Social Skills Archive

Story PowerStories not only increase the value of our products and services but also of us, as people. They increase our social power by raising our status, encouraging social feedback and strengthening social bonds. Stories’ power multiplies when we encourage others to tell their stories.

Frank Rose reports of a study in his article, “The Selfish Meme” (The Atlantic, October 2012 edition):

. . . that finally explained why we like to talk about ourselves so much: sharing our thoughts it turns out, activates the brain’s rewards system.

This is the same system that responds to rewards of sex, food and money. In essence, telling about ourselves is rewarding. In fact, Rose cites that thirty to forty percent of our ordinary conversations are of us talking about ourselves. Therefore, giving others the opportunity to tell their stories is the emotional equivalent of giving them sex, food or money.

The research further showed that our reward systems were more active when we were asked questions about our thoughts and feelings than about those of others. Many techniques exist to help us encourage others to share their stories and answer our questions. Thus, the lessons from this post and its predecessor are two when seeking to tap the power of stories in our relationships:

  1. Tell good stories about ourselves
  2. Encourage others to share their stories

Beyond that, it’s integratively using techniques to connect the two story sets, ours and theirs. The Refer Back Conversation Technique is but one example of this integration.

Now, as follow up to our assignment from Part 1, do you have your story? If not, don’t worry. If you can encourage others to tell their stories, you’re well more than half way there.


Related Post: Increasing Value, Power of Stories

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This entry is part 1 of 9 in the series Psychopaths in Workplace

Psychopath & Sociopath The DifferencesClassical management theory is very silent on the influence of personality in business, especially psychopaths and sociopaths who can and do exist in business, as Kevin Dutton (The Wisdom of Psychopaths) and others explain. Since experts don’t agree on definitions and these personalities appear in varying degrees, it’s hard to say exactly how many exist in everyday society. Figures range from 1% to 10-15% for less intense forms. For example, Dutton claims we all have psychopathic tendencies to some degree.

So, to initiate a pragmatic discussion of these personalities in the workplace, I start with this distinction: psychopaths are about power and sociopaths people.

Psychopaths view people more objectively: How do you affect their power? Psychopaths are very friendly if they believe you enhance their power. If not, you’re expendable or threatening. Since psychopaths are very paranoid, it won’t take much for you to threaten them.

Sociopaths view people more relationally: How can you please them? If sociopaths like you, they will bring you under their complete control. If they dislike you (i.e. you don’t allow them to control you), they will enjoy harming you. In fact, sociopaths like this so much that they will even risk their own power interests just as some people can’t resist certain bad foods.

If psychopaths hurt people, it’s an emotional non-event, for sociopaths an enjoyable one. For instance, employment terminations hurt people. Psychopaths won’t lose sleep over them; sociopaths will lose sleep from the thrill. Neither suffers remorse or guilt; both lack empathy.

One time, someone commented about the potential retirement of a CEO who just laid off 10% of his employees, by saying, “Oh, he’s having too much fun to retire.”

I then asked, “How can he be having fun if he just terminated all those people?” How would psychopaths and sociopaths answer this?


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EgocentricDelphine Szwarc asked the following of me on twitter:

Can one be egocentric and reserved at the same time?

More specifically, she wanted me to focus on this particular definition (#2 from her link):

having little or no regard for interests, beliefs, or attitudes other than one’s own; self-centered: “an egocentric person; egocentric demands upon the time and patience of others.

In short, the answer is “Yes, people can be egocentric and reserved at the same time.” For us to understand we need to focus on emotional and thought processes not just outgoing behavior. In other words, does the ERP regard others when he thinks and feels?

For instance, a reserved person could make a decision that has no regard for others. When he presents his decision and people disagree, an ERP is likely to believe that it occurred because they don’t like him and not because he ignored their interests, beliefs and attitudes.

One of the reasons egocentric people are such is that they have a strong belief in being right, often to the point of hubris. Second, since reserved people are often introverts, they tend to think extensively about problems before presenting solutions. Therefore, they not only believe they are right because of better insight but also because of the thought they put into the problem. What ERP’s overlook though is the problem of over thinking.

Frequently, ERP’s exhibit passive-aggressive behavior. For instance, they might listen to us gratuitously and do or change nothing. They might erect barriers for our ideas just so they can more easily justify turning them down. For instance, ERP’s might say, think or feel:

I’m open to other ideas, but people need to know that I’ve researched and analyzed mine. I expect them to be just as thorough as I am. They can’t expect me to change my position when they haven’t done their homework.

ERP’s differ from outgoing egocentric people in that they will encourage us to feel frustrated while living with impractical or overly complex ideas. The latter encourages oppressive feelings and ideas that are orders. Regardless, adapting to egocentrism is very difficult.


