When we were at LegoLand I was struck by the high emotional intelligence of the employees. Their job is to make everyone feel like their Lego project is great. (You'd be surprised how many parents are there, swiping the white blocks from little kids at the Lego snowman contest.)
High emotional-intelligence jobs are very hard, and I would rather sweep floors. But I force myself to try to improve my emotional intelligence because people who don't try to improve it generally suck at it. And people with high emotional intelligence are fascinated by how to get even better at reading people.
So I'm always seeking out new data points for emotional intelligence so I can get that social skills boost I most definitely need.
Here's what I've learned about the social skills secrets of successful people:
1. Don't try to fake emotion.
The first thing you should do is stop trying to fake that you care. It simply doesn’t work. You know the studies about smiling? They show that if you really smile, your eyes wrinkle. If you fake smile, those wrinkles are not there. And we read that subconsciously.
In fact, most of what we read subconsciously is correct. Here’s a good summary of that in the Economist. But the bottom line on reading people is that we have had millions of years to perfect the skill, and we’re good at it.
We can also tell right away how someone feels toward us. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that people judge empathy accurately in just 20 seconds of video without sound. This means we are reading the face. This also means that it’s pretty difficult for someone who doesn’t feel empathy to feign empathy.
2. Focus on doing rather than feeling.
I read a lot of books about how to have good social skills, and the instructions are always something specific I should say or do. For example, if someone is talking about themselves, I should not interject to talk about myself, but rather, ask a question about the other person.
I can do this. But I have a hard time caring, and it shows up as awkwardness—an act of empathy but no empathy showing in my face. Now I get it: the whole “passing for normal” goal is useless.
It’s much easier for me to follow rules that involve doing instead of caring.
3. Pay attention to personality types.
You know you should make people feel good by recognizing them for their work. But it’s actually difficult to know the right way to do that; one way won’t work for everyone, and, not surprisingly, it comes down to personality.
There are four dominant types of personalities. (Take the Myers Briggs test here to find out yours. It’s free.) There are four dominant types of people, each motivated primarily by either power, relationships, craftsmanship, or ideals.
4. First recognize then reward.
It's important to first recognize a job well done, with gratitude. But also, if you reward the person with appropriate work then you'll encourage a repeatedly outstanding performance. (Insights is a company that trains managers to think like this.)
Here are the four personality types and how to inspire them.
Power. Type-A types. For a job well done, reward this person with public recognition when a task or project is finished. Reward the person with visionary, forward-thinking projects.
Relationships. The cheerleader type. This person also wants some sort of public recognition, but it should be fun. And the thank-you speech is really important to this person. Reward them with projects that are varied and well defined.
Ideals. The crusaders. This person wants to be rewarded along the way, not just at the end. Reward this person as part of their team, not alone. Show faith in their ability to build strong partnerships by giving them more work to leverage that skill.
Craftsmanship. The perfectionists. Reward this person for attention to detail, and do it in a private, one-on-one way. They don’t want big fanfare. This person wants acknowledgement that they did a good job by seeing executive management adopt their work as the standard.
4. Judge yourself on how precisely you give a compliment.
You might not be in a position to reward someone at your company, but you are always in a position to acknowledge the work someone has done. This information helps you understand who wants acknowledgement for what. And you can mention something to them.
This seems subtle, but the difference between high emotional intelligence and merely average is that everyone knows you should give compliments when you can. But not everyone knows who needs what sort of compliment.