Social Competency: Why Your Leaders Need It

Social competency is a crucial leadership skill that requires self-awareness and the development of social skills to lead to positive interactions in your workplace. An embodiment of the behaviors associated with social competency is pertinent to effective communication within your staff and will set the tone for an engaging environment. Consider the following scenarios that are probably taking place in your organization right now.

Union Attracting Responses

  • "I told you how to do this the right way, so why didn't you?" says the manager, as he cuts off an employee trying to explain what went wrong while completing a task. Feeling attacked, the employee is hurt and then angry that, once again, the manager wouldn't listen to his explanation. The employee thinks to himself, "I've had enough of taking the blame for things out of my control and a manager who refuses to let me talk. I think it may be time to see if the manager would like to talk to a union rep instead because I can't afford to lose my job."
  • In an outburst, an employee angrily tells a supervisor he hates the work schedule. The supervisor responds with equal anger, telling the employee, "Sorry. I don't have time to listen to your problems. Just do your job and quit whining," The employee remembers the union rep who has been trying to get him to meet and decides the time is right to find out if they can help. 
  • Meanwhile, in another department, a supervisor is once again blaming her staff for a project that went wrong because they "didn't put enough team effort into it." She doesn't recognize the nonverbal cues her staff is sending that indicate they feel powerless to defend themselves. They feel it is the supervisor's lack of leadership that caused many issues. Tired of taking the blame for the supervisor's failures, several employees agree to meet with a union rep just to explore options. 
  • A manager turns around and walks off when her boss says something she doesn't like hearing about her department's performance. She then takes out her frustrations on her staff. She is unable to pick up on their feelings that her leadership behaviors are hurting her staff's productivity.
  • In the weekly C-suite meetings, the Vice President of Marketing rolls his eyes and makes disapproving sounds when peers present new ideas he doesn't like. It is the same way he treats his staff, so he is very surprised when he learns they have met secretly with some union people. 

A lack of social competence is expressed in so many different ways.

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"It's just the way my manager is…" 

What do these situations have in common? Each leader has low social intelligence expressed through their social incompetence. They don't consider or understand what other people are feeling. All have poor communication skills and a lack of empathy for others. They also have trouble controlling emotions in difficult situations and an unwillingness to assume responsibility for leadership mistakes. Everyone knows people with these qualities, but the natural reaction is to say, "That's just the way he/she is!" 

These kinds of manager outbursts and behaviors are damaging to the organization, especially if they regularly happen. They make people feel abused, unappreciated, and not respected. They create a culture of fear rather than one of engagement. Leaders without social competence contribute to the perfect formula for driving employees to another company or to unions. 

How do you think the union rep will respond to the employee? It will be with close listening and empathy while reinforcing the employee's feelings. The employee has turned to the union to find someone or some organization that cares. As a result, the union rep goes out of the way to be that caring person. The union representative is demonstrating social competence, while the employers showed a low level of social intelligence. 

Expressing Social Competency and Intelligence

Korn Ferry's survey of employees at 700 businesses found people believed that working for a supportive boss was more important than earning more. It's natural for an employer to think that money is the top driver of retention and productivity. However, social intelligence is more important and a major factor in determining the quality of leadership. 

Social intelligence is the ability to get along with people and gain their cooperation. It's one element of Emotional Intelligence (EI) with the others being self-awareness, self-management, and relationship management. It refers to a person's level of knowledge of interaction styles, social dynamics, and strategies for achieving objectives while interacting with others. Social competence is the expression of social intelligence. Dale Carnegie popularized the concept in his famous book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," even though the term "social intelligence" was not used. 

Many psychologists, social scientists, medical researchers, and management consultants have researched and discussed social intelligence, attempting to define its competencies. Competence categories are social awareness, empathy, and organizational awareness. It's how well you recognize other people's emotions and what they are thinking. 

Awareness of Others and Not Just Self

Social competence is intricately entwined with the other three elements of EI. For example, socially aware leaders are able to sense another person's feelings and show interest in their concerns. The awareness of others' perspectives then guides the ability to maintain good relationships by positively impacting employees, managing conflict, increasing team productivity, and giving helpful feedback. Awareness also increases self-management or the ability to control outbursts and negative responses during difficult situations. It also helps to maintain a positive outlook, be adaptable and look for better ways to do things.

Developing awareness of others, and not just self-awareness, is important to be a good leader. Expressing that awareness through social competency can defuse a hostile confrontation, calm distressed employees, make others feel understood and supported, and prevent angry damaging outbursts. Social competencies include leadership skills that engage employees and help keep an organization union free. 

You are not born with social intelligence or social competency traits. They are learned. You learn to interpret people's verbal and nonverbal cues that offer insights into their feelings and perspectives. You learn to listen, ask questions, and thoughtfully respond. Additionally, you learn to express empathy or the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes and understand their thoughts, emotions, and intentions.

"I understand…"

Consider the following UnionProof scenarios…

  • The manager lets the employee fully explain the issues he had with completing the task correctly and only then responds. "We need to review the circumstances and see what we can do to ensure they don't happen again. Let's go back over the instructions I gave you to see if there was a way to anticipate the problems you encountered," says the manager. The manager learns it wasn't the employee's fault. There were other exceptional circumstances. 
  • An employee angrily tells a supervisor he hates the work schedule. As a result, the supervisor recognizes there is something more going on with the employee. The supervisor says, "Let's sit down and talk about the reasons you dislike this schedule." The supervisor learns the employee is missing out on all of his children's activities – softball games, baseball games, school events, and family outings on Saturdays. Now, the supervisor strives to develop a more flexible schedule. 
  • A project goes wrong, wasting time and resources and disappointing an IT client. The project manager calls the team together, and without criticism, asks for their perspectives as to the reasons for failure. She observes the team's dynamics and soon realizes the employees on the team didn't communicate well. She makes a mental note to offer employee training on communication skills. 
  • After her boss tells her something she doesn't like hearing, a manager walks in a huff. Her boss doesn't get upset or act insulted and understands what the person is feeling. He calls her back and says, "Let's sit down and talk about this. I think we can work through this together."
  • In the weekly C-suite meetings, the Vice President of Marketing personally objects to new ideas presented by peers. Instead of using body language to express disagreement, he asks questions, analyzes personal feelings, and silently questions his objections to see if they are biased or valid. Only then does he explain to others the reasons for not liking the ideas and offers alternatives. 

Ultimately, social competence is expressed in many different ways.

Social Competency = People Skills

Social competency is a powerful concept that plays a big role in keeping unions out. Every day, employees approach unions and file complaints with the NLRB claiming unjust labor practices. In reality, they are using these actions as ways to express feelings their employer is abusive and resentful over how management treats the workforce. Socially competent people are said to have "people skills," and these include the leadership communication skills that naturally keep unions out.

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.