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When we think about the power of words, we often focus on the ideas they consciously express. However, their power extends unconsciously as anchoring tools and mood setters. In other words, they can alter how people think and feel without their knowledge. In fact, the words “think” and “feel” alone can influence whether we get a thinking answer or a feeling one from people.

Cassie Mogilner’s research cited in the article “You’ll Feel Less Rushed If You Give Time Away” (Harvard Business Review, September 2012 edition) finds:

. . . people who are exposed to money-related words . . . spend more time working and are less happy than those who are exposed to time-related words. The people primed to think about time socialize more with friends and family and are consequently happier.

The power behind this is similar to research in which people were primed for pursuing goals simply by reading things loaded with words like “success” and “achieve.” Unless people are consciously aware of this unconscious linkage, they won’t know they are being influenced and they won’t know that they are influencing others by using them.

In simple terms, the lesson is that if we wish to help others and ourselves, we should focus on the time-related aspects of events. When we manage people, focus them on the time they spent with others rather than how it affected budgets. For example, focus sales people on how their time helped clients rather than how much commission they made or how much they sold.

This is why political parties invest heavily in “staying on message” including the fine-tuning of which words to emphasize. Such conscious phrasing by a well-disciplined management team also influences a business culture, leveraging every aspect of power – conscious and unconscious – in words.


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This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Emotional Intelligence vs. Intuition

Previously, I had identified problem solving as an area showing a pronounced difference between Emotional Intelligence (EI) and Intuition. I want to expand upon that by focusing on how each functions in a group and with an individual. Of EI’s five components, only one, self-regulation, can operate completely when a person is alone.

For example, consider a man alone in the woods. As we saw with problem solving, EI doesn’t offer much help. Now, let’s expand beyond problem solving to helping that man get along with his environs or with his god. EI doesn’t offer much in the way of helping that man learn something about his non-human interactions, especially in a religious or philosophical sense.

On the other hand, intuition is the acquiring of knowledge and making of decisions through emotions. In other words, our emotions can help us understand and appreciate our world minus the people. EI, unless it helps us “to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods,” to pursue goals with energy and passion or to recognize and understand our moods, emotions and drives it doesn’t help us understand the non-human aspects of our world. In short, EI’s focus is on our emotions but not on what they are telling us. Analogously, this is akin to understanding a car but not where it’s taking us.

That is why EI’s main benefits spring from group encounters or one-on-one interactions not from a “man in the woods” scenario. Intuition thrives in both settings. Since our environment and conditions influence us greatly, intuition can help us understand both through the emotions they generate in us. Thus, rather than simply recognizing we are happy, intuition can help us understand what being happy might be telling us about our current environment, conditions or world.


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The relentless advance of technology and research methodologies is accelerating our understanding of ourselves and constricting the domain of free will (more). The article, “Tall, Dark and Stable” (The Economist, July 14,2012 edition), reports the work of David Kille, Amanda Forest and Joanne Wood (University of Waterloo) finding that “the stability of chairs and tables has an effect on perceptions and desires.”

People sitting on wobbly chairs or at wobbly tables will tend to:

  • See instability in the emotional aspects of people, relationships and other social events
  • Value stability in their own relationships, friends and acquaintances

This is in line with research finding that:

  • Giving someone an icy drink at a party leads him to believe he is getting the cold shoulder from fellow guests
  • Handing over a warm drink gives people a sense of warmth from others
  • Putting potential voters in chairs which lean slightly to the left causes them to become more agreeable towards policies associated with the left of the political spectrum
  • Standing next to a bottle of hand sanitizer makes us more conservative

Within this blog, we’ve learned that how we feel about our bodies influences our decisions. How

smells and testosterone levels can influence our judgments. How style influences our evaluation of content, rudeness influences evaluations of power and eloquence influences evaluations of honesty.

Beauty even affects us subliminally. Women in red influences men’s ratings of attractiveness and pretty women cause men to discount the future. Vanity sizing encourages clothing purchases. Consumer psychology (more) finds ways to make products more attractive. Even stories change the taste of food and single words impact our moods.

Yes, all are such little things. Yet, we often ignore them and then wonder why our initiatives aren’t as successful as they could be.


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People often feel that playing politics in the workplace is something dirty and to be avoided. Well, cleaning house and taking out the garbage is dirty work too, but it’s necessary. Still, it’s hard for some to see this as anything but compromising, “not being who I am.”

Yet, as we saw with honesty, euphemisms, online dating, respect and expectations, there is often a chasm between what people say they want and what they emotionally can accept. Consumer psychology (more) often highlights this chasm. Similarly, people will often say they want honesty and “the real you,” but their actions definitely point the other direction. Moreover, many people just don’t believe that unconscious influences affect them (more), especially in how they feel about us.

Therefore, being ourselves – without adapting to others’ sensitivities and preferences – is like playing golf only using the one club we like most. There’s a reason why golf allows us to use fourteen clubs; each hole on the course has a different personality. Moreover, each hole will treat us differently depending upon how we approach it and how it treats our shots.

