What does Anthropology have to do with career planning and management?

Over the past few months in this blog we’ve spent time linking concepts found in various fields of study to the topic of career planning and management. We continue with that process in today’s post.  At first glance, the subject of anthropology might not seem to have much in common with career planning and management. But in that field there is an important practice that mirrors a fundamental reality in career management. The power of observation, and the ability to incorporate lessons learned from that effort, is often the critical determinant in the trajectory of one’s career prospects. In his recent book on the subject, Workplace Poker (Are you playing the game or just getting played?), author Dan Rust does a deep dive into helping us understand and begin the systematic practice of navigating the often perilous – and for many the distasteful – world of office politics and organizational culture.  At its core, Rust’s book explores the functional intersections and human interactions most workers must successfully manage, indeed master, if they are to enjoy rewarding careers that are both long-lived and persistently upwardly mobile.

Now, you might be wondering, how can information on anthropology and the power of observation possibly relate to career planning and management? The short answer is that, as Rust explains quite well in one section of his book:

“Tuning in to the people around you at a deeper level is not a onetime event or something you can complete then check off your “to do” list. If you give this the proper level of attention it will eventually become your natural way of interacting with and observing others. Just as your vocabulary increases over time, your abilities in this area can also grow throughout your life.”

Without personal commitment and persistent effort applied to developing your power of observation, specifically observing the behaviors of others in the workplace – you run the risk of seeing your merit-only-focused career management skills contribute to stalled career prospects, and in fact possibly even prevent you from achieving the high-flying career you deserve. For instance, as Rust points out in his book, each of us needs to become a Jane Goodall of our workplace surroundings,

“If you are going to delve deeper into (understanding) the motivations and behavioral tendencies of the people you work with, you have to (learn to) minimize your own emotional reactions and set aside any and all preconceived notions, judgments, and expectations …. You have to be a dispassionate observer of workplace behavior. Think of yourself as a corporate Jane Goodall, observing the office chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Jane didn’t pass judgment on their (the chimps) behavior (in the wild), she merely observed.”

What can a soon-to-be college senior due to graduate in May 2017 without a career management plan of attack in place do to start to learn about understanding organizational cultures and effective workplace behaviors, and incorporate that knowledge in their personal career development efforts?   The first step is to stop by the UConn Center for Career Development (CCD) in Wilbur Cross 202 to learn about the many career counseling tools the Center offers in helping students become more aware of their own work, communication, interpersonal and behavior styles. Of course, it you prefer to start the process online, simply surf the CCD’s impressive website (career.uconn.edu) to browse and/or utilize some of the vast array of career planning and management tools available to all UConn students.

Take time now to learn and continue to develop excellent career management habits so that they will serve you throughout your long and well-lived life. With that thought in mind, be sure to let the CCD’s staff and the Center’s arsenal of tools help to guide you through your career planning efforts.

By Paul Gagnon
Paul Gagnon Career Consultant, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources Paul Gagnon