Do you want to work with technically-minded clients? – Part 2

This post is contributed by James Thomas
In last month’s post, we reflected on some of the challenges that we face in reaching out to technically-minded people. Our core challenges with these potential clients are the dismissive label of ‘soft skills’ they commonly apply to what we offer, and their need for hard evidence and scientific validation.

Now we can turn our attention to addressing these challenges!

Start by putting some bones onto ‘Soft Skills’

You could share some of the recent research that supports the notion that to be outstanding, individuals need more than excellent cognitive skills, they also need to develop their emotional and social intelligence.

In research published over 30 years, Richard Boyatzis has identified 14 core competencies that differentiate “outstanding leaders, managers, advanced professionals and people in key jobs” from average performers. Only two of these competencies are cognitive – the remaining twelve are emotional and social intelligence competencies (i.e. the so-called ‘soft skills’).[1. Boyatzis, R. E. (2009). Competencies as a behavioral approach to emotional intelligence. Journal of Management Development, 28(9), 749-770.]

Next, Share the Neuroscience of Why Traditional Learning Doesn’t Work with ‘Soft Skills’

Traditional learning methodologies and mindsets are not terribly effective in helping us to sustainably improve ‘soft skills’.[2. ibid.] To understand why, we need to touch on the latest from neuroscience research.

Recent fMRI studies have mapped the specific neural networks active during our two dominant modes of thinking. Neuroscientists commonly call these the Task Positive Network (active while subjects perform tasks) and the Default Mode Network (what researchers believed was the ‘resting state’).[3. Buckner, R. L. (2012). The serendipitous discovery of the brain’s default network. NeuroImage, 62(2), 1137.]

It turns out that the Default Mode Network is active when we are “remembering the past, envisioning future events, and considering the thoughts and perspectives of other people”.[4. Buckner, R. L., Andrews-Hanna, J. R., & Schacter, D. L. (2008). The brain’s default network: Anatomy, function, and relevance to disease. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1124(1), 1-38.] Conversely, the Task Positive Network is active when we use mechanistic or logical reasoning to understand the world.[5. Jack, A. I., Dawson, A. J., Begany, K. L., Leckie, R. L., Barry, K. P., Ciccia, A. H., & Snyder, A. Z. (2013). fMRI reveals reciprocal inhibition between social and physical cognitive domains. NeuroImage, 66, 385-401.]

Ever wondered why at any one time you can only think of a ‘problem’ logically, or otherwise think about a ‘situation’ in terms of emotions and relationships? The latest research suggests that these two modes are physiological incompatible![6. ibid.]

Your client’s current training and internal mentoring investments are most likely aimed at improving technical skills and mechanistic cognitive abilities are probably not very effective at improving employee interpersonal and self-management skills. We can help them with this.

Now Ask: Are You Ready for Something Different?

Now that you’ve appealed to your client’s well-developed Task Positive Networks through a logical argument based on solid science, tell them about how your offering is more effective at improving the social and emotional skills critical to their personal and organizational success. After all, the learning methodologies incorporated into our Authentic Leadership Conversation series align well with recent peer-reviewed work of prominent leadership and positive psychology researchers.[7. Boyatzis, R. E., Smith, M. L., Van Oosten, E., & Woolford, L. (2013). Developing resonant leaders through emotional intelligence, vision and coaching. Organizational Dynamics, 42(1), 17-24.] [8. Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045-1062.]

Looking for More Backup?

All of the references used in this post are published in academic research journals. That’s a solid place to look for serious backup! If the sheer volume of online journal search results is overwhelming you, try instead to find books by well-respected authors in related fields – Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Martin Seligman, and Barbara Fredrickson are good starting points.

In addition to academic sources, I’m a big fan of proprietary business surveys. These are a great source of statistics to help make your arguments all the more compelling:

  • The conference board CEO challenge® 2013: Countering the global slowdown.[9. Conference Board. (2013). The conference board CEO challenge® 2013: Countering the global slowdown. New York: The Conference Board, Inc.]
  • Society for Human Resource Management (2014): Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement.[10. Society for Human Resource Management (2014). Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Road to Economic Recovery. Alexandria: Society for Human Resource Management.]
  • IBM Global Business Services (2014): CEO insights from the Global C-suite Study.[11. IBM Global Business Services. (2014). Reinventing the rules of engagement: CEO insights from the Global C-suite Study. New York: IBM Global Business Services. Retrieved from http://www-935.ibm.com/services/c-suite/series-download.html]
  • Aon Hewitt (2014): Trends in Global Employee Engagement.[12. Aon Hewitt (2014). Trends in Global Employee Engagement. Retrieved from http://www.aon.com/human-capital-consulting/thought-leadership/talent_mgmt/2014-trends-in-global-employee-engagement.jsp]
  • Towers Watson (2014). The 2014 Global Workforce Study.[13. Towers Watson (2014). The 2014 Global Workforce Study. Retrieved from http://www.towerswatson.com/en-CA/Insights/IC-Types/Survey-Research-Results/2014/08/the-2014-global-workforce-study]
  • Gallup Inc. (2010) The State of the Global Workplace.[14. Gallup Inc. (2010) The State of the Global Workplace: A worldwide study of employee engagement and wellbeing. Washington D.C.: Gallup Inc. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/services/176300/state-global-workplace.aspx]

Armed with all of this, I am certain you will be well-equipped to win over more of those difficult ‘technical types’!


James Thomas is an alumnus of Harvard Business School (PLDA, 2013) and offers 20 years of entrepreneurial, project management and leadership experience in consulting engineering practices spanning two continents.

He is passionate about supporting individuals and teams in discovering and becoming their collaborative best. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.