Yes, we like to be ourselves, and we feel more comfortable with certain clubs in golf than we do with others. Similarly, we will always have preferences for specific tools, programs, scripts, words, songs, instruments, etc. in whatever work we do. Nevertheless, in order to be successful, we often must use things with which we are not entirely comfortable.

Of course, if we must adapt our actions and words to help others work with us, we need to remind ourselves that it’s just an act or a game; one that is necessary in order to succeed. In other words, we are just being pragmatic and not losing sight of who we truly are.


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This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Emotional Intelligence vs. Intuition

A major difference between Emotional Intelligence (EI) and intuition is the relationship of each to our conscious and unconscious selves. Whereas EI is primarily concerned with the former, it ignores the latter. Intuition, on the other hand, is very connected with our unconscious and influences our conscious.

Google searches illustrate this. When we insert “intuition and unconscious,” we immediately get a suggested search in the dropdown menu; we don’t with “emotional intelligence and unconscious.” In fact, when we go to search the original Goleman publication, “unconscious,” “subconscious” or “intuition” don’t appear.

Cognition, of which consciousness and intelligence play an important role, give form to our feelings and emotions. Thus, it’s one thing to be aware of something and another to express it as knowledge, proof or data.

Pragmatically, this means that those with high EI scores could have low intuitive functions and sensitivity because EI focuses on observable events not unconscious ones such as those routinely occurring in marketing, advertising and merchandising (more). It also means that people, who are very intuitive but cannot express it or translate it into action, will tend to have low EI scores.

For example, a sensitive person could get unconscious feelings about people from the words they use. Yet, the sensitive person would score low on EI if he could not express and attribute those feelings or translate them into specific actions that fit into the EI testing methodology.

Thus, EI exclusively focuses on what we consciously observe and communicate around emotions, in effect intellectualizing emotions, making knowledge of them intelligence. Intuition, on the other hand, often operates subconsciously. It means we can get feelings about people without knowing exactly how we got them. EI does not measure the degree to which this happens inside us.

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As computers and robots are able to perform more of the mental and physical tasks of humans, we are finding they can become more unnerving to us. Why is that?

“Mapping the Uncanny Valley” (The Economist, July 21, 2012 edition) examines the work of Kurt Gray (University of North Carolina) and Daniel Wegner (Harvard) to find it’s a matter of expectations. We do not expect robots to be human – more specifically to have emotions – so when we observe or hear that they do, it unnerves us. They also found that humans who “did not feel emotion” unnerved us because we expect humans to have emotions.

Extrapolating, here’s the lesson for us:

When we don’t conform to the expectations of others, we will likely unnerve them.

How much will tend to be a function of the degree to which we crashed their expectations and the degree to which such crashing unnerves them. Some might find such crashing a refreshing departure from the norm, more likely not though.

As we saw with euphemisms, people tend to prefer their illusions to reality; thus, we could rephrase the powerful line, “You can’t handle the truth,” from the movie A Few Good Men to be, “You can’t handle the real me.” In other words, people will tend to prefer you think, feel, talk and behave according to their expectations rather than as you are.

For these people, societal, cultural and business conventions rescue them by providing rationalizations for this unnerving: it’s rational to be upset with violators of such conventions. In reality though, it’s an emotional response, a function of their personality.

Therefore, pragmatically, you will often need to weigh the risks of crashing their expectations. Your real aspect might just be too much for them.


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This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Emotional Intelligence vs. Intuition

One difference I pointed out in my original post between Emotional Intelligence (EI) and intuition was problem solving. Deeper examination of this difference further helps us understand why EI and intuition can’t really be subsets of one another. Yet, it’s not uncommon for EI practitioners to insist that they are.

Early on when researching the difference, I had asked a very experienced and knowledgeable EI researcher to explain the difference to me. She began by saying that first EI is much broader than intuition. I asked then this question:

How can EI be broader than intuition when EI is applied only in a social context and intuition can be applied both in a social and solitary context?

Whether one attribute is larger is irrelevant. The point was to show a difference in order to begin separating the two. Whereas intuition can help you solve a puzzle, a home improvement dilemma, a business investment; EI does not only if it involves the emotions of other people.

For instance, consider these research papers on the role of intuition in problem solving:

There is nothing in these works that even imply any kind of awareness, intelligence or observations of other humans’ emotions when discussing problem solving. The focus is on how intuition influences our thought processes. EI can’t help you solve daily problems involving you and tangible things or ideas unless they involve people.

Intuition can because it’s the product of the feelings and emotions that things and ideas trigger in us. The “feeling of knowing” is one and mentioned in the first of the papers above. Digging deeper into problem solving helps us to distinguish EI from intuition.


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