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Management 516 Organizational Politics Summer 2009 Group Project Film Analysis

The Best Man (1964)


Melinda Rumsey Gaurav Singh Anil Nandigam Xu Han (Robin) Manoj Kokal

The Best Man is a film about two men vying for their partys presidential nomination. Intellectual William Russell and down-to-earth Joe Cantwell are front runners for a party nomination that will almost certainly mean the Presidency. Russell sees himself as a man of principle while Cantwell is prepared to do anything to win. We analyzed the film using topics from organizational politics. SOURCES OF POWER / EXERCISING INFLUENCE / IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT Both Russell and Cantwell overlooked sources of power they possessed. If they had realized and then carefully analyzed their strengths and aligned their persuasion techniques accordingly, they would have increased the probability of changing the situation and the outcome. Russells relationship with Hockstader was much better than Cantwells. But Russell did not act proactively, using this to his advantage in influencing Hockstader. For example, during his rendezvous with Hockstader during their first private meeting, Hockstader pointed out Russells indecisiveness and over-dedication to principle and Russell even decoded Hockstaders inclination to support Cantwell. However, Russell made no attempt to influence him. He was a low-profile in avoiding predicaments. Russell lacked both political will and political skill to alter Hockstaders opinion. Instead, he focused on expressing his own opinions. He argued how he believed Cantwells standard of principle and political behaviors would not qualify him as a leader which was merely his point of view, not Hockstaders. Russell should have used the tactics for opponents, most importantly, not taking no for an answer. If Russell had focused on how to persuade Hockstader, he would have exercised influence more effectively. First, Hockstader already liked him, which is one of the principles of persuasion. While Hockstader disapproved of his political style, he could have directed the conversation away from what they disagreed on and towards their common point of view, such as what traits he had that would make him a good president. He could have tried to convince Hockstader that he realizes his own weakness and was willing to make a change in order to better handle the president position. Secondly, Russell could have used benefit-selling by explaining the benefits of having a president with his political characteristics, substantiating with concrete examples of times when he made good decisions in his position as Secretary of State. The use of benefit-selling would have had more persuasive power than simply describing what he believes an ethical leader ought to be like and how Cantwell does not fit that role. This technique also aligns with the principle of scarcity in persuasion, as both of them agree that this nations politics lack the principles Russell holds. Another technique Russell could use involves the principle of consistency, showing Hockstader that he is intent on getting his endorsement. While behaving as a protg receiving guidance from a master, Russell could have put Hoskstader in a position to feel more obligated to endorse him.

