5 min read

Social Skills Are More Than Networking

Social Skills Are More Than Networking
OK, DALL-E. I don't really know what this is saying but I suppose it's evocative of the title.

Social skills are so predictive of long-term life (and career) outcomes, but too many think social skills = drinking buddies. This week we look at research that shows social to be much more than just networking.

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Mad Science Solves...

I have the social skills of an autistic badge. I regularly introduce myself to people I’ve met before, never remember anyone’s name or birthday (my own included), and hide away reading science papers at conferences I’m keynoting. (If I’m not giving a talk, you won’t find me at conferences at all.)

This social anxiety is rather strange for a person who regularly gives talks to audiences of thousands, usually without slides and often without a topic until I get going. I’ve designed user-centered products and powerfully evocative marketing campaigns across a dozen companies. All this while preferring root canals to small talk. (Seriously, I’ve had more root canals than good friends.)

Social skills are diverse and complex. Reviewing research on thousands of kids and millions of adults over the last 10 years, I’ve explored a dozen constructs with associations to life or career outcomes: attachment, collaboration, communication, conflict resolution, perspective taking, help-giving, leadership, empathy, help-seeking, and more. For my part, I seem to have a rather inexplicable talent for communication and collaboration, even while my more mundane socializing is painful for everyone involved.

Even beyond tradition social constructs like those above, metacognitive constructs such as cognitive flexibility and self-efficacy play big roles in social performance. Those like me might have rather minimal instincts for social connection, but we can be aware of those weaknesses and prepare compensatory strategies. For example, I always ask to speak early at conferences—while I might never walk up to a stranger to spark an unsolicited conversation, I love speaking to people who (willingly, foolishly, innocently) come to me to discuss whatever mad raving on AI, neurotech, education, scifi, human potential on which I have just pontificated. Al little self-efficacy and strategic thinking and you might even mistake me for personable.

Social skills truly are more than just social networking. They are a part of a dynamical complex that is a whole person. Sometimes that can be difficult for more extroverted HR leaders to understand, leading to the mistaken idea that social skills are about socializing.

Stage & Screen

My Spring is quickly filling up (and even next Fall)!

  • This Week: I'm off to balmy Minnesota to chat with St. Catherine's University students about ethics and metaphysics of AI (how's that for deep)
  • Feb 28 online: A Q&A with the legal team at Siemens about AI & the Law.
  • Apr 15-16, Italy: I'll be joining in for a working group on "AI in Journalism Futures" (Apply to join us!)
    • I might be Barcelona, Riga, and Stockholm that same week...book me!
  • Apr 16, online: it's a virtual talk with the LA School Alliance on How to Robot-Proof Your Kids.
  • May 8, Boston: chatting with BCG on Lifting Collective Intelligence and The Neuroscience of Trust.
  • May 8-10: I return to Singularity University
  • May 23, Seoul: keynoting the Asian Leadership Conference! (from last year)
  • Mid-June, UK & EU: Buy tickets for the Future of Talent Summit and so much more!
  • July, DC: Jobs For the Future Summit!

If your company, university, or conference just happen to be in one of the above locations and want the "best keynote I've ever heard" (shockingly spoken by multiple audiences last year)?

<<Please support my work: book me for a keynote!>>

Research Roundup

Social Networks Shouldn't Be Yoga Pants

In densely connected social networks, people explore less and herd more. This causes people’s choice to become more similar to their network neighbors. It’s a form of the information-exploration paradox: more information causes people to explore less.

New research shows both how this happens and how we can fight it. “Participants in a large behavioral experiment showed increased rates of biased decision-making when part of a social network…in 40 independently evolving populations.” Random bias in the initial structure of the networks grows in feedback loops as local networks become more biased even as individuals stop exploring the broader network. 

An algorithm can be designed to break this bias cycle. Specifically, it selects content “from within an individual’s network that are more representative of the wider population.” The algorithm “was effective at reducing bias amplification” in the network specifically by replacing the decreased exploration.

For the nerds out there, they are modeling people as particles in a particle filter—very cool! I used a similar concept a few years ago to model student learning. So much could be done with such algorithms!

We are not villains because we are biased; we’re just human. We become villains when we refuse to admit it and take action to improve ourselves. (That goes double if you’re running a social network that knowingly rewards the shallow.) Read more at www.socos.org/more-than-networking.

Remotely Social

Social skills have long been predictive of career success, but an over-simplistic understanding of social skill causes people to think of jobs as being social (sales or elder care) or not social (engineering or delivery). My research shows that “perspective taking” is equally predictive of career success in sales and engineering, because both jobs, perhaps all jobs, require understanding other people. A new findings shows that perspective taking is even more important in a hybrid workforce.

Applying AI to “the text of over 12 million Australian job postings” reveals that “since the start of the pandemic, there has been an acceleration in the aggregate demand for interpersonal skills”. Further, the “acceleration in interpersonal skills demand” was greater for more remote-ready jobs. Traditional social cues are less available in remote work, making strong perspective taking skill even more valuable.

Being social isn’t about drinks after work or taking abuse with good humor. It’s a collection of learnable skills for understanding and communicating with others. Read more at www.socos.org/more-than-networking.

Vivienne Ming

Follow more of my work at
Socos Labs The Human Trust
Dionysus Health Optoceutics
RFK Human Rights GenderCool
Crisis Venture Studios Inclusion Impact Index
Neurotech Collider Hub at UC Berkeley