Top 10 Tips for Remote Work Teams

Top 10 Tips for Remote Work Teams

As companies search for more productive and more cost effective ways of getting work accomplished, there has been an explosion of virtual work and project teams. As a result, it has become imperative for people to learn how to work together across boundaries of space, time, and yes, cultures. Driven by the need to leverage expertise located in different parts of the organization, companies are increasingly reliant on geographically dispersed virtual teams to plan, make decisions, and take action on critical business issues.

When such teams function at optimal levels of productivity and efficiency, they are actually a source of competitive advantage for their companies, bringing together a variety of different perspectives and experiences that have high value for innovation and problem solving. On the other hand, teams working remotely face unique challenges in communicating and collaborating efficiently and productively. Research conducted by Wilson Learning a few years ago highlights this problem. Our research showed that the most productive teams are those with a high level of diversity and high levels of communication skills. However, if the communication skills are lacking, the highly diverse teams are the lowest performing teams. Thus effective teamwork and communication skills for virtual teams are even more important than for other teams. You can’t walk down the hall or into the next cubicle to discuss a problem if some people are in New York and others are in Santa Cruz or even Bangladore. As a result, without critical skill sets, virtual teams will fail to fully engage team members, establish clear goals and standards, and establish the processes necessary to get things done.

Here is a “Top Ten” list of strategies that will help your virtual teams perform at the highest possible level and take full advantage of members’ varying skills, knowledge, and capabilities.


Team performance depends on a foundation of trust. Without it, team members are reluctant to share information, offer support, and may hesitate to rely on others to keep commitments and follow through on tasks.

To build a sense of trust, virtual teams need opportunities to develop social rapport, especially in the early stages of the team’s work. Creating time for team members to identify common values, establish credibility, and foster a sense of trust is critical for virtual teams. For example, we have seen virtual teams engage in online games together as a way to establish relationships and occasionally hold meetings in “immersive” virtual environments such as Second Life, as a way to establish and build trust. The use of social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook can also be useful to help team members become familiar with one another in a way that fosters trust and confidence.


Even more than co-located teams, virtual teams need a sense of “teamness” based on a strong belief in a shared purpose, common inspiration, and commitment to the team’s goals. In a dispersed team, there may be individuals who are working alone out of a home office or who are otherwise the only member of the team at their location. Under these circumstances, it is easy for them to feel isolated, not part of the team, and “out of the loop.”

The team’s cohesiveness will be greatly enhanced if their purpose and goals are clear and they have frequent reminders of why they are together and what they are working toward. Managers can also help build team identity by providing recognition for team and individual achievements and opportunities for team sharing and celebrating successes.


Used correctly, contemporary communications tools can be powerful and effective—offering interactive, engaging ways to share information and stay in touch. Managers of virtual teams need to become familiar with three principle technologies. First, there are online meeting sites (such as GoToMeeting or WebEx) that allow virtual team members to do real face-to-face meetings online. Second, there are online project management sites (such as SharePoint or LiveLink) which allow virtual team members to share and store documents, plans, reports, etc. Third, there are emerging technologies, such as Google Wave, which allows multiple people to work together on presentations and documents simultaneously.

To gain all these benefits, however, team members must be reasonably skilled and comfortable in using the tools, and the technology needs to be readily available and reliable. All team members should have opportunities for training and hands-on practice, and have access to technical support whenever they need help. If there are technophobes in the group, practice and feedback from an experienced mentor will help them develop a greater level of confidence and comfort in using the technology and increasing their efficiency and productivity.


Like any other team, virtual teams must develop a feeling that all team members bear equal responsibility for achieving the team’s goals and have clear expectations for accountability for their individual tasks. While this will often come naturally for traditional teams, virtual teams need tools for tracking individual and team accomplishments. Of equal importance are periodic opportunities to celebrate and be recognized for team achievements. Non-virtual teams will often do this informally, in hallway meetings for example, but virtual teams have to build this into their scheduled activities.


Team members in a virtual team—more than in other teams—need to be able to exercise effective self-leadership, taking responsibility for completing individual work and participating in all activities of the team. Nonetheless, an experienced team leader can be a critical resource in helping the team stay on track and serve as a liaison with the team’s sponsors. This leader can anticipate the challenges of working virtually and help make sure communications are clear and that all members of the team are fully “in the loop” and participating as they should be in team meetings.


