This Year Focus on People

January 08, 2014


Start with Relationship Building in Mind

Colleges and universities have long recognized and rewarded students who possess high IQs and who simultaneously test well. When it comes to predicting who will make tomorrow’s best and brightest leaders, however, IQ appears to be nearly irrelevant. “The world is run by C students,” the saying goes, and every list of CEOs proves the point. Only a small percentage of successful business leaders graduate anywhere near the top of their class.

About 20 years ago, EQ (aka emotional intelligence) became the rage, with some researchers insisting that it should replace IQ as the more accurate predictor of success. The focus shifted from brains to how well a professional recognized and managed his or her behaviors while simultaneously adapting to the moods and behaviors of others.

Increasingly, many now question whether EQ is predictive. Consider the case of Steve Jobs, viewed by many as perhaps the most wildly successful leader of the last decade or two. A quick read of Walter Isaacson’s biography of the one-time Apple CEO suggests Jobs’s IQ must have hovered in the stratosphere. Nonetheless I would have hated to work for the man. He seems to have completely lacked many EQ characteristics, including self-awareness and empathy.

If neither IQ nor EQ explains success, what could? Some leadership development experts now talk about CQ or “connected intelligence.” These experts suggest that how well an individual builds relationships, influences others and inspires people may be the best predictor of all. They argue that while Steve Jobs may have failed an EQ test, he excelled when it came to forging links. They point to the contacts Jobs made through Pixar and Disney and argue these resulted in the cross-industry partnerships that made the iPod, iPhone and iPad all possible.


The Impact of Technology on CQ

Ironically, the very electronic gadgets that many of us now associate with Apple and Steve Jobs may affect our ability to develop CQ. It’s well accepted that today’s technology allows us to connect with people around the globe faster, more easily and at a fraction of the cost of yesterday’s long-distance phone call. However, studies consistently find that electronic communications foster a sense of social isolation, and that isolation brings with it significant consequences when it comes to relationship building.

Take the example of confrontation. A decade or two ago one might have predicted that the ease of electronic communication would have caused conflict to diminish. After all, more communication should result in less fighting. Right?

Instead, too often we see parties in conflict send a series of electronic messages, each of which escalates in emotion and fervor. An e-insult leads to an e-face slap leads to an e-call to arms. The emailer becomes a bit like a bombardier dropping incendiary devices from an airplane. Just as the bombardier doesn’t see the damage he or she causes below, emailers and texters too often remain unaware of the emotional impact of their messages. Read the emails of two people going through a testy break-up and you know this to be true.

What’s more, even when we attempt to connect face-to-face, technology’s ubiquity hampers our success. Too often live conversations are interrupted by the blinking light or syncopated ring tone of a nearby smart phone. When we turn those smart phones completely off, many complain that their time spent in isolation has hampered their ability to accurately read another’s non-verbal cues. Lose that ability and building relationships becomes a near impossibility.


Commit to Building Better Relationships

Since the ability to build relationships is so critical to success, students and new professionals should engage in activities that enhance their relationship-building skills. Fortunately, none of these activities are difficult to undertake. In fact, I’d argue that, when compared to training for a marathon, they are downright pleasurable. Like long distance running, the two keys to success include discipline and time.

Three proven relationship-building activities include:

1. Read more fiction – Yes, go visit your neighborhood library, support your local bookstore or download some literature onto your tablet. Just make sure that you chose a romance novel and bypass the science fiction and fantasy.

Such are the findings of a research team from York University. Researchers gave study participants a choice of reading material and then measured participants’ ability to determine the emotional state of a person in a photo. The photo had been cropped to only reveal the subject’s eyes.

People who read more fiction were more likely to select the correct emotion. And once researchers took into account a series of factors, including age, gender, and the degree to which a participant embodied the personality dimension of openness, only romance novels were found to be predictive.

So, choose Austen over Asminov, though separate research suggests that a little Grisham (and other suspense/thriller novelists) may enhance one’s ability to read subtle facial expressions, too.

2. Grab some extra Zzzzzzzs - Long before last month’s horrific train accident just north of New York City, we’ve known that a lack of sleep can have bad consequences at work. In the December incident, a Metro-North train engineer reportedly dozed moments before his train took a sharp curve at a dangerously high rate of speed. The train derailment resulted in four deaths.

Lack of sleep can also affect our efforts to build and sustain relationships. Research presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies concluded that sleep-deprived partners rarely describe their relationship as satisfying. In fact, once a party lacks sleep, a vicious cycle starts to emerge: I’m unhappy with my relationship, so I can’t fall asleep; I didn’t sleep well last night, now I’m even unhappier in my relationship; I’m so unhappy in this relationship, I can’t even think about falling asleep tonight.

While the research I found mostly relates to the impact of sleep on personal relationships, I have no doubt the same principle applies to relationships at work.

What’s the take-away? Don’t go to bed angry. To the extent possible, resolve workplace conflicts as they emerge or before your workday ends. Don’t allow conflict to disturb your sleep.

3. Practice the power of singular focus – If our electronic devices have done nothing else, they’ve encouraged us to multi-task. Even as I type this blog, each time a new email arrives in my In Box, a pop-up message appears on my desktop and my smartphone chimes. Of course, I’ve left my iPhone turned on so that I can also respond to client phone calls as they come in. And though I hate to admit it, if something particularly newsworthy were taking place, I’d have a newsfeed quietly playing in the background.

Everyone multi-tasks. We do it in part because we want to be connected. We are social animals, after all. We also multi-task because we falsely believe that it saves us time.

Let me emphasize the falsity of that belief. Study after study has concluded that human beings do not multi-task effectively, especially when it comes to complex tasks. Yes, you may be able to correctly update your timesheet online while a coworker repeats a joke she heard at Starbucks. However, if a task becomes more complex—instead of updating your timesheet you need to create a new valuation spreadsheet OR instead of relating a joke your coworker reports on a strategy conference call that you missed—attempts to multi-task harm us more than they help.

That harm impacts the bottom-line. In a 2007 New York Times article Jonathan Spira, an analyst at business research firm Basex, asserted that extreme multi-tasking costs the U.S. economy $650 billion a year in lost productivity.

It also causes individuals to experience huge amounts of stress. According to Dr. Alan Keen, behavioral scientist Central Queensland University, extreme multi-tasking causes chemical changes in the brain, including increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make individuals more disposed to being impulsive and aggressive. It doesn’t take a brain scientist—or a relationship specialist—to know that increased stress can impact relationship building.

If you want to enhance you relationship-building ability, commit to spending some time every day gadget-free. Yes, turn your smartphone, tablet and laptop off AND put them away. Interacting in an environment completely free of possible interruptions “seems to help foster closeness, connectedness, interpersonal trust, and perceptions of empathy—the building blocks of relationships,” according to Scientific American.


What You Need to Know

When it comes to building relationships not everyone is a natural. Reading more fiction, sleeping ‘til you’re rested, and avoiding multi-tasking seem to help.



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