Friday, July 10, 2009

Know Thyself, then know thy others

So have you been smiling more lately?

Have you been focusing on sourcing your responses and interactions with others from a place of authenticity?

If yes, then great! You’re well on your way to being a social genius! Just remember this is a thousand mile journey that takes most of us our entire lives. In my third and final entry on social intelligence (If you are just finding this blog check out the previous two entries here and here) I am going to give you some key components of social intelligence as defined by Goleman, et al that you can use to get a quick picture of your level of social intelligence and areas you may want to work. I’m also going to give you some ideas for ways you can begin improving.

It seems that many of the people and groups I interact with struggle to see how the topics social intelligence, leadership and high performers are relevant in the current economic crisis. I believe that they have never been more relevant. We are all facing strains and stresses that, unchecked, can have an affect on our work product. I know I am at my office.

We walked into this crisis with a new program launch and a major overhaul of our business model. We were planning for a rough year even before the crisis hit. Our business relies mostly on providing corporate training. Which is often the first thing that is cut when hard times hit. Many are worried about their jobs, stressed because their salary doesn’t cover as much of their costs of living as it used to; combine that with a wage and hiring freeze and we just aren’t seeing much of a tangible reward for our hard work. Yet my boss continues to reinforce that she sees how hard we are working, she knows we are trying to make the best of a bad situation and that she knows we’re going to have a bad year and she is not upset. In fact, she is thrilled that we have used this time to rebuild our organization and she is authentically excited about the future. That, my friends, is social intelligence deployed through leadership and in times of crisis it is often the only tool in a leader’s pocket to keep their teams motivated and bought-in.

So, how can we measure social intelligence for ourselves? Daniel Goleman lists several metrics, which you can find in his original article. I’m going to list what I believe are the top 3 here:

1. Empathy: Do you understand what motivates other people, even those from different backgrounds? Are you sensitive to their needs?
This cornerstone of social intelligence can be the most difficult to achieve. It requires us to move beyond our own agenda and needs and focus on those of others. In most cases they will return the favor without you asking and you’ll have created the first step towards building a strong bond.
2. Attunement: Do you listen attentively and think about how others feel? Are you attuned to other’s moods?
I have to admit, this one is difficult for me. I often find myself formulating a response before the person that is speaking to me is even halfway through their statement. It can be hard to shut off our brains and keep them from leaping to conclusions yet it is important. As you listen remember to empathize. Try to imagine what the person is going through. What lead them to formulate their ideas? Ask them to confirm your assumptions to see if they are true. You’ll have some misses at first, but you will get better with practice.
3. Organizational Awareness: Do you appreciate the culture and values of the group or organization? Do you understand social networks and know their unspoken norms?
I am a loud person who tends to dominate any conversation I am a part of without much regard for others. I received some sage advice once from a mentor of mine. “Force yourself to observe first, then once you understand the group, act.” Give it a try, even if you’re shy. Purpose yourself to actively observe the group. What are their roles? Does one-person build consensus, another make the final decision, does another tend to the feelings of others? Watch these things in your groups at work. Learn how each person works. Once you understand them you’ll be able to connect with them in a much more authentic way.

From the list above it seems that the pathway to social intelligence is somewhat counter-intuitive. In my first entry I wrote how the key to social intelligence is authenticity and the key to authenticity is self-knowledge. Yet, here we see that measures of social intelligence seem to be less about how well you know yourself and how well you know others. So which is it? Both! I think a story about my adorable niece will help illustrate this point (and give me a chance to show her off).

My niece recently started walking. She improves every time I see her. Yet when she first started it required her total concentration. Walking was so complex to her that it required all of her mental resources. No carrying toys and even keeping in mind where she was going. She was totally focused on walking. A few weeks and lots of practice and now she can manage everything but going down the stairs. She carries her toys around and even calls our names as she walks around.

It’s the same with social intelligence. You cannot really work on the external elements until you get a handle on the internal stuff. Until you know yourself well enough to know that your responses are authentic (do you just spring load to yes or no when someone asks you to do something?) you can’t focus externally. Like my niece, you have to focus inside and get the self-knowledge to a level of awareness of unconscious competence (remember the levels of awareness from a few weeks back?) before you can start to focus your concentration on others. To say it Suze Orman style: “Self-knowledge first, then empathy/attunement/awareness, then success!”

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