People Smart

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I’m walking the dog with my ten year old daughter the other day when she says to me, I don’t just want to be school smart. I want to be people smart.

Did someone at school bring that up to you?

No. I just thought of it myself.

I congratulated her on being wiser than half the adults I know.

An acquaintance of mine works in the internet security field. He’s obviously knowledgeable (evidenced by the fact that I can’t make sense out of what he’s saying when he starts getting technical), but after a layoff several years ago, he has been unable to find a regular job despite countless interviews. Instead, he pieces together a living through freelancing. He blames this on employers who don’t know how to hire. But he is the one at fault. He’s one of these people who is technically smart, but people stupid. He doesn’t read non-verbal cues, he lacks tact when voicing his opinions, he rails against authority. When in a conversation with him, he doesn’t understand when he is talking over your head, is being rude, or that you are signaling that you need to end the discussion. He’ll follow you around the room even after you’ve excused yourself.

These traits are not uncommon amongst people with an aptitude for computers, science, math, etc. Some studies even suggest that their brains have a lot in common with the brains of people with autism. He may even be someone who has never been diagnosed with a high functioning autism such as Asperger’s Syndrome.

Regardless, the fact remains. What is keeping him from professional success is not his inability to do the job, it’s his inability to work well with others. As my daughter would say, he’s school smart, but he’s not people smart.

I used to work for an engineering firm. Many of the owners of the company, people who reached the pinnacle of their careers, would tell me they were B students. They would admit that they were good, but not great, engineers. So why were they so successful? Their ability to foster product teams, be responsive to clients, present complicated topics concisely and simply. They were more than just workers, they were leaders.

Schools are beginning to catch on to this. My daughters’ elementary school teaches them techniques for resolving conflicts and getting along with others. Medical schools have introduced bedside manner into their curriculums. Still, there are plenty of parents who are more concerned with test scores and grades, and plenty of employers whose main consideration when hiring is a candidate’s degrees and GPA. Not that those criteria aren’t important, but they have to be looked at as part of a whole, larger dynamic with regards to predicting success. When an employee hasn’t worked out, it’s rarely because they couldn’t do the technical aspects of the job. Mostly, it was because of their inability to work well with others.

I’m not concerned that my daughter will be school smart. She’s intelligent. She’ll do fine. I am much more concerned that she’ll have those people smarts she mentioned, which are much harder to master (I’m still working on them after all these years). I know, as my daughter told me, that these smarts will bring her success both personally and professionally, regardless of where life takes her.

A moment to brag (which is a Dad’s prerogative). Last year, a woman whose daughter was in class with my daughter approached my wife. Her daughter had been struggling with various subjects. My daughter would hand her notes with words of encouragement and support. It meant the world to this girl and her mother.

I guess I don’t have to be concerned about her being people smart, either.

One thought on “People Smart

    Katherine Dyer said:
    October 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Now we’re talking EQ! What a lovely gift your daughter gave this other girl…way to go!

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