Overcoming Poor People-Skills

Overcoming Poor People-Skills

LtEQ (Leadership thru Emotional Intelligence)

Originally posted on my Facebook page in 5 parts.

There is a familiar saying among professionals that goes like this… I was hired for my great technical skills, but I was fired for my poor people skills… and I can tell you first hand – both through my own professional experience, as well as my observations as an executive coach, that there is a lot of truth in this statement.

Job HappinessI work across the Engineering, Science, IT and Business communities helping leaders, influencers, and high potentials bridge the gap between professional expertise and leadership competence. What I have learned is that Effective People-Skills are the foundation of interpersonal influence and leadership, and without them we experience unnecessary stress and anxiety that overwhelm in our work-life.

My typical coaching clients are frequently side-tracked by poor interpersonal skills — often at the expense of focusing on high value strategic issues. As a consequence, they experience stress, anxiety and feelings of frustration and overwhelm in their work-life — and their business outcomes suffer. More often than not when coaching clients seek me out they think they need help to improve their “leadership skills”, or to change their focus to big-picture issues and to drive superior business outcomes… however, time and time again what they really need help with is improving their “people-skills.”

The Root Cause

From my own experience in my professional life as scientist and project manager, and also through my observation as a coach, most scientists, engineers and technical professionals often monopolize certain challenging personality traits and workplace behaviors that can make our evolution from a successful solitary technical contributor to an influential leader difficult. While driving superior business outcomes is a critical part of each executives’ leadership function; most scientists, engineers and technical professionals evolve into senior positions without ever developing their interpersonal skills. We are simply expected to get on with it! And guess what – it is our gifted intellectual abilities and formative educational experience that plays a significant role in our ineffective interpersonal skills… That’s right! The gift of one led to us under-developing the other…

Skills Curve

I know that this can be difficult to either understand or to accept. But let me frame this insight with the complete certainty that our poor interpersonal skills occurred through no fault of our own, and let me tell you why I can say this with confidence… it is these natural intellectual gifts that led to the rigorous academic challenge and our ever-increasing technical specialization in college, graduate school, and also while pursuing our continuing professional studies. We spend more and more of our intellectual capital focusing on narrower and narrower technical fields – which leaves no time or incentive to explore the softer skilled subjects.

Overspecialization at the Expense of People-Skills

Skills 01

Our fixation on specialization can be explained through the contemporary history of engineering education and the process of engineering education currently practiced in most engineering and technology institutions… which was a creation of the post WWII era when industrialized nations demanded the rapid delivery of more and more engineers and scientists with more specific STEM skills. In the USA, for instance, the Grinter Report in 1955 called for more science and math in the engineering curriculum, to the exclusion of other practical subjects (soft skills). The academic training of increasingly narrow specialists was aligned with the technological demands of the times, as industry leaders wanted engineers who would shut up, sit down and do what they were asked, and simply serve as small cogs in large engineering bureaucracies. Stated another way, many very smart people have been inadvertently diverted from a path to developing effective people skills, or developing effective influencing skills, because of our superior intellect. As a result, our engineers and scientists were not trained to become leaders, rather they were trained as simple cogs in the engineering and manufacturing production line.

Virtual Friends versus People-Skills

Compounding the situation is the contemporary reality that technology is omnipresent in our environment. Let me stress that through no fault of our own we have endured both a flawed education strategy and the emergence of omnipresent technology, the combination of which has made the acquisition of soft skills (or people-skills) a problem. In fact, we were misled into thinking that having virtual friends is the same as having great interpersonal skills! Technology creates superficial friends, not deep meaningful relationships.

Human InteractionsAs engineers, scientists and IT professionals who want to influence others, we have to learn the skills of cooperation through awareness of self and others (Emotional Intelligence – EQ), and we now have to work extra hard to overcome this lack of interpersonal skills. Our academic focus excluded critical foundational topics in interpersonal effectiveness, such as;

  • self-awareness,
  • awareness of others,
  • interpersonal communication,
  • mastering group dynamics,
  • understanding organizational dynamics,
  • collaborating, and
  • effectively working across different generational cohorts, professional disciplines, and cultures.

If you know the foundations of the Emotional Intelligence (EQ) you would then readily recognize that most of these skills are part of EQ.

Life Hacks for Improving People-Skills

Knowledge + Experience = WISDOMAs a former scientist and now as an executive coach I recognize that most executives don’t have the luxury of stepping aside and attending a campus-based interpersonal skills development program. Typically, you can only commit to a personal development solution that is 100% applicable to your immediate work-life challenge. I discovered that Executive Leadership Coaching is 100% applicable because it enabled me to become more effective in reaching business objectives and improving business outcomes through purposefully working on my people-skills. For me it was a Just-in-Time solution. Here are five coaching suggestions (activities) to improve your people-skills.

  1. Identify someone your work with who has great interpersonal skills and emulate their behavior.
  2. Catch yourself in the act of “being personable” and journal about how it made you feel and how others reacted or behaved in response, including third-party observers who were not the recipient of your positive gesture.
  3. Identify someone your work with who has really awful people-skills and reflect upon the impact of their behavior on the person they were interacting with as well as upon other third-party observers who were not the recipient of their behavior.
  4. Catch yourself in the act of “really awful people-skills” and journal about how others reacted or behaved in response and how it made you feel.
  5. Identify one single positive interpersonal behavior – such as “saying hello” or “saying thank you” or “asking how is your day” and purposefully and mindfully employ it 100 times every day for a week – then reflect upon how others begin to react differently to you.

Bottom-line! Remember that reflection and repetition are one of the corner stones for improving any skill towards creating positive muscle memory.


If you know you could use help assessing your options, I’d love to support you. Just email me and we can set up a time to discuss your situation and how I might be able to work with you.


About DrSurya Ganduri

Using Quantum Physics and business research, Dr. Surya explores the correlation between the science of consciousness and patterns in the business world, to suggest innovative ways of using this wisdom to lead and succeed in a business environment that is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. Self-awareness is the awareness of the self as separate from the thoughts that are occurring at any point in time. Without self-awareness the self perceives and believes the thoughts that are occurring to be who the self is. Self-awareness gives one the option or choice to choose thoughts being thought rather than simply thinking the thoughts that are stimulated from the accumulative events leading up to the circumstances of the moment. Along with his work as an Author, Writer, Blogger and popular Internet Radio Talk Show Host, Dr. Surya is in-demand as a public speaker. Clients include small to large corporations and individuals.
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