Social Skills Archive

External - Internal Feelings

Soft skills are harder to see, define and quantify than hard skills are.

The body has 206 bones. The number of skeleton muscles is in the 639-850 range depending on definition, not including though the heart muscle, smooth muscles or ones for each hair follicle. Defining muscles is a far harder task than defining bones is.

In business we apply hard and soft skills. Hard are specific, teachable, definable and measurable. Soft make those much more difficult. Hard skills apply to companies’ structures: organization, processes, operations, rules and procedures – their bones. Soft skills apply to their people – their muscles.

Without bones, our muscles would collapse as soft tissue blobs inert on the ground. Without muscles, bones would fall like sticks. Without structure, companies would be chaotic groups of people. Without people, they would be just bytes of procedures, policies and rules.

Repairing and healing broken bones is critical, requiring rest and perhaps a couple months. Rehabilitating surrounding muscles, even before a surgery, is important too, but is much harder, requiring much more work and time. As a juror, both lawyers explained the much harder task of defining and diagnosing soft tissue injuries versus structural ones. Even legally, soft is harder, and hard is easier.

Comparatively, companies’ people are much harder to define and quantify than their structural aspects are, making soft skills harder to apply and hard ones easier. After all, we naturally drift to easily visible, definable and quantifiable problems, those usually requiring hard skills. Similarly, lying still while a doctor repairs bone is much easier than rehabilitating muscles is. If undone though, muscles will be weaker.

Thus, reorganizing and restructuring companies without applying necessary soft skills before and after is akin to neglecting rehab. As doctors say though, it’s most critical for a successful recovery. Working soft tissues and applying soft skills are much harder work though . . . and easier to neglect.


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Politeness as Dishonesty

Are we being dishonesty when we are being polite?

Politeness softens the edge on our feelings but does so at the cost of cutting a good understanding of where we stand. If doing this purposely, are we dishonest?

Early in our marriage, my wife showed me a wallpaper sample for our bedroom. I politely said I didn’t like it. The next day, returning from work, it was up. I asked her why when I told her I didn’t like it. She answered that it didn’t seem like I disliked it a lot. Ironically, according to “Perils of Candour” (The Economist, June 7, 2014 edition), China-United States relations seem to suffer from the same politeness. A spat that occurred between the two was “welcome relief from the stifling obfuscation and pussyfooting courtesy in which much diplomacy is cloaked.” Could our workplaces be suffering from such politeness, creating problems with dishonesty and effectiveness?

We naturally shy away from dissent and conflict. We often use euphemisms such as retrenching to reference terminations and challenges to reference problems. Not only might they hide reality but they might compel us to express ourselves dishonestly. For example, is it dishonest to express something as a challenge, when we feel it’s a problem?

Moreover, as with any dishonesty, politeness produces problems. Avoiding conflict and dissent is bad for innovation and business. Some then ask, “So, I should be rude?” The real question is, “If honestly expressing how you feel, how can anybody interpret that as anything but honesty? It’s neither polite nor rude. Polite means you’re packaging truth to please, rude packaging it to hurt. Both can manipulate.

Yet, people prefer to characterize our words and behaviors along a polite-rude spectrum. Otherwise, they might find themselves admitting that they don’t like our honesty. Who’s going to admit, especially to themselves, that they don’t like honesty?


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This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Psychopaths in Workplace

Psychopath & Sociopath The DifferencesPreviously, I recommended revisiting Emotional Intelligence (EI) as proposed by advocates of Daniel Goleman. That centered on empathy. This is on self-regulation, another of the five components of EI Goleman created. Again, looking at psychopaths relative to self-regulation illustrates legitimacy for revisiting the EI concept.

Imagine a sensitive person born with very intense emotions and another born psychopathic, with far fewer, if any, emotions. The psychopath has little to maintain, little to regulate. It’s much easier for the psychopath to self-regulate than the sensitive person. The psychopath won’t be moody or impulsive. Moreover, if the sensitive person is emotionally empathic, he will not only have to deal with his emotions but those of others (more). In other words, a psychopath could score very high in self-regulation, while the sensitive person very low.

High-EI people aren’t necessarily compassionate, sensitive or emotionally empathetic. They are social adept and persuasive. These require being intelligent about – not sensitive to – emotions (timestamp 0:33). Finally, EI is learnable, meaning bright psychopaths who weren’t born with the troublesome emotions of sensitive people could pick it up more easily. Throw in inconsistent definitions of psychopathy and empathy, and new discoveries about our brain, subconscious and intuition, and calls for upgrading EI are legitimate.

The impact to businesses is approaching EI from an accurate perspective. For instance, EI advocates are fond of saying, “High IQ will get you hired. But EI will get you promoted.” Since EI deals much with managing our relationships, this slogan could just be the intellectualization of “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Therefore, while EI might be great for careers, is it great for businesses? Will it foster the diversity and conflict necessary for innovative cultures or foster homogenous and compliant ones dominated by the persuasive?


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Building RelationshipsAn executive reviews observations about an employee with a manager and concludes, “Tom, you need to support him by doing X, Y and Z.”

Manager responds, “Yes, Nicole, I see that.”

Another executive reviews observations about another employee with another manager, “Sam, I need you to support Mark here,” as she turns and looks at Mark, “by doing X, Y and Z.”

Manager responds, “Yes, Samantha, I see that.”

Both conversations took place while the employee was standing right there, but we don’t know that by the first conversations’ comments. Yet, this happens very frequently in the workplace: we talk about people in their presence without acknowledging them, without including them. This either takes the form of failing to address them in comments or to look at them. Public speaking techniques encourage us to make eye contact, so why not in interpersonal conversations?

While the same information transfers, the emotional impact is considerable. Acknowledgement is a relationship building technique. Using names helps us personalize our conversations. Together, these techniques help us engage and develop strong relationships, the secret to helping others adapt to change. This acknowledging relational strategy has been shown to increase children’s intelligence (“In The Beginning Was the Word”, [The Economist, February 22, 2014 edition], Betty Hart and Todd Risley, [University of Kansas] study). By talking to children rather than about them when they are present, they become more intelligent.

Even though the study was about children not adults, both are humans, meaning acknowledgment has power that will manifest itself differently in children and adults. It won’t make employees more intelligent, but it will make them more engaged. Keys are to:

  • Use their names
  • Look at them
  • Address them
  • Incorporate them

How can people feel they have value to our team, if we don’t even acknowledge them?


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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 10 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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