Office Politics Smart Thinking Strategic Thinking Think Like

How to Think Like Harvey Specter

SUITS - Season: 2 - Pictured: Gabriel Macht as Harvey Specter - Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA Network
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(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.

Strategy

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:

Appearance:

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.

Charm:

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.

Demeanor:

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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