Research from the Sloan School of Management demonstrates that virtual teams using well developed task-related processes to increase work coordination and task-related communication tend to outperform those that do not. Processes for tasks such as setting goals, making plans, solving problems, assigning specific work roles, and measuring results help the team function efficiently and effectively.

This can be especially important for crosscultural virtual teams. Different cultures have different expectations concerning processes and procedures. Therefore, it is important that global virtual teams clearly communicate the process being followed and provide training and assistance when team members are new to the process.


Social interactions are the glue that holds the team together as a cohesive unit. Although task-oriented processes are essential to the team’s effectiveness, members of a virtual team need to be highly competent in managing the give and take necessary to exchange information, provide mutual support, and make course corrections when necessary.

When non-virtual teams meet, it is very common that the five to ten minutes before or after the meeting is spent in casual, non-work related conversations that build social relationships in the team. However, this is much rarer in virtual teams. Effective virtual team leaders understand that it is important to build this time into the process, helping team members understand and appreciate diversity in interpersonal style, model versatility in adapting to others’ preferred communications styles, and know how to give and receive feedback. Team leaders and managers should make sure team members have these capabilities and, where needed, help the team build on and enhance their communications skills.


Every team needs the ability to make decisions and reach agreement as a group. For a virtual team, this is even more critical, as the members may not necessarily share any established common practices and may have very different experiences with decision making. Team members need to understand the different ways that decisions can be made and know how to reach agreements on issues, such as the right solution to a problem and how to break down a task and assign work. An established team decision-making process and tools will help the team avoid getting stuck when a decision needs to be made, and ensure that the decisions made are high quality and represent the best thinking of the entire team. Not every decision is made in the same way; it is important to communicate which decisions are collaborative versus which decisions are leader driven.


Increasingly, virtual teams are dispersed not only across geographical boundaries within the U.S.A. or North America, but across international boundaries that span the globe. A lack of global awareness and cultural sensitivity can undermine almost every other aspect of the team’s work, making it difficult to establish trust, make decisions, and carry out tasks in a coordinated, efficient way.

To work productively and cohesively across cultural boundaries requires that team members have some insights into the cultural dimensions that can affect interpersonal behaviors and preferences. This might include awareness of differences in how various cultures perceive business relationships, view power and authority within business organizations, and value the role of the individual versus the community or group.

Team leaders and managers can help by paying special attention to how the team is interacting and providing opportunities for team members to discuss and resolve issues related to different cultural assumptions or values.


Regardless of how well the team organizes its work or how well team members communicate, there is a high probability for occasional conflicts, either between individual team members or across the entire group. Conflicts within a virtual team can seem even more intractable and disruptive than they do when people are able to sit down and talk through the issues.

Virtual teams present special concerns regarding conflict. Because much of the communication is through e-mail or over webcast meetings where body language is missing, there is greater chance that information or intention will be misunderstood. We have known cases when a team member wrote an e-mail with the expectation that it would be received positively, only to have other team members see it as negative and potentially offensive.

To make sure conflicts can be recognized early and addressed proactively, team members need to understand what kinds of issues can lead to conflicts and recognize how unresolved conflict can get in the way of achieving their goals. They also need to know how to separate the issues from the people and reach a solution without letting emotional responses become a barrier to mutually agreeable resolutions.

Whether your virtual team is dedicated to customer service or R&D, or whether it is dispersed across the globe or only across a single state, these ten tips can enhance productivity, team member satisfaction, and effectiveness. Even a team that is working remotely out of necessity rather than choice can become a powerful asset if the group has the tools, technology, and skills required to bring their varied experience and knowledge together to achieve outstanding results. By Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., Wilson Learning Worldwide, and Carl Eidson, Ph.D., Wilson Learning Corporation


Social Style Versatile

“The more I learn about myself, the more I am able to understand others, the more I am able to bridge the gap between us.”

How has your organization responded to falling consumer demand and slower sales in the current economic climate? If yours is like most, you’ve probably experienced a variety of cost cutting measures: layoffs, downsizing, restructuring and reorganization, and hiring and pay freezes. While these kinds of changes have been necessary for survival, they can wreak havoc on overall performance in unexpected ways. Why? Because there is an inevitable increase in stress, anxiety, and relationship tensions experienced by employees who must rapidly adapt to changes in reporting relationships, work assignments, and ongoing concerns about job security. Managers suffer from similar stresses as they are asked to fill in gaps left by layoffs, do “more with less” as budgets are slashed, and take on new work teams or individual employees as a result of restructuring and downsizing. These tensions have a direct impact on organizational performance.

