THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Happy new year: Stuck? Fix your social skills
My son's I.Q. is in the top .05 percent of all preschoolers, but he attended preschool in a special education classroom. He has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism typified by a distinctly high I.Q. and a notable lack of emotional intelligence. Asperger's is thought to be genetic, and it's surging among kids in places like Silicon Valley that attract math and tech geniuses who often have sub-par social skills.
We know one boy with Asperger's who taught himself to read books when he was two years old. Scientists surmise that learning to read books so fast consumes the part of his brain that should be learning to read social cues.
My son's special education classroom was full of kids like that one– who used to pass through the education system labeled eccentric geniuses, only to graduate having never learned social skills and consequently to falter in adulthood.
Parents should take a child's lack of social skills seriously. Teachers sure do.
For educators, any nonverbal learning disability (like not being able to tell if someone cares about what you're talking about) is treated as significantly as a verbal learning disability (like not being able to speak). Yet I'm stunned by how many parents brush aside recommendations to get help for their children by saying to themselves, "My child is so smart."
Smart is not an endgame.
To understand why, look to the workplace. Aside from the school you attended, social skills are the most important factor in whether you succeed or fail. Here's some evidence: Nine out of ten business schools consider communication and interpersonal skills "highly underrated as a differentiating factor for students," according to CareerJournal.
And Jeff Puzas at PRTM echos a cacophony of workplace voices when he says, "Most of what I do every day as a management consultant has to do with interpersonal skills, not my I.Q."
And when you think about someone finding his way to success in the real world, consider the Wall Street Journal's list of traits that recruiters look for in business school candidates:
• Communication and interpersonal skills
• Original and visionary thinking
• Leadership potential
• Ability to work well on a team
• Analytical and problem-solving skills
Notice that most of these skills are independent of intelligence. Smart is even less an endgame for adults than children– and the standard for ability to work well with others is only getting higher, not lower: Generation Y is more team-oriented than previous generations.
So, it's time for managers and employees to stop making excuses for poor social skills and start taking the problem as seriously as educators do.
As an adult, one of the hardest parts of having low emotional intelligence is that you don't realize it. People missing the cues have no idea they're missing them. So the most unable often have the least understanding of where they fall in the spectrum.
I'm going to tell you something harsh: If your career is stuck, it's probably because of poor social skills. People who don't know what they want to do with themselves but have good social skills don't feel stuck; they feel unsure. People who are lacking social skills feel like they have nowhere to go.
Lost people feel possibilities. Stuck people do not feel possibilities. Ask yourself which you are. And if you feel suck, stop looking outside yourself to solve the problem. You need to change how you interact with people. Even if you're a toddler.