Category : Office Politics

Office Politics Smart Thinking Strategic Thinking Think Like

How to Think Like Harvey Specter

(Originally Published: 31/08/2014, Updated: 03/03/2016)

If you’ve seen Suits, then you know why I’ve chosen to focus on Harvey Specter over Mike Ross. As impressive as Mike Ross’s photographic memory is, it’s not something that can be developed to the extent displayed on the show. Harvey Specter, on the other hand, has a whole bunch of skills and traits which can be learned.

The first thing you notice about Harvey is his incredible confidence and self-surety. He doesn’t apologise for being himself, he’s just Harvey and with that confidence he is able to make people questions their own thoughts and opinions, a valuable skill for a lawyer.

Confidence is quite simply being sure about something. Harvey is sure about himself, his abilities and his opinion – he’s all kinds of awesome and he knows it. Of course, this translates as cockiness in some situations, but most people around him just accept that’s who Harvey is. His confidence allows him to stay calm in troubling situations and Harvey only really shows his true feelings when he’s with Donna, Jessica or Mike, never in front of the opposition or his clients.

What allows Harvey to be so confident? Well, he is a great lawyer, but he has a number of skills at his disposal which make him feel at ease.

Reading People

Chiefly, he is skilled at reading people. I don’t mean the Sherlock Holmes, “I can tell what you had for breakfast last week because of the shoes you’re wearing.” but he is very good at finding doubt, conflict or any other little emotions in a person’s speech, facial expressions or general demeanor. Harvey always knows when someone is bluffing and knowing that makes it easy for him to call bluffs and to bluff himself.

If you know most of the time what other people are thinking and you have a good idea of how they will react, you’ll feel pretty confident in understanding how a situation will play out and you can plan for that.

Luckily, reading people is a skill that can be learned. Expert behaviour investigator, Vanessa Van Edwards, has built a fantastic online course The Secrets of Body Language which will give you a solid foundation in understanding and body language. I also advise picking up one of the following 2 books:

Combined with The Secrets of Body Language course and a little practice, you’ll soon be spotting deception left, right and centre and going all-in with Harvey at his next poker game. Harvey is an expert at watching people and getting inside their heads.

Once he knows what you’re thinking, Harvey will have a plan to use it against you. Time and again Harvey says:

I don’t play the odds, I play the man.

Harvey understands motivation and psychology well enough that he able to use any snippet of emotion or information they give away against them – good lawyers worry about facts, great lawyers worry about their opponents. Once you understand your opponents, you can start using their own actions and emotions against themselves.

Harvey’s skill also serves as a strong foundation for his confidence. Confidence is simply the state of being sure about something. Usually, this is surety about the outcome of an event, for example, an attractive man may be confident that his advances will be welcomed or well-received by the lady he is approaching. Or a marketer may be confident about the strategy he has chosen because he knows how it will play out. This surety comes from experience. When you get home, you’re pretty confident that your toilet will be in the bathroom and not on the roof. Harvey is sure of his skills because they have been honed and tested repeatedly over a long and successful career.


Harvey also has a very strategic mind, Jessica Pearson is referred to multiple times, by multiple characters as the chess master, but Harvey isn’t too far behind. Unless it gives him an advantage or based on a reaction allows him to learn something about his opposition, Harvey will never reveal his strategy or what he knows. He understands how each person thinks and operates and is strategic in who he shares information with – having a good idea of how they will use that information. He knows that sharing your silver bullet, just to wipe the smile off the face of your gloating opponent, while satisfying would be giving away your advantage and cutting yourself off at the knees.