Although organizational leaders can do little to control the external economic factors driving the need for these internal changes, something can be done to alleviate at least one of the biggest causes of day-to-day stress in an uncertain and changing work environment—the relationship tensions that result from adapting to restructured work teams and unfamiliar colleagues and managers. This relationship tension, unless addressed, will breed conflicts, misunderstandings, and overall failures to communicate that weaken performance just when the company needs the highest levels of performance to attain the results required to thrive in a down market. Yet, there is a powerful tool available that can reduce these barriers to productivity and therefore profitability—Versatility.


Versatility is defined as the ability to understand differences in communication preferences and to adapt to make others more open and receptive—creating more effective and productive relationships. Versatility is a skill that can be learned, and people who have it find it far easier to work together with others toward shared organizational goals.

To understand Versatility and how it can affect relationships, consider people with whom you have regular contact. Do you know someone who is “too reserved” for your taste? Is there a manager, coworker or family member who seems to you to be “too opinionated,” “too emotional,” or “too willing (or unwilling) to compromise?” Chances are your reactions to these people are an indicator of differences in Social Style—how we habitually communicate and interact with others. When you find it easy to communicate and work with someone, there’s a high probability you share the same social style. When your communication is difficult, it is often because of unrecognized social style differences.

The Social Styles Matrix

Wilson Learning’s social style model defines four primary communication styles—Driver, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytical.

As the model shows, the four styles vary in terms of behaviors reflecting the dimensions of Assertiveness (Tell) versus Responsiveness (Ask) and Task versus People orientation. Drivers and Expressives tend to be more Tell oriented, while Amiables and Analyticals are more Ask oriented. Analyticals and Drivers are more Task oriented, while Amiables and Expressives are more People oriented. Because about 25% of people fall into each of these four categories, you likely share a social style with only about 25% of the people you meet. What are the consequences when we can’t adapt to the other 75%?

Consider the communication challenges faced by a non-versatile manager who has a different social style than three-fourths of her employees. An Amiable employee will not be comfortable with a Driver manager who seems too focused on tasks and unconcerned with personal relationships. Analytical employees don’t like to be told things they already know—but at the same time they don’t want gaps in information a manager could have provided. These kinds of misalignments create the potential for friction, misunderstanding, and lowered productivity.


For most of us, interpersonal behaviors and preferences are habitual and largely out of awareness. Consider this scenario: A Driver, who has a more “tell” oriented style, may want to “cut to the chase” quickly. He may not even realize the source of his impatience with an Analytical who needs to ask more questions and gather more data before taking action. As the situation progresses, the Driver may push harder for action while the Analytical employee goes into “back up” for her style—withdrawing and becoming less and less responsive. The resultant mutual frustration and distrust means that projects take longer and critical information is lost. Or in another example, an Expressive employee may be put off by a manager with a strong task-oriented style who doesn’t show sufficient appreciation of the employee’s wish to explore and discuss a variety of creative options before making a decision. The result—a less creative approach to a critical solution.

Versatility comes with the recognition that people do have different styles and that each has unique strengths. Once people know their own style and understand style differences, they can learn how to modify behaviors to make it easier to exchange information and work together to make decisions in a way that is more effective for the whole team. Suppose a manager has several Amiable employees. The manager can make an effort to show a personal interest in them and offer more guidance, support, and recognition than they might provide to experienced Driver employees, who want the freedom to solve problems themselves. When making decisions, managers can adapt to different expectations and needs based on their recognition of employees’ styles. Expressives want managers to involve them in a decision when it affects the whole group, and Amiables like to have the group involved in brainstorming and problem solving. On the other hand, Analyticals are not as interested in group decision making and typically prefer to be involved only when decisions or actions affect them directly.

Over time, as both managers and employees develop higher levels of Versatility, they can quickly recognize the indicators of different styles and adapting to them becomes an integral part of how they communicate. Our research shows that a highly versatile individual is perceived as an effective communicator—someone who has “good people skills,” a trusted leader, and is a very successful negotiator, salesperson, and manager.


Companies can experience dramatic, measurable improvements in performance when their people learn how to adapt to others’ social styles. In one study, building versatility skills yielded a 52% improvement in the ability to identify styles and recognize back-up behavior—the “fall back” behavior of each style when the individual is stressed. In the same organization, 46% of employees reported a moderate to large improvement in work productivity. As one manager reported, “I’ve been more sensitive to my driver/driver style and the style of others during [coaching] sessions, and as a result, I believe the sessions have been more productive and conversation/feedback has been freer flowing.”