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Similarly, Cantwell completely overlooked influence techniques in getting Hockstaders endorsement. Specifically, he demonstrated poor persuasion skills. When Hockstader tried to establish rapport with him, Cantwell did not reciprocate. He showed defensiveness and quickly resorted to coercion techniques in an attempt to prevent Hockstader from supporting his rival (this technique always generates resentment and intimidation) which back-fired and turned the relationship sour. If Cantwell had used a better persuasion technique, such as benefit-selling and ingratiation, instead of pressure tactics, he would have secured Hockstaders endorsement. Even after the conversation turned sour and both partys became emotional, Cantwell could have saved the situation by admitting his political blind-sight and presumptive mistake instead of resorting to hostility. Utilizing the tactics with adversaries by accepting the blame and then empowering the president by asking his advice going forward, Cantwell could have turned the situation in his favor. After all, Hockstader had initially decided to endorse him not because they were friendly to each other but because Cantwell was able to achieve goals no matter what it takes. Cantwell used pressure and blackmail with Russell instead of being more thoughtful regarding his persuasion techniques. Russell wore his convictions on his sleeve and worried himself with what was right. If Cantwell had relied on a win-win collaboration strategy, recommending what was best for the party and the country, he could have effectively disarmed his rival. The more pressure and blackmail he used, the stronger the opposition he received from Russell. Cantwell also lacked impression management. For example, when Hockstader met him and asked whether he would like to join him for a drink, Cantwell could have given individualized treatment to the president, showing enthusiasm and supporting the president by joining him but did not. When Hockstader remarked that he was satisfied with him most of the times, Cantwell could have used that opening to prevent a possible argument and divert the focus to his positive traits by demonstrating versatility and telling stories of his courage and conviction. Cantwell could have also requested mentorship and advice from Hockstader. This was, in fact, the temperament the president was looking for. Even Cantwells emotional remark, I dont want any little lectures from you on how to be a statesman to Hockstader could have been neutralized with justification and/or mystification. Additionally, Cantwells rendezvous with Russell in the basement was an opportunity for alleviating the tension between them. He again committed a mistake by openly challenging Russell that he cant do any damage to him. Rather than stating that Russell could not damage him, Cantwell could have attempted to win over Russell by accepting blame for his actions and explaining that he did not have bad intentions in using the medical records. Accepting blame would have helped foster his relationship with Russell and ultimately paid off later, specifically when he tried to persuade Russell to become his ally near the end. Besides verbal remarks, Cantwell could have created a better impression with a smile or a calm appearance rather than a grim expression. POLITICAL TIMING
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Looking from a political timing perspective, Cantwell certainly had the first mover advantage when he released Russells medical records. This move was public and hard to undo. It set a frame of reference and demonstrated an instance of throwing dirty laundry against an opponent. It put pressure on Russell to challenge this in public and prepare to tarnish his opponent. However, Russell did not partake as it was against his principals. Russell could have used the element of surprise to talk Cantwell out of using his medical records if he would have been more convincing in the basement. Cantwell, who often reacted emotionally and impulsively, may have accepted his word and not released any character damaging evidence externally. MANAGING RIVALS Let us turn our attention towards managing rivals. Cantwell used the Managing Rivals tactics well against Russell. Cantwell gave the perception to the people that he was one of them and used the strategic relevance approach by linking the communist threat as the prime concern. Russell on the other hand could have spoken about issues in a way to change the strategic relevance of Cantwells major issues. His campaign speeches could have brought up the issues that he was concerned about, like politicians throwing mud to attain goals. This change in strategic relevance could have shifted the publics attention away from Cantwells communist threat. Also this would have helped Russell later when Cantwell threatens him that he will go public with Russells previous medical history. In that context, Cantwells publication of the medical history would not have been as effective. The manifest need theory applies to the Cantwell/Russell situation. Both of them have a common set of needs but the strength of the needs is different in each person. Both of the candidates had need for achievement, as they were both goal-oriented and seeked challenge. Russell also had high affiliation. His need for affiliation was showcased by his empathy towards the President when the President mentioned he was not feeling very well. Russell also made sure he visited him in the hospital in spite being in the midst of the political race peak-time. Cantwells motivation was a high need for power. His need for power is selfish and he tried to dominate and control Russells actions. Cantwell is a high Mach but lacking emotional coolness. Cantwells need for power can be recognized in his eagerness to control situations and attempts to influence both the President and Russell at any cost for his goals. Cantwells lack of emotional coolness is showcased during the meeting with Hockstader and his armed forces ex-colleague. On the hand Russells need for power was unselfish and lower than Cantwells. Russells lack of power motivation was responsible for his blindness towards his political opportunity, to beat Cantwell. ETHICS

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One of the controversies raised by the film was whether it is possible to apply ethics and win in politics at the same time. We believe the answer is yes. Russell could not achieve both because he focused on certain aspects of ethical issues without a broader and more systematic evaluation of all the factors that make up moral principles. Russell has labeled himself, and is perceived by others, as very dedicated to principles. But his principles focused on moral quality of action in terms of means alone. He believed that Cantwells homosexual activity in the past is a private matter and this right to privacy should not be violated. He focused on the Rights and Duties perspective and failed to evaluate the matter from the Justice or Utilitarianism perspectives. From the Justice perspective, the theory of relevant differences would play a significant role here. Russell and Cantwell hold very different standards of principle. But should ones standard of principle be the main determinant on whether a person is qualified for the presidential office? Russell clearly believed that Cantwells low standard of ethics disqualified him from the presidential position. However, Hockstader, the role that has more authority on the subject, seems to believe the contrary. Hockstader explicitly pointed out that Russells lack of ability to focus more on the outcome of the matter is his weakness. This disadvantage was substantial enough for the president not to endorse him. Viewing from the Justice perspective raises the issue of impartial rules and fair accountability which says one law applies to everyone. If Russell decided to play by the rules and not throw mud, not only should he expect Cantwell to do the same, he should have acted proactively to make sure that justice is being served. He could have achieved this by either bluffing Cantwell more effectively with his retribution or by bringing this justice and ethics issue in front of the public himself to prevent Cantwell from using it. If Russell had carefully evaluated the matter from the Utilitarianism perspective, he would have quickly realized that his final decision fails the cost and benefit test because it benefits the least number of stakeholders (possibly only the third candidate himself) among all possible alternatives. He did not win but damaged his future political opportunities. Cantwells loss does not really guarantee the political arena will become any cleaner than before. This is not the outcome Hockstader and his campaign supporters would want to see. And as importantly, the voters and the party received a candidate that may or may not be more ethical or capable than either of the front runners. Therefore, the overall political objective of the campaign suffers too. To summarize the ethical issues, he looked at the matter much more heavily from the Rights & Duties perspective than from the other perspectives. If he had tried balancing and weighing different ethical perspectives, he may have devised a superior alternative rather than resorting to a simple and possibly destructive solution. In conclusion, The Best Man is a great movie. It shows how different personalities engage each other in a variety of situations. We can clearly see how different aspects of Mgmt 516 can be applied to real life.
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