Study of strategy has existed for thousands of years, with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War being one of the earliest written texts. There are a wealth of texts on the subject of strategy, the majority dealing with military, political and business applications. The following books are arguably the best modern books on the subject:

  • Good Strategy/Bad Strategy – While geared toward business situations, this is the greatest (non-textbook) book on strategy I’ve ever read – it looks at what strategy is and how to form them using a myriad of relevant examples.
  • Predatory Thinking – This book by adman Dave Trott teaches strategy through anecdotes and examples allowing you to see real world applications of strategy.
  • The 48 Laws Of Power –  A wonderful combination of political and military strategy, this best-seller by Robert Greene delves into strategy with a number of brilliant famous and lesser-known historical examples.
  • The 33 Strategies Of War – With the success of his first book, Greene penned another manual focusing purely on military strategy. He studied and observed as many facets of the discipline as he could find and grouped them together into 33 strategies.
  • Strategy: A History – At 767  pages, This book is the bible of strategy and gives a brilliant overview of the most prominent strategic theories in history, from David’s use of deception against Goliath – to the modern use of game theory in economics. 
  • It might also be an idea to do some reading up on office politics as the subject tends to explore how to deal with different types of people to get the results you want.

With this combination of qualities, its no wonder he is so successful. But his abilities are only a small part of why he is so respected and why Louis Litt, an excellent attorney himself, is always chasing Harvey’s approval. Why he may be cocky and sometimes viewed as emotionless, he has a certain outlook that gains him the admiration of everyone around him.

Behaviour and Principles

3 things make Harvey stand out straight away:


Harvey has a sense of style; he’s always clean, well-groomed and well-dressed. It doesn’t matter whether he’s at work, at the gym, or at home. Harvey understands that that appearance affects not only how other people see you, but can have a huge impact on your own confidence and mood.

People respond to how we’re dressed, so like it or not this is what you have to do.


Harvey is a smooth talker, he likes innuendo and is a master of sarcasm. Both his confidence and his appearance help him with this, but his flirtatious style is what wins clients and colleagues over. He always manages to tell incredibly cheesy jokes and they hit every time.


Harvey is ALWAYS calm, he always seems to have a plan and his calmness, when the shit hits the fan, inspires others and positions him as the leader everyone looks to. Louis Litt is always trying to impress Harvey, but his ego, short temper and lack of control always derail his efforts to emulate Harvey’s easy-going behaviour.

Harvey adept at combining all the above, his suave talk, his boldness and knowledge of the other person’s desires to be an excellent negotiator. Most of his initial on-screen negotiations tend to go awry – the show needs to be exciting after all. However the negotiations we don’t see tell us more than the ones we do – because they went so well that there’s no story to tell. Negotiation is a skill and can, of course, be learned from any of the hundreds of books on the subject.

But aside for his confidence, suaveness and eloquence, Harvey is admired most for always taking responsibility for his work and his team.

This is, unfortunately, a very rare quality and I’m sure we can all point to multiple people in our work and personal life, for whom the problem is never their fault. Not so for Mr. Specter.

No matter what the reason, if Harvey fails or messes things up or even if the mistake is not his own (I’m looking at you Mr. Ross), he always makes himself accountable.

When you screwed up that patent and Wyatt went apesh*t on me, I didn’t put that on you, I took it on myself, because that’s my job.

It doesn’t matter whether he’s talking to Jessica, a client or Donna, he holds his hands up and says: “I can fix this.” A person who is able to hold their hands up and say, “I made a mistake, here is my plan to fix it.” is a diamond to have in the workplace. All too often people spend their energy pointing fingers and trying to shift the blame (e.g. Louis Litt) – Harvey spends his energy trying to fix the problem.

While he may seem arrogant and heartless, Harvey Specter is in fact quite an emotional person, but he’s able to channel those emotions into his work; happiness boosts his confidence and his people-skills, anger gives him energy and stress sharpens his focus.

As the series has gone on, it’s clear that even with Mike Ross’s incredible memory and empathy, he is becoming a better lawyer by mimicking and learning from Harvey. By learning to read people, getting a greater understanding of strategy and taking care of your appearance and managing you behaviour, you too could see similar results to Harvey Specter and Mike Ross.

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Behaviour and Psychology Office Politics Smart Thinking Strategic Thinking

Political Manoeuvring – Game of Thrones Style

Let’s explore this type of manoeuvring by looking at an example from the Game of Thrones world – if you want to avoid spoilers, then I’d suggest skipping the next seconds of this video and I’ll provide another example later.