Depending on your company’s industry, product offering, and market, increased versatility may make different kinds of contributions to the improvement of business results. What are the critical issues that are most important in your organization right now? For companies that have downsized and reorganized, a versatile leadership team can more quickly adapt to the needs of employees who have moved into new roles. Additionally, versatile employees can shorten the time it takes to become productive in reconfigured work teams, whether they are working together virtually or at the same site.

Organizations challenged by price cutting competition can better keep customers and expand their business by building stronger relationships with current customers and developing a wider range of new business partnerships. Companies seeking to increase the satisfaction and loyalty of current customers will find that versatile customer service employees are more effective communicators and problem solvers in their customer interactions. While there are multiple ways to improve communication in a given situation, the single most important factor for enhancing communication effectiveness across the board is Versatility. As more leaders are required to take on greater responsibilities for more employees in today’s business environment, and companies are fighting to retain customers and grow market share in the face of ever tougher competition, building this kind of capability provides a real competitive advantage for the individual and the company as a whole.

Interpersonal Skills

Social Styles Versatility: The Engine of Success

When Interpersonal Skills Take Off, Hard Results Soar

What if your company could learn a skill that will eliminate conflict, miscommunication, and slow decisions? And what if I told you that the mechanics team inside a global air fleet company did just that and saw a 56% boost in productivity? Would I get your attention? Thought so.

That skill is called Versatility, and it is perhaps the most powerful interpersonal skill you can have.

Today’s mandate to “perform well,” on whatever task it may be, is dependent on functionally and culturally diverse people within and outside the organization making high performance happen and happen fast. It is difficult to get good innovative decisions and actions carried out with high energy when people feel there is tension and communication is strained. The good news is we can take responsibility for managing our communication behavior and reducing interpersonal tension, keeping the task focused on solving problems and achieving improvements of productivity, efficiencies, and employee engagement.


Versatility is the ability to recognize differences in communication preferences and to adapt to make others more open and receptive—creating more effective and productive relationships.

The Social Styles Matrix

The first step is to recognize communication differences, and the Wilson Learning Social Styles model is the tool to help you. Social Style is based on our preferred communication approaches. Your Social Style varies in terms of your actions on the dimensions of Assertiveness and Responsiveness.

Because about 25% of people fall into each of these four categories, you share a Social Style with only about 25% of the people you meet. Just think about the consequences when we can’t or won’t adapt to the other 75%. Do you see an opportunity here?

“The more I know about you, the more I know about me, and the more I can take responsibility for managing the difference between us.”

If you choose to take responsibility and manage the differences between your Social Style preference with the other 75%, you can create more productive relationships and, as a result, maximize your effectiveness on the job.


Social Style helps you recognize communication preferences, and Versatility helps you take responsibility for managing differences. The good news is Versatility is a skill that can be learned and mastered. But Versatility requires effort, requiring you to modify your approach to fit others’ approaches, even when it may not be comfortable. You have to make a conscious choice to be Versatile:

  • Do I need this relationship to work so I can achieve my results?
  • What will be the benefits if I improve this relationship?
  • What will be the risks if I do not improve this relationship?

Having chosen to be Versatile, you then have to act on that choice with a process we call the Versatile Response:


You identify others’ Social Styles by focusing on what they value, the environment in which they work best, and how they like to work.


Identify the person’s Social Style.

“She or he is…”


Based on the person’s Social Style, reflect on and describe her or his expectations for interactions with you.

“So she or he needs…”


Decide how to modify your behaviors to maximize your effectiveness.

“Therefore I will…”

1 Building Relationship Versatility: Social Styles At Work: The Business of Versatility

Analyticals, for example:

  • Value conservative and practical business decisions
  • Rely on structured approach and factual evidence
  • Prefer a systematic approach to coming to a recommendation

Amiables tend to:

  • Value cooperation in business situations
  • Rely on the support of others in shared decision making
  • Prefer an interactive approach to problem solving

Drivers tend to:

  • Be forceful and quick in making decisions
  • Flourish in a goal-oriented environment
  • Expect others to respond in a timely manner

Expressives tend to:

  • Be futuristic in their thinking
  • Attempt to make others enthusiastic about ideas
  • Prefer a collaborative approach to problem solving

How you modify your Social Style depends on both the other’s Social Style and the situation. There is no one straightforward solution. An Analytical (or Driver, Amiable, or Expressive) in one situation may need something different in another situation.

