In this series we’re talking about the three traits every person on your team should possess, according to The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni.
The traits are:
At Telcion we adopted these as ideal qualities we would look for in every person we hired. This “hungry, humble, smart” filter has helped us improve the quality of our team and our ability to hire well.
Not to be confused with core values, which vary by organization, “hungry, humble, smart” are universal and should apply to people on any team. They are also most powerful when combined. Individuals who have all three are the coveted team players we seek to find.
If you missed the first post you can find it here.
Today we’re discussing the third trait—smart.
What does it mean to be smart?
When you first hear that—smart—you may assume that Patrick is referring to the intellectual capacity of an individual. But he’s actually talking about being people smart. Or as he puts it, “Smart simply refers to a person’s common sense about people.”
I’m amazed at the power of this virtue as I’ve applied it to my own life. Those who are people smart have a unique ability that makes them exceptional team members.
In recent years, emotional intelligence has gained popularity. We know that IQ measures how much intellect someone has. Emotional IQ measures how well someone can manage their own emotions and perceive the emotions of those around them.
One definition is this:
“Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people.” (source)
I would add that emotional intelligence also means being able to act and respond appropriately from those observations. This is where the rubber meets the road. Knowledge is great, but wisdom is the application of knowledge. Many people have the former, few have the latter.
A person with “people smarts” is an observer of people. They can sense what people are feeling across the emotional spectrum—angry, sad, anxious, hurt, embarrassed, happy, and all the emotions between.
But not only do they sense what people are feeling—they have empathy for those feelings. They can feel what others feel and respond in an appropriate way. The ability to respond appropriately is the hard part.
Many of us can observe what others are feeling. It’s a natural part of how we communicate with each other. But we often lack the ability to internalize those observations without becoming emotionally charged ourselves. Most often we respond to what we observe by changing our own emotional state and reacting based on that. This usually leads to an inappropriate response.
An ideal team player can respond in an appropriate and productive fashion within ever-changing personal and group dynamics. Patrick writes this:
“Smart people just have good judgement and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and the impact of their words and actions. As a result, they don’t say and do things—or fail to say and do things—without knowing the likely responses of their colleagues.”
Here are two simple ways to become more people smart:
1. Decide that you are going to be an observer of people.
It’s easy to make this decision. But it does require work. You can practice all day long as you interact with people around you. Some folks are naturally gifted in this area. Others need to really work hard to make it a learned behavior.
2. Take time to reflect on your meaningful interactions with people.
What do you think the other person was feeling? How were they responding to the conversation taking place? What were your responses? What could you have said differently to more positively influence the interaction?
As I’ve worked on becoming more people smart over many years, my ability has steadily improved. I’m not perfect, and still miss it from time to time. Yet, because this is an important virtue that I want to become very good at, I continue to practice.
To do this, I:
- Replay conversations in my mind, asking myself the questions above and preparing myself for the next conversation.
- Confer with my colleagues after a meeting to get their read on how someone was reacting in a conversation and see if they agree with my observation.
- Talk to the person directly later, when I know I can get honest feedback on their thoughts and feelings so I can determine if I was reading it right.
One thing to be aware of is that someone with a high degree of people smarts does not necessarily have good intentions. People who are naturally gifted in this area can also use this for negative impact. They can be very good at manipulating people for their own purposes. Obviously, these kinds of people are not the kind of team players you want to work with.
Assume the best
Let me leave you with this thought: always assume the best of people. It's the best way I've found to start becoming people smart.
A long time ago, I decided to take this view and assume that people have the very best intentions. Versus assuming that someone was trying to slight me, or manipulate me, or take advantage of me. To adopt this outlook requires inherent trust.
But what I had observed was that people who do not assume the best constantly second guess other people’s motives. Because of this they spend a lot of emotional energy trying to read between the lines, guess intentions, and figure out what the real motive is.
This is a waste of time and energy. Most people have good intentions. Most people are not trying to manipulate. Most people don’t have ulterior motives. When I assume the best, it increases my ability to focus on what people are saying and feeling and to react appropriately. Alternatively, when I don’t assume the best, I miss out on what’s really going on and don’t respond in the best way.
Of course, the one downside to living life like this is that you will occasionally get burned. I’ve decided that this occasional occurrence is worth it because of all the good that comes from assuming the best. The impact on my personal relationships and my ability to respond well to others is significant.
When I get burned, it does impact my trust of that particular person. But I don’t let it impact how I treat every other person. And that’s the key. So many people allow one bad experience to influence how they treat every other person they meet. It’s a shame because of the massive emotional toll. Don’t live like this. Life is too short.
Remember that we are all human, we are not perfect, and we need people around us who will forgive our shortcomings.
Assume the best of people. Your life will be better for it.
[This article was contributed by Lance Reid, Telcion's CEO.]