Petyr Baelish is the only son of a very minor lord with only a few acres of land. In comparison to the key players in Westeros, Baelish starts with nothing. All he has is his sharp mind.

He does however get one gift – thanks to Petyr’s father making friends with his liege lord Hoster Tully. Petyr is fostered (raised) at Riverrun, by one of the 7 most powerful men in the country. Hoster Tully has 2 daughters and a son and unfortunately for Petyr, he falls in love with Catelyn Tully, eldest daughter. The feelings are reciprocated, not by Catelyn, but her younger sister Lysa.

It’s hinted that Petyr takes Lysa’s virginity and gets her pregnant, however her father forces her to abort the baby. Oddly he doesn’t show any animosity towards Petyr, so he may not know it’s Petyr’s child.

To forge a strong union with the North, Catelyn is promised to Brandon Stark, heir to Winterfell and future Warden of the North.

Brandon represents everything that Petyr isn’t – tall, strong and heir to a powerful title.

Petyr, in love with Catelyn, challenges Brandon to a duel in an effort to win Catelyn’s affections and hand in marriage. He is easily defeated and utterly humiliated when Catelyn has to beg with Brandon not to kill Petyr.

He’s then sent away by Hoster Tully and this is when Petyr’s scheming begins.

His goal, winning Catelyn and gaining power. His strategy and the tactics he uses to achieve this evolve over time and after each successive event another layer is revealed which makes his plans so much more impressive.

The next time we see him, he’s taken his father’s place as Lord Baelish used his intelligence to gain various promotions into the position of Master of Coin. His childhood sweetheart is married to the Warden of the North and Lysa is married to Hand of the King and Protector of the Vale.

He uses his influence over Lysa, who still lives him, to poison her husband which serves 2 purposes; it makes the King believe he is under that and therefore suspicious of his court and makes Lysa, Lady of the Vale, a widow.

Source: HBOs Game of Thrones

Source: HBOs Game of Thrones

The King travels North to his trusted friend Ned Stark to appoint him Hand of the King.

Lysa, under Petyr’s instructions, sends a letter to her sister Catelyn explaining her fear that the Lannisters were behind the death of Jon Arryn. The Starks are now worried for the safety of the king as his Kingsguard and his wife are both Lannisters.

This develops as a genuine threat as when Bran Stark discovers the Queen and her brother Jaime Lannister’s incestuous relationship, Jaime pushes Bran out of a window. Ned leaves with the king and while he’s gone, an assassin attempts to kill Bran. Luckily for Bran, Catelyn is able to stop the attack and the assassin is overpowered. The dagger used by the assassin is very distinctive and Catelyn resolves to travel to the capitol and learn more.

She reaches the capitol before Ned and is greeted by Petyr who offers her a place to hide and informs her that the dagger was actually his, but lost in a bet to Tyrion Lannister – inspiring further distrust of the Lannisters.

Ned reaches the capitol and Petyr poses as a friend and ally, using his former friendship with Catelyn and his assistance to Catelyn as proof of his good intention.

On her way back to Winterfell, Catelyn bumps into Tyrion Lannister and takes him into her custody, taking him to the Eyrie to be judged by her sister Lysa Arryn. This wasn’t planned by Petyr but worked in his favour.


Source: HBOs Game of Thrones

He “assists” Ned in his quest to uncover Jon Arryn’s murderer and guides him toward a culprit and motivation. Ned discovers, through Petyr’s
guidance that the kings children are actually the product of incest between the Queen and her brother. Petyr hints that the Lannisters killed Jon Arryn because he discovered this when in fact they had no clue that Jon Arryn was investigating the possibility. Ned’s trust of the Lannister’s is pretty much none existent at this point.

This act inspires Jaime Lannister to attack Ned Stark in the street, killing a number of his guard and demanding Tyrion’s release.

Ned resolved to tell the king of his son’s true parentage. Petyr councils Ned to keep the fact to himself but Ned, knowing what the king would do to the children, warns the Queen of his plan to uncover the truth about her children to Robert and instructs her to leave the capitol as he doesn’t want their blood on his hands. Petyr gambled that Ned would never condone the murder of children regardless of his advice – we know this because earlier Ned refused to order the death of Daenerys Targaryan.