An Analytical, for example, may need a more formal and structured approach, or may just need enough time to think things through. An Amiable may need you to be open and honest about your feelings, or need other people to be involved in the decision. A Driver may need you to get right to the point, or focus a little more on the problem and less on the people involved. And an Expressive may need you to be a little more flexible on time, or to hear your excitement for the issue.

So, before going straight from Identify to Modify, pause a second to reflect: What does this Social Style need? And what is needed now?


People new to Versatility skills sometimes think you have to make big behavior changes to communicate effectively. But just like the old adage “the best things come in small packages,” little changes in Assertiveness and Responsiveness can have a big impact on the effectiveness of communication. Maybe all you need to do is:

  • Ask for the other person’s opinion first
  • Get to the point quickly
  • Use a slower or faster pace
  • Use more or less gestures and facial expressions

How might this work in the real world? Here are some examples:

A VP of Research and Development (an Analytical) was frustrated because he was not receiving responses from e-mails to the VP of Sales (a Driver). Upon reflection, he realized the VP of Sales needed to get right to the point, and the lengthy explanation of the data and how he reached his conclusion was not helping the VP of Sales. So with the next email, the VP of R&D “flipped” the message; he put the conclusion first, the explanation second. The VP of Sales responded immediately.

The VP of Marketing (a Driver) was having trouble getting the Website Design Manager (an Amiable) to make changes to the corporate website. The VP of Marketing paused for a moment and realized that the Website Design Manager always felt more comfortable when more people were involved in decisions. So the VP of Marketing asked her who else might be able to contribute to this decision and invited them all to a meeting to discuss the changes. After the group made the decisions, the Website Design Manager implemented them almost immediately.


Equipping your employees and leaders, in all functions, with Versatility skills enables them to address complex challenges, reduce tension and conflict, and build more collaborative relationships throughout the organization. Without communication obstacles, individuals, teams, and work groups can soar as they are free to focus on the work at hand. Join the ranks of the global air fleet maintenance team and boost your productivity to new altitudes.


5 Cultural Dimensions that Must Be Managed to Ensure Global Effectiveness

Is Your Organization Ready to Go Global?

The most critical global developments for businesses include the increase in economic activity in emerging markets, the free flow of information across the globe, and increasingly global labor markets.

The implications are clear: To grow and flourish in a global economy requires building strong business relationships across international boundaries. “Like it or not,” one expert points out, “knowledge of the world is no longer a luxury.” According to a McKinsey survey of executives around the world, the most important strategies for capturing growth include building a local presence, developing partnerships and joint ventures with local businesses, and recruiting talent from emerging markets. American companies must compete with companies around the world, whose leaders may be far more knowledgeable about U.S. culture than American leaders are about theirs.

For some years now, U.S.-based corporations have been acquiring businesses based abroad, establishing local branches in other countries, and assembling virtual teams to work across international boundaries. Even so, too many businesses are still unprepared to work with customers and coworkers from different cultures. The most common problems—misunderstandings and communication breakdowns—have a significant impact in terms of lowered productivity, lost sales, and unsuccessful product launches. “Effective cross-cultural skills are critical,” according to the global program manager for a large telecommunications manufacturer. “We are a global organization. We have clients around the world requiring global support and many cross-cultural project teams. If we can improve the global effectiveness skills of our team leaders and members, this will have tremendous impact on our bottom line.”

What Can the Organization Do?

To build global competitiveness, U.S. companies need to recognize the special challenges of doing business globally and step up efforts to ensure employees acquire global awareness and cross-cultural communication skills. This means raising consciousness about the differences that create discomfort and confusion. This is critical, since the most common problems are caused by norms and behaviors that seem so natural to us that they are effectively out of our awareness.

To become more adept at communicating across cultures, people need to become comfortable with the nature of differences. Then they need skills that enable them to communicate and relate effectively.

The 5 Cultural Dimensions That Make the Biggest Difference
The Five Dimensions

People can gain insights into other cultures by understanding five key dimensions where cultural differences are likely to be the most profound and where knowledge can have the biggest effect in reducing culture shock.

1. Task and Relationship

One of the most noticeable differences between cultures has to do with how people approach the development of relationships. Some cultures can be characterized as more task/achievement oriented, while others are more relationship oriented. Westerners, and Americans in particular, tend to be more task/achievement oriented, with a shorter-term focus that creates a sense of urgency about getting things done and moving forward. In our view, “time is money,” a commodity that can be “saved” or “wasted.” In a typical American meeting, the task comes first. Socializing can come after the meeting. In contrast, relationship-oriented cultures will organize activities and priorities around the people involved, rather than around the clock. In a relationship-oriented culture, people are not driven by time. They would see themselves as flexible—the person, rather than the task, dictates the event. Social aspects come first, as a prerequisite to task achievement.

