How Exceptional Social Skills Boost Workplace Performance

In his second guest blog, Organisational Psychologist Ruari Fangman explores just how important social skills can be on your professional performance.

With Jonathan Bradshaw taking his annual break from delivering the weekly ‘Meetology® Minute’ vlogs, we are delighted to share the second of six posts from our guest blogger Ruari Fangman. We met Ruari through our partnership with the University of the West of England from where, under the tutorship of our lead psychologist (and Senior Lecturer at UWE) Dr Paul Redford, Ruari has recently graduated with a Msc in Occupational Psychology. You can find more our about what Ruari has been up to post-graduation here: Ruari Fangman

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In recent years much of the advice I’ve seen has suggested that management courses, leadership programs or self-help guides are the key to becoming the person you want to be and achieving your goals in life. However, these ‘miracle success recipes’, often overlook one key aspect; all of your interactions in life involve people. Yes, just consider your own experience in this area and how in your work life, social life and love life are powered by your social skills.

Having explored dating and relationships last week, in this, the second of my series of blogs, I’m going to delve into the impact and benefits of having exceptional people skills on workplace interactions.

If you browse LinkedIn you’ll often see motivational quotes and success stories that herald the idea that by putting hard work into your profession, and by learning and tweaking the skills that you need for your job, you’re going to perform better. Of course this is true, but what is sometimes less obvious is the impact that effective interpersonal skills and social competencies can have on your professional performance.

Researchers (1) from France, Spain and the USA examined 223 employees from three medium sized organisations in Spain. They were asked to fill out a 360-degree measure of emotional intelligence, in which scores were taken from their co-workers as well as the individuals themselves to calculate an overall score for them on social competencies.  Performance was measured by peer and manager reports along with more traditional measures such as output, customer satisfaction etc. It’s already known that personality can be a predictor of performance in some settings, so the researchers also included personality scores as a way of seeing if emotional and social competencies might actually be a better predictor of performance than personality.

The results of the study showed that emotional and social competencies moderately predict and correlate with performance as measured by the employee’s peers and managers.  What was perhaps more interesting is that in this study they also found that performance was actually better predicted by emotional and social competencies, than by the more traditional personality traits. As personality questionnaires like “The Big 5”, MBTI and suchlike have become commonly used psychometric measures within organisations, it might also be worth re-considering their use, as emotional and social competencies may actually be a better predictor of performance.

There are of course some limitations to this research, as the authors point out the sample size was relatively small and only consisted of employees from a couple of organisations in one country, so the findings might not be generally applicable. Performance is also quite a hard concept to define outside of settings where material output is the only factor.  In this study they examined employees from all organisational levels, which means that there may be some inaccuracies in capturing the nuances of performance across all job roles. None the less, this research does indicate that there is significant weight behind the idea that having exceptional people skills can actually have a positive impact on performance, and that there is the potential of increasing your own performance at little cost.

Another study (1) carried out by Italian researchers over a period of eight years, examined the impact of social and emotional competencies on the overall career success of Italian managers. “Emotional competencies” is quite a broad term but for the purpose of this research it included commitment to high quality of work, use of initiative, conscientiousness, flexibility and self-control. Again with social competencies, it’s also a broad term but the researchers have defined it as empathy, persuasiveness, networking, negotiating, self-confidence, group management, developing others, oral communication, organisational awareness, teamwork and leadership. You might be thinking that career success is subjective to some degree, what one person considers successful another person may consider mediocre, just for clarity, the researchers have defined career success as being “any increases in level and/or any significant increases in job responsibilities or job scope”, with this definition they hoped to capture not only vertical career progression but horizontal moves too.

The research was published in 2015 and found that there were significant relationships between Emotional Competencies, Social Competencies, the managers’ career style and the subsequent overall career success of the Italian managers.

There are also other potential benefits of having effective people skills in the workplace other than just increased performance. There are many high-pressure roles today and incidents of burnout and chronic stress are common, according to the Health & Safety Executive (1) the UK lost 11.7 Million days to stress in 2015/16 and one of the occupations where stress was most prevalent was healthcare.

Researchers (1) from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil conducted a study in which they examined levels of Burnout, anxiety, depression and social skills within 305 medical residents. The results indicated that social skills were negatively related to burnout, depression and anxiety, which indicates that having good interpersonal skills could protect you from the effects of a high pressure career.

The above pieces of research come together to show that having exceptional people skills within the workplace, can have a huge benefit to your overall career, and can actually be a better predictor of overall success than some of the more traditional measures. An additional benefit of exceptional people skills is that they may potentially protect you from the negative effects of stress; perhaps it might be prudent for organizations and individuals to invest more into interpersonal skills to get a leg up on the competition?

(1) – References can be found in the references tab

References and other relevant studies

Anderson, T., Ogles, B.M., Patterson, C.L., Lambert, M.J. & Vermeersch, D.A. 2009, “Therapist effects: Facilitative interpersonal skills as a predictor of therapist success”, Journal of Clinical Psychology, vol. 65, no. 7, pp. 755-768.

Guillén Ramo, L., Saris, W.E. & Boyatzis, R.E. 2009, “The impact of social and emotional competencies on effectiveness of Spanish executives”, Journal of Management Development, vol. 28, no. 9, pp. 771-793.

Gerli, F., Bonesso, S. & Pizzi, C. 2015, “Boundaryless career and career success: the impact of emotional and social competencies”, FRONTIERS IN PSYCHOLOGY, vol. 6, pp. 1304.

Pereira-Lima, K. & Loureiro, S.R. 2015, “Burnout, anxiety, depression, and social skills in medical residents”, Psychology, Health & Medicine, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 353-362.

Tsai, M., Chen, C. & Chin, C. 2010, “Knowledge Workers’ Interpersonal Skills and Innovation Performance: An Empirical Study of Taiwanese High-Tech Industrial Workers”, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 115-126.

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2017-09-13T10:41:17+00:00

About the Author:

Jonathan Bradshaw presents and trains internationally on the fascinating psychology powering exceptional interpersonal communication. He is Founder of the Meetology® Lab and leads the company’s team of behavioral psychologists in collating and sharing cutting-edge research on exceptional people skills. As an experienced and engaging keynote speaker Jon has presented at conferences and business events in over 30 countries and is an award-winning columnist and blogger. Learn more about him speaking at your next event via www.meetology.com or connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.