How to Succeed In Business Without. . .Social Skills? Forget it!

“85% of your social and financial success in life is determined by your social and communication skills” ~ The Dale Carnegie Foundation

Do you remember when psychologist Daniel Goleman made a big splash in 1995 by publishing his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, which would spend more than a year and a half on the New York Times bestseller list? My guess is that you do.

His premise was relatively simple: one’s ability to assess and monitor one’s own emotions–in conjunction with others’–and then to use this information to guide one’s actions, yields more success in life than innate cognitive intelligence.

For our purposes, emotional intelligence is mostly made up of social competence. And the claims out there are pretty consistent–and pretty wild. Overall success in life is only 20% dependent on your IQ, or native intelligence. The remaining 80% is your emotional intelligence–or your social competency.

So an adult’s success, just as much as a child’s, rises and falls on the strength of his foundation of social skills. It’s a pretty awe-inspiring thought.

Just as anecdotal proof, Adi Rosen, CEO of a high-tech New York company, was looking to hire people to write code. He vetted in the normal way, looking at schools graduated, and degrees attained. Looking, in short, at cognitive ability. He was sorely disappointed:

Something was failing these guys. They were brilliant people, and they could write phenomenal code. But if I had asked them to interact with other team members, or write an e-mail to obtain a response, it would have been a disaster.

They were missing, if I can use my own lingo-social skills. Writes Rosen,

these young engineers were missing some important skills they don’t teach at school. Skills such as assertiveness, leadership and how to interact with people.



Goleman realizes that the importance of ones’ ability to manage oneself socially in the work environment is not a revelation. He writes:

To be sure, these ideas are not new to the workplace; how people manage themselves and relate to those around them is central to much classic management theory. What’s new is the data: We now have twenty-five years’ worth of empirical studies that tell us with a previously unknown precision just how much emotional intelligence [my translation: social competency] matters for success.

Other researchers have supported his findings.

Robert Baron, Professor of Management and the Spears Chair of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, and Gideon D. Markman, an associate professor of strategy, innovation, and entrepreneurship at Colorado State University, have studied the social aspects of business, looking into, in one paper, what makes successful entrepreneurs.

In the article, entitled “Beyond social capital: How social skills can enhance entrepreneurs success,” they hone in on the specific skill set that leads businesspeople to excel–and what should it consist of but social skills? So much so, that they conclude that social skills, or social competence, as they call it, make the difference between who will climb the social ladder and who will stay put. They suggest that “a lack of social competence” is a factor

contributing to the puzzling fact that some entrepreneurs who have sound ideas, possess considerable technical competence, and demonstrate high motivation still fail. Perhaps it is their ineffectiveness in interacting with others that is responsible, in part, for these negative outcomes.

Seems that the years spent getting an MBA at Harvard are down the drain if we can’t demonstrate some poise on the job.

Tiziana Casciaro, professor at Harvard Business School, was interviewed by Penelope Trunk founder of 3 startups. Casciaro said  that, across the board, people would rather work with someone likeable and incompetent than with someone who is capable but unappealing, rude, or withdrawn!

And all these years I thought doing a good job actually mattered.

Researchers Baron and Markman returned to their topic of entrepreneurial success a few years after their first publication to ask now what intangible, when job performance and networking were accounted for, yielded more financial success for one executive than for another.

They assessed entrepreneurs in the cosmetics and high-tech industries in their study, “Beyond social capital: the role of entrepreneurs’ social competence in their financial success,” by having the subjects complete questionnaires measuring several components of social competence. And their conclusion as to why some made more money than others? It all boils down to social skills:

All other factors being equal, the higher entrepreneurs’ social competence, the greater their financial success.

So there we have it.  As we learned from previous posts, poor social skills can be a set-up for failing to complete high school, for high-risk behavior, for teenage motherhood, and is  correlated with depression.

But as if that weren’t enough, a lack of social grace hits us in our pocketbooks–hard!–as well. Now this is really getting serious. Time to book an appointment with Miss Manners–and fast!


Baron RA, Markman GD. Beyond social capital: How social skills can enhance entrepreneurs’ success. Academy of Management Executive 2000; 14(1):106-116.

Baron RA, Markman GD. Beyond social capital: The role of entrepreneurs’ social competence in their financial success. Journal of Business Venturing 2003; 18(1):41-60.

Employers value soft skills” by Adi Rosen

Goleman D. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam, 1995.

Social skills matter more than ever, so here’s how to get them” by Penelope Trunk


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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