Even at the level of individual meetings and appointments, relationships can be affected by these different perspectives. For example, Americans take punctuality as a sign of respect for the other person’s time. Yet in a relationship culture, starting some time later than the formally stated hour is the norm, and arriving early or even “on time” might appear pushy, too impatient, or even inconsiderate. This difference in the “unwritten rules” can undermine the mutual trust and respect on which effective business relationships are founded.

2. Power Distance

This dimension has to do with the extent to which individuals in the society accept power inequality based on each person’s place in a hierarchy. This dimension influences degrees of autonomy and decision-making processes. Historically, American culture leans toward egalitarianism, favoring less distance between those at the top of a hierarchical structure and those at the bottom. Our traditions abound with stories of the ordinary employee speaking “truth to power.” In other cultures, deference to authority is expected, and it would be considered presumptuous and even shocking to offer an independent opinion or to contradict a superior.

With the assumption of team member equality and shared responsibility, Americans may find it mystifying when team members from another culture fail to offer opinions or share information. Their counterparts, on the other hand, may feel very uncomfortable when dealing with a company that values participatory leadership. If they are placed in a team made up of people with perceived differences in rank, it would seem inappropriate to put their opinions forward, while Americans may appear in their eyes to be disrespectful of hierarchical boundaries and prerogatives.

3. Uncertainty Avoidance

Cultures also vary considerably in terms of their tolerance for risk and uncertainty. Businesspeople from a culture that is high in uncertainty avoidance will prefer to operate within a narrower sphere bounded by rules and constraints designed to reduce risk. People from a culture that avoids uncertainty may feel very uncomfortable in unstructured situations. They may be reluctant to take action and will want to be reassured by clear rules and safety measures that reduce risk.

When people from an uncertainty avoiding culture meet people more accustomed to higher levels of uncertainty, friction can ensue. One group may perceive the other as hidebound or too timid, while the other is perceived as reckless and too willing to take unacceptable chances. Awareness of this deeply ingrained difference could allow improved communication and accommodation to meet the needs of both parties.

4. Individualism/Collectivism

What happens when workers from a highly individualistic culture interact with colleagues from more collectivist cultures? Americans, in particular, see the individual as loosely connected to the larger group—whether family, business organizations, or social groups. In other societies (as we have learned in a long history of doing business in Asia, for example), individuals are considered to be tightly connected to the larger social and business organizations.

These differences can generate misunderstandings and frustration when it comes time to make business decisions. Collectivist groups will be reluctant to directly address conflict or differences of opinion, and are most comfortable with consensus decision making. Westerners, on the other hand, will be more at ease with independent opinions and decisions. They may find that decisions they thought were final are still up in the air, while other groups may feel they are being pressured or bulldozed into a decision before they have reached the consensus they feel is needed.

5. Context Communication

The final dimension of culture concerns what is referred to as “context communication.” People in Western business organizations tend to prefer linear, direct communication that “nets it out.” In other cultures, the norm is to be more indirect, draw inferences, and present information in a more metaphorical fashion.

An American might expect to send an e-mail, get a response, and consider the transaction to be complete. If working with people from a high-context culture, that e-mail might be all right in certain situations for conveying information, but will be completely ineffective for building relationships or resolving conflicts. An e-mail sent for such purposes might not even receive a reply, possibly creating more conflict.

Insight Brings Behavior Change

As profound as these kinds of differences are, they often go unrecognized. Unlike spoken language, they stem from deeply held beliefs and values, and the “rules of engagement” are unarticulated even by those within the cultural group. By raising these differences to the level of conscious awareness, people can change behavior, becoming more adaptable, less judgmental, and more skilled at changing their habitual approach to accommodate cultural differences.

In one study, groups receiving global awareness training showed significant changes in behavior compared to those not trained, especially in the skill areas of avoiding labeling of colleagues/clients based on culture; modifying the style of meetings, e-mails, and phone calls to match cultural expectations; and adjusting to how others build relationships. In fact, in this study of high-potential managers, 91—100% indicated that global awareness training:

  • Increased retention of cross-cultural customers and employees
  • Resulted in improved efficiencies and cost