A Skill For Success


A philosopher long ago, proffered, “We wander through life not really knowing our neighbors, and then, by something they do by some word they uttered, as if through a bolt of lightning, their inner soul is momentarily laid open and we see who they really are.”

This trip we take every day, through our personal, working and social lives, entails interfacing with people, many who we do not know well, and some not at all. Life, both personal and business, is all about human interdependency and connectivity. As a result, a person’s ability to perceive, understand and respect the feelings and viewpoints of others is crucial to successfully navigating this journey. This skill is called social sensitivity. Social sensitivity also requires that a person to be familiar with general understanding of social norms.

Developing and using social sensitivity skills makes people more aware and perceptive to other people’s feelings. This means becoming a better listener, and being more empathetic to listening to the ideas of others. Having a better understanding of any given situation will also help to determine the best approach needed to address it accordingly. Just as understanding different personality traits can be helpful in dealing with different people, having social sensitivity awareness is even more invaluable.

A very dependable approach in gauging social sensitivity, is to show people various pictures of someone’s eyes, and ask him or her to describe what the people in the photo are thinking or feeling; an exam known as the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test.

People who scored above average on this test seemed to perceive when someone was feeling upset or left out. People who scored below average seemed to have less sensitivity towards others, and were therefore less successful in their interfacing.

Several major studies (one conducted by Google and the other at Carnegie Mellon University), have been done to measure the effectiveness of group work. Teams of two or more people were pitted against other similar groups. The IQ scores of individuals in the group proved not to be a good predictor of the group’s success. The three factors that dominated the top performing teams were social sensitivity, balanced participation in conversation, and groups containing women.

Social sensitivity to others in the group was critical. Corporate status, job titles, and educational background were insignificant. What mattered was their ability to empathize with each other.  Those groups with women measured higher in social sensitivity and were more successful. The groups that finished at the top in performance, all experienced equal participation from each team member. No one dominated the meetings, and they all shared equally in conversation, regardless of status.

Whether dealing with family relationships or developing strong business relationships, it will pay huge dividends if you develop and improve social sensitivity skills.