Before Ned can reveal the truth, Robert goes out hunting and is injured in an accident planned by Queen Cersei.

Shortly before Robert’s death, Ned is named Regent to rule until the Queen’s children come of age. Ned plans to support the King’s brother as true heir to the throne.

Source: HBOs Game of Thrones

Source: HBOs Game of Thrones

Petyr agrees to help Ned, but secretly informs the Queen of Ned’s plans, knowing that it would likely result in Ned’s death. Petyr betrays Ned when he tries to enforce the king’s last order. Leading to Ned’s arrest and death.

Upon his father’s death, Robb Stark calls his banners and declares war on the Lannisters.

In a few months, Petyr single-handedly sparked a civil war with 4 claimants to the throne. This is just the first step in Petyr’s larger strategy.

Petyr brokers and alliance between the Lannisters and the Tyrells, culminating of the marriage between King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell.  For his role in this, he is rewarded by being made Lord of Harrenhal, elevating him from minor noble to important Lord in one stroke.

The marriage breaks off Sansa’s betrothal to Joffrey leaving her partially relieved until she is forced to marry Tyrion Lannister.

During this time she is befriended by Ser Dontos Hollard (an agent of Littlefingers) whose life she saved earlier and becomes close to Margaery Tyrell, who through the guise of friendship, obtains information about her future husband. Upon learning that Joffrey is a psychopath, Littlefinger and the Tyrell’s conspire to murder the King.

Ser Dontas gives Sansa a necklace to wear at Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding. This necklace was provided by Olenna Tyrell and contains a poisoned stone.

For the wedding, Littlefinger hires a group of performing dwarves, who are sure to anger Tyrion, whom Petry knows well enough to understand that his reaction will provoke visible tension and animosity between him and Joffrey.

When Joffrey insists that Tyrion pour his wine, the poisoned stone from the necklace is knocked into his cup, poisoning him. Due to the timing, Joffrey believes his uncle Tyrion is responsible and points him out at the culprit before he dies. Ser Dontas is on hand to quickly whisk Sansa away from the wedding, furthering suspicion on her husband Tyrion’s role.

With his new-found status, he is able to hand over his position as Master of Coin and marry Lysa Arryn, Lady Regent of the Vale. This gives him the perfect cover to both leave King’s Landing and enables his to smuggle Sansa away.

Not long after arriving at the Eyrie and marrying Lysa, Petry murders his new wife making his Lord Regent of the Vale and Lord Robert’s (Robin in the TV show) carer. Here the TV series and books split.

In the TV series, Petyr arranges a marriage between Sansa and Ramsey Bolton, thus cementing the Bolton’s position in the North. However, in the books, Petry is manipulating Sansa into a marriage with Harry Swift, future Lord of the Vale if Robin dies (which Littlefinger is sure to arrange). In both scenarios Littlefinger has Sansa’s confidence and is somewhat trusted by her.

Not bad for a minor lord with only a few acres of land. At the end of Season 5, Littlefinger is Lord of Harrenhal, Lord of Baelish Castle and acting Lord of the Vale and Warden of the East.

In the TV show, thanks to his role in Joffrey’s murder, he has an alliance with the Tryell’s and also an understanding with Warden of the North, Roose Bolton for brokering Sansa’s marriage. He also has the confidence of Queen-Regent Cersei Lannister by giving her information regarding Sansa and the Boltons. He offers to lead an army of Vale knights to retake Winterfell from the Boltons for their betrayal regarding Sansa. He also offers to kill Stannis Baratheon. Cersei promises to make him Warden of the North once Winterfell is taken and both the Boltons and Stannis are defeated.

Each alliance provides him with a contingency for the failure of another.

Littlefinger knows that the Boltons will likely defeat Stannis and then he can either wage war on them as promised, or through more political manoeuvring, achieve victory some other way. This frees him to marry Sansa (his ultimate goal) and with her beside him as a Stark and Lady of Winterfell, his position would be solidified.

Now THAT is a great example of strategy and political manoeuvring.

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