In Part I of Improving Shitty Communication and Social Skills, I argued that it’s difficult to communicate well once one is removed from one’s comfort zone, that place where everyone shares similar values, standards, and vocabulary. That’s why very few are good communicators and have effective social skills. It takes a lot of thought and effort to develop adequate communication and social skills. Those who don’t recognize they have inadequate communication and social skills are unlikely to improve them because they don’t have reason to work on them. Put simply, employees who have good communication and social skills shouldn’t work for me. They can’t learn anything from me. They’re overqualified.
The great communicators are those able to change the way people think and live. Howard Shultz, for instance, is a great communicator for convincing the average person that it’s worth paying $5 for a decent cup of coffee. Presidents like Clinton, Reagan, JFK, for instilling in some Americans optimism, hope for a better future. Ann Wigamore for convincing millions to drink something as useless as wheatgrass. Hillary Clinton and Obama for convincing most Americans it’s ok to invade a sovereign nation. GW Bush for convincing enough Americans that it’s ok to invade sovereign nations. Math teacher, Jaime Escalante, for figuring out how to get low income Mexican American students to take Math seriously and pass the AP Calculus exam at rates unheard of except at the best schools. Those without such accomplishments probably have meh communication and social skills. And a Communications degree doesn’t make one a good communicator. Yikes, no.
Most employees arrive thinking that good communication and social skills is about being polite and agreeable. Just smile, greet, and say “yes” often. It’s that simple.
No, it isn’t. Polite and agreeable may work well in despotic environments and in low-skill jobs, where fake obedience and superficiality are rewarded. It doesn’t work in the competitive world of capitalism, where checks and balances and efficient proliferation of ideas are necessary to ensure maintenance of standards and movement toward vision. Polite and agreeable is the language of the lazy, the self-absorbed and self-centered, the ones who don’t bother and don’t want to be bothered. Polite and agreeable because it’s a lot easier than being considerate and responsible.
We beat polite and agreeable out of employees. Once we asked a new employee to sample a soup and give us her opinion. At that point, we’d already assessed her palate and determined that she likes salty and sweet. We’d also determined that she’s a bullshitter who admitted to another employee that she doesn’t like fruit. The soup was unsalted, completely unseasoned. Despite not liking the soup — expression on her face — she told us that the soup is great. We weren’t done, lesson not over. We left the soup out for customers, still unseasoned, because I really wanted to make a point. Customer sampled it and told us that he didn’t like it. One of us sampled the soup and determined he was right, it wasn’t up to standard. I apologized to the customer, seasoned the soup. We then made a different soup. When this soup was completed, I commented on how new employee’s palate doesn’t match ours (it really doesn’t) so we can’t rely on it and had another employee try and critique it. That’s how we communicated to her that being agreeable and fake isn’t tolerated, rewarded. I’m sure she understood at some level that being fake is frowned on by most. But I don’t think she ever experienced negative consequences from being fake. She bullshitted because she has been rewarded for being agreeable and fake her entire life. It helped her forge bonds with people, and that’s what she was trying to do with me. She believed that complimenting me would be the best way to gain my favor.
Polite and agreeable works in low-skilled jobs where superficial camaraderie and personal feelings are privileged over vision, values and standards. Think about what you fight about. Do you become angry when someone calls you a label you disagree with (that bitch called me a slut!? A loudmouth?! I’ll beat her ass) or because someone has violated/disregarded your core values, vision, and standards? What sends you into a rage, when someone doesn’t empathize with you or when someone doesn’t meet your standards (eg. poor plating, sloppy cooking). Do you tell someone you’ve fought with that you’re sorry for hurting his/her feelings, or you’re sorry for disregarding a certain standard of behavior?
If you’re more concerned about feelings, particularly your own, then stay out of high-stress, high-profile jobs. The higher up you go, the less polite and less agreeable people are. The higher up you go, the more concise and succinct the communication style. Higher up you go, the fewer excuses you’ll hear. If you want to be a world class scientist, or an NBA star, or a CEO, you have to think and talk like one. If you think and act like a receptionist, you’ll likely become one. If you care about your career, be reflective, pay attention to how you think and talk!
Those who don’t care about feelings or standards and values are unemployable. Those who only care about feelings work low-skilled jobs. Those who care about feelings and standards and values manage low-skilled labor. Those who only care about, are intensely focused on standards and values become leaders. Figure out what you’re comfortable with (I’m definitely not comfortable with being a leader, that’s why I’m searching for my Darth(ette) Vadar).
Examples of acceptable and unacceptable communication and social interactions in next post, Part III.