The Secret Handshake

date Oct 8, 2008
authors Kathleen Kelley Reardon
reading time 5 mins
  • Book Title: The Secret Handshake – Mastering the Politics of Business Inner Circle
  • Author: Kathleen Kelley Reardon
  • Year written/published: 2001
  • Book Source: Google Books, Library
  • My Comments: This books really gives an insight into how to converse, behave and act in tactful situations, negotiations to get ahead and into the inner business circle. 
  • Some extracts:

The crucial fact here is that political savvy is an achievable skill for recognizing when politics is operating and for using those politics for your advantage. And it is a prerequisite to attaining the coveted secret handshake. “You know what they say,” I said, sympathizing with his tendency to overload himself. “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” My dinner companion nodded but then he looked me in the eyes and replied, “The way I see it, If you want something done, ask a relentless person.” He was right. True players tenaciously refuse to lose sight of their goals, even in the face of discouragement and rejection.

How to press for your agenda..

  • do your political homework
  • identify the relevant players and their agendas
  • smooth over the rough spots in advance and deal with them before they become hardened positions
  • find ways for other deserving people to get personal credits

strategic visits…

… People are far too busy to let them know. The key here is to be strategic in telling them. Choose the right method and time. … Another advantage of strategic visits is the opportunities they provide to let people know what you can do for them.

Play it close to the vest…

Friendship complicates things because it brings with it certain obligations to share information… … So fewer you have of them at work, the less you’ll be pressured to spill the beans when you should be keeping information to yourself.

Inference during listening…

Much of each day people engage in inference. We draw conclusions from incomplete information. We communicate by hint and innuendo in order to keep people from actually figuring out what we mean and then are surprised when they judge us as self-serving, jealous and demeaning. … “Tact”: the ability to say things in ways that allows us to avoid having to take responsibility for what was said should it go awry. Tact is being able to say what you mean in a way that is deniable.

Conversational politics…

People who have made it to the top distrust surface meanings, and look deeper for implications and innuendo. When it suits them to respond to the content and ignore relational cues, they do so. 

The art of conversational steering…

Politically adept people recognize that they’re at least 75% responsible for how others treat them because each comment they make influences the responses of those to whom they are speaking. Political sophistication requires the ability to steer conversations in directions conducive to one’s goals. 

killing the messenger…

don’t frequently bring up the bad news or remind people of their foibles. Lace criticism with compliment. Position issues in terms of mutual concern. 

Practise political dancing. be subtle in your lead, natural in the positioning of your compliments.

handling lorders…

Lorder are often self destruct. They wind up making so many enemies that their time in power is self-limiting… The best way to handle lording types is to find a way to sidestep their control. Whatever resources they allocate, find another way to obtain it or learn to operate without it. .. you might need to go over the lorder’s head to get support of his boss.

isolation technique…

… is also applied when someone just doesn’t fit. Management may have nothing to do with the decision to edge the person out - his or her peers take it upon themselves to achieve that goal. They keep the person out of the loop, and soon he or she is missing informative lunch talk and even important meeting.

peripheral vs central power…

Even a CEO can become peripheral rather than central if he or she drops out of the chain of information. I’ve seen CEOs become so enamoured with their tales that they remove themselves as an information link. Jack Welch of GE, on the other hand, constantly visits GE Businesses and meets with partners and potential partners. He spends weeks at a time meeting with managers in Europe and Asia. At each location he encourages workers to speak out. He maintains himself as a conduit and expects others to act as Conduits too.


Visibility has a downside too. Politically speaking, you have to know when to stand out and when to stand down. Don’t get desperate for attention, because it shows and it isn’t appealing. A little humility is a very good companion to visibility. What out for signals of jealousy among your peers. Let someone else enjoy the limelight for a while, and then get back out there when it really counts. The key is to become visible to the right people at the right times.

importance of a doer…

One way to get noticed as a doer is to identify people in other divisions or at other levels who may have a need for your expertise. As the saying goes, a person is never a prophet in his own country. …” I’ve always believed you should have an audience outside or the one right around you.” People who don’t have to see you everyday - or compete with you at raise and promotion time - are less likely to be threatened by your expertise. This is why many hard chargers get involved in non-profit work. Few people listen to them during the say, so they go out and do wonders for volunteer organisations; There they meet other secret hand shakers holders who support and promote them up the ladder of nonprofit visibility. Soon word of their great deeds gets back to their offices. Working for nonprofit, philanthropic foundation can be a significant societal contribution and an effective back door to visibility and recognition or your expertise.