When a colleague recently asked me what it was like to work with an IT giant client of ours on a big project, I quipped, “Remember the smartest kid in class? The one who was always first to raise her hand? It’s like working with a room full of those people”. “Oh,” he sighed (as I humbly remembered: I was one of “those people”, too!). Effective communications and collaboration abilities, once “nice-to-have” “soft” skills, have become increasingly important in the era of virtual teams, group dynamics and innovations, and social business. For many of us smart, introverted types who are guided by quiet, rational thought vs. animated dialogue with multiple parties, this can be a daunting scenario. And, yet, not pursuing this path of development can also lead to major career roadblocks, as asserting a strident individual point of view can be interpreted as “not a team player”.
While true change in our basic approaches and advanced skill development take time, intensive study and self-discipline, there are a few things we can do on our own that could really make a difference. Here are three of those options:
1. Acquaint yourself with the concepts of emotional and social intelligence
Emotional intelligence is, as the name implies, the emotional sphere that runs in parallel to our cognitive intelligence. In the workplace, especially in Technology-based environments, cultivation of this dimension and skill set plays a key role in getting things done. It contributes to being heard and, often, to being sufficiently persuasive. Yet despite its critical role, there are seldom opportunities to develop this key capacity beyond the School of Hard Knocks.
Social intelligence is a follow-on to emotional intelligence, offering a similar skill set to be developed to emotional intelligence but in terms of working with a group instead of 1:1. In both spheres, respect for all points of view, balanced with learning to persuade and influence, is the key to unlocking how to understand and leverage this powerful set of tools.
2. Observe and Recalibrate
In addition to reading books and articles, now in the popular business literature, there is value to observing others in a group setting. The next time you’re in a work discussion, perhaps collaborating on a roadmap or launch plan, take a moment to witness a part of yourself standing outside the group dynamics. Who is communicating effectively? What is working? What might work better? Cultivating this practice, reflecting and then practicing key learnings casually in your own group exchanges can lead to some surprisingly effective results.
To deepen this practice, consider journaling about these “practice” sessions; you may even want to keep a separate journal about them. It’s also important to note, however painful, occasions that didn’t go so well; times when you weren’t heard; when your suggestions were ignored. Advanced levels of emotional and social intelligence are secured by learning from such moments and refining behaviors, even if the outcomes may ultimately stem from something far outside our own spheres of influence.
3. Surrender the need to be right for the need to collaborate and persuade
Many of us have “being smart” and being “right” at the core of our identity. This is who we are; this is how we have achieved; this is why we are hired, sought after, etc. However, in the modern workplace, such individual expertise must sometimes be surrendered in order for projects to move forward and relationships to stay intact (if not strengthened). I once went through 17 rounds of a press release review with an engineering colleague before I finally said, “I think we must move on or we’ll miss our opportunity”. Did the content change much after the first 10 rounds? Probably not, and definitely would not have changed after round 17, but between rounds 10 and 17 was the opportunity to build a relationship that needed building, and afforded one who was seldom heard to have a loud voice for once; a tricky but worthy balance in the long-term.
The best part is: developing these parts of ourselves tends to lead to more successful relationships in all aspects of life, in addition to the workplace. For those of us who are lifelong learners and achievers, this is a key place to apply and deepen ourselves as we enhance our value to our employers and clients. Being smart is great; being effective is even better.