gaining strategies”) such situations are NOT opportunities to discuss how you feel, to vent, to express yourself, to gripe that you have been wronged, rather it is about WINNNG, not WHINING. We have family members, significant others, and therapists available to listen to us express our feelings. How something makes you feel is rarely part of the compliance gaining strategy in the context of business or academia; yet is quite valid in terms of interpersonal relationships…hence, another blog for another day.
Gaining compliance is a combination of a solid offense while concurrently weakening your superior’s defense. Follow these Eight Great and you may stand a fighting chance with that asshole you call boss or prof.
The primary and central force for these guidelines rests in my “poker chips” theory of life; everyday we have the opportunity to collect more chips for a larger payout when we eventually must cash in…and we all have to cash in at some point when something goes wrong. The basic theory is structured around the simple idea that each one of us is going to need a break of some sort in our class/life/work and we have, hopefully, a certain amount of chips to cash in when we most need them to offset our circumstance.
Whether a student or employee, we all pretty much start out at zero chips. Each time we do something either required or voluntarily -punctually and with excellence- it is possible to earn a few chips. For example, arriving on time, doing all that is required, volunteering for an extracurricular duty, being friendly and helpful to colleagues –mind you all performed without being a pain in the ass– are among several ways to earn chips. Conversely, things such as absences, lateness, excuses, and piss poor work will drain your collection of chips rather rapidly –in fact, such students usually operate at a chip deficit and end up owing the house when time to cash in. When students need to ask for an extension on a paper? I look at their accumulated chips, or lack thereof, and make the decision accordingly.
Thus, the first great guideline is as follows:
1. Accumulate as many chips wherever and whenever possible. Everyday day you wake up and go about life is a potential job interview. From the small things (say hello, smile, be pleasant), to the large things (extra duties, helping others), to the people we may meet, are all means by which to add to your chip stash. Then when a true emergency strikes and you need to ask for mercy and cash in some chips, you will have the necessary resources to do so. One NEVER knows who might hold a valuable key to her future thus it is very important to treat everyone as a potential provider of chips.
While interviewing for my first professor position many years ago, I found myself with the department chair who was a complete stranger. During the interview a colleague of hers walked in and it happened to be a friend with whom I attended graduate school. Fortunately, I always treated this guy very well and was friendly to him never knowing he was going to be a key player in determining my future fate one day. Guess who got the job? THIS guy.
2. Be yourself. You want the real, gritty scoop? Experienced professors, managers, interviewers, etc… KNOW when you are full of shit. Why? Because we “listen” with our eyes more so than with our ears. We see and listen to HOW you say something, not just what you say. This idea, coupled with the superior who is likely much more experienced than we are and has the ability to see through phoniness, makes bullshitting a bad idea. A genuine person strikes a genuine chord. It is very interesting to me that most people place all the emphasis on WHAT they say…when most of us primarily care about WHO you are -detected by how you say it. A humorous example of a younger person trying to put one over on authority figures is Eddie Haskell from the old “Leave it to Beaver” series. Check it out.
3. Do not lie. Can it get any more simple? Does this mean you have to be completely candid ALL the time about everything? Of course not. In fact, I have had students who have told me things I REALLY wish they had not. Generally speaking, if you say nothing you are not lying. Once a lie is a detected, all trust is out the window. Like #2 above, an experienced superior can usually detect it.
4. Do not go overboard on the ass kissing. Notice I did not say NEVER ass kiss. An appropriate amount of ass kissing is fine though if you hang around said ass too long you are bound to get shit on -as that is what the ass does best. Too much ass kissing tends to get real creepy, real fast. Regardless of what even the most ardent ass-kissing-does-not-work person might tell you, subtle compliments are always warmly, and typically subtlety, received.
5. Always demonstrate sensitivity and respect toward your superior, no matter how upset you may be. Timing is everything. The question, “Is now a good time to speak about my concern?” is nearly always a GREAT question. Even if you believe your professor/boss to be a complete idiot, it only hurts YOU if you fail to show respect. Suck up the old ego and win your damn argument. Vent to your mommy; argue respectfully and skillfully with your superior. Are you really upset? Shut the hell up, go home, cool off and then begin to create an effective argument when cooler heads prevail.
6. Never go above your superior’s head until you have exhausted ALL your efforts with the superior and you have informed him or her of your next move. If you do not follow this advice you have unknowingly pitted the superior in a defensive posture and therefore has no choice but to now defend his or her action; thus, in a strange and unintended way, you have become the adversary. That being said, if you have reached a true impasse, by all means respectfully inform the superior of your next move. In fact, I have often strongly encouraged students who are dissatisfied with something to please go to the dean (he loves when I do that!).
7. Stick to the facts. Do not assume anything. Do not read intent into actions nor ascribe motivation to a particular behavior. If a student tells me, “You failed me because you do not like me,” he has essentially said nothing. However, if a student tells the professor that he and Betty worked on a paper together, used the same amount of sources, yet Betty received an A and he received an F, rather than assuming this is an issue of “liking,” it provides a factual example that the professor can wrap her mind around and discuss rationally.
8. Use of “I” Language. Yes, this may sound like giving you a fish, yet beginning sentences with “I” rather than “you” is vastly important when confronting another person with an argument…regardless of what particular words follow. “You did not give me the raise I want,” is heard quite differently than, “I believe I earned a raise.” The word “you” is like an open invitation for the other person to whip out their protective shield and begin a strong defense. “I” language places the emphasis on you and immediately defenses go down. The rule of thumb is when praising someone, begin with “you” and when you are critical begin with “I.”
I think you should take this advice to heart. You can do it.