Social Skills Archive

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series Leveraging Group Interactions

Leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture.

How we handle the first question will determine whether we get more.

Once we secure the first question in our group interactions (i.e. presentations, meetings, gatherings, events), we’re only halfway home. Our handling of that first question will largely determine whether we get more. It’s a test. These five techniques will help us pass:

  1. Demonstrate appreciation for the question.
  2. Be sincere with any remark about it.
  3. Associate questioner’s name to it.
  4. Explain how question helps you or the discussion.
  5. Keep answer short.

Appreciation can be as direct as saying, “Thank you for getting us started with your question. I appreciate it.” Indirectly, it can be a compliment about the question’s quality or about how it allows elaboration on a favorite topic. Avoid saying, “Good question,” as it’s trite and commonly known as a stall until we formulate our answer. Complimenting questions is very similar to complimenting people: we should tailor it.

Part of appreciating the question is realizing it belongs to the questioner. Therefore, we personify it with the questioner’s name. This also helps pragmatically by allowing us to reference the question easily without having to repeat (i.e. “As I was saying about Mike’s question . . .”).

We treat the first question as the gift it is. Whereas we demonstrate appreciation by complimenting its unique aspects, this treatment is more pragmatic, showing how it facilitates better understanding, exploring more detail or sharing additional points. While similar to a compliment, it’s more pragmatic by sharing how the question helps the discussion. People like to be helpful. It reinforces their sense of self-worth.

Finally, we keep our answer short. Extended answers kill future questions by exposing our anxiety that another might not be forthcoming.

These five techniques ensure more questions after the first and an interactive discussion. That interactivity give us and our points greater influence.


2 Comments so far. Join the Conversation

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Placebo Management

Placebo ManagementThree attorneys specializing in medical malpractice attested to me that better bedside manner lowers malpractice risk. One even claimed that he could predict doctors’ malpractice premiums based on how they entered his office and seated themselves. According to “Better Bedside Manners” (Time, September 5, 2007) by Laura Blue, “plenty of past studies have shown a link between lousy doctor communication and poor medical outcomes, such as inadequate care and malpractice suits.” For instance, one study claimed these results:

Positive physician communication behaviors increased patients’ perceptions of physician competence and decreased malpractice claim intentions toward both the physician and the hospital. A more severe outcome increased only patients’ intentions to sue the hospital.

Doctors’ people skills also improve medical outcomes. Thus, the effect minimizes negatives and maximizes positives. It has many business lessons extending beyond the medical field. These lessons have two overarching themes. People skills influence:

  1. Interpretations and assessments of objective skills and performances
  2. Outcomes dependent on those skills

In other words, we will perceive doctors’ with good people skills as having good technical skills too. Similarly, we will perceive such employees as possessing better technical skills. We will tend to see the friendly computer technician as being good technically, the friendly CFO as being so too and so on. This relates to phenomena where style trumps content and eloquence trumps honesty.

Reversing the effect though, people skills allow us to improve outcomes without tangibly improving others’ skills. By impacting beliefs and emotions, we can help people feel better about themselves just as patients can feel better about their medical treatment. Both yield better outcomes.

Collectively, these are placebo approaches and techniques. Placebos have an impact in medicine. No longer can we say they don’t. We can say the same in management and leadership.


Be the first to comment

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Leveraging Group Interactions

Leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture.

Leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture

Questions and comments in group interactions attack the relational challenges these interactions create. They can occur at any time during the interaction, even the beginning. Getting the first one is most important. It can open the dam. Receiving them though is another matter. Saying, “I encourage questions in this meeting” or “Feel free to ask questions,” doesn’t cut it. People want proof that we want their questions and comments.

First, we allow plenty of time for questions, even a ridiculous amount. Leaving only a few minutes isn’t proof we want questions. If there aren’t any, we end the interaction regardless of time remaining especially if we will have further interactions with the same group.

Second, we must discipline ourselves to wait when we ask, as much as thirty seconds if need be. Meanwhile, we don’t look at our notes or around the room. We look at the people. Their eyes are best. How can we be sincere about their questions if we’re not even looking for them?

Third, we can frame our request to show appreciation and ask for their help such as:

I’m done with my remarks. The remaining time is for addressing other points through your questions. I’d appreciate someone getting us started by asking or commenting about something that he found interesting.

 Here, we’ve embedded four themes:

  • Appreciation for questions
  • Questions help us
  • Being the one
  • More

People feel good when they help especially if we appreciate it. We give special appreciation to the first one who helps by being the initiator. We recognize that the first question is very important. Finally, we suggest that there is more, if they ask.

Seen from another perspective, we are allowing others to make this presentation, meeting or other group interaction theirs not ours.


6 Comments so far. Join the Conversation
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.


4 Comments so far. Join the Conversation
Politeness as Dishonesty

Are we being dishonest 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?


Be the first to comment

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?


4 Comments so far. Join the Conversation

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?


Related information (book):


4 Comments so far. Join the Conversation

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

Be the first to comment

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?


14 Comments so far. Join the Conversation

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.


Be the first to comment