How Improving Your Social Skills Can Boost Your Career

Last Updated Jan 26, 2011 6:26 PM EST

Back when men were trying to keep women out of the office, men would argue that women were too emotional for the workplace. And women would try to get ahead by behaving more like men.

Today, the tables have turned, and we know that social skills are one of the most important factors to success at work. Management consulting firm Roberts Golden warns in a recent white paper that one of the most significant trends in the workplace is the demise of the number-cruncher who lacks the soft skills of a people person.

In fact, today's workplace favors women, and young women in particular are doing better than men in corporate life. While the reasons are varied, I would argue that one explanation for this shift is that women are more emotionally in tune with co-workers than men.

The innate gulf between the social skills of men and women is huge; women have been taking care of children for forever, and all the books in the world about equality cannot undo evolution. So the best advice for success at work might be to work like a woman. What's that mean?

1) Force yourself to augment your skills set to include intuition.
The best strategic thinkers are also emotional and intuitive thinkers, according to research presented in the Harvard Business Review. There are sixteen personality types, according to Myers Briggs data. Only half of them include intuitive thinking, but intuitive thinking makes for stronger emotional intelligence.

2) Create a calm personal life.
The ideas that you can have a crazy personal life and hide it at work - forget it. Aim for strong integration between your work self and home self and the steadier you will you be in both. And Dan Ariely, a Duke professor of behavioral economics, has done research that shows that if we have erratic emotions then our decisions at work a similarly erratic path.

Creating a positive personal life makes you more effective as a manager. Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We're Working Isn't Working, shows that emotions are contagious. And managers who are able to moderate their own emotions are likely to have an emotionally stable team.

Of course, real emotional stability comes from having an unshakable equilibrium. If you have that, you should stop reading. Stop reading everything. Go be a monk in Tibet. If you do not have that, here are some ways to increase your emotional stability. Or at least fake it at work:

3) Focus on your friends rather you're your enemies.
Analysis from the recent World Cup shows that people who know their teammates well perform better than people who know the games of their enemies well. So all that time you get wound up at work about the people who annoy you - remind yourself that it doesn't help your performance.

Instead, try getting a workplace spouse, someone you confide in about issues work and non-work related. In fact, a Captive Network Office Pulse survey finds that 65% of people in business have workplace spouses. While these relationships don't involve sex, they do involve emotional support, which helps people stay stead in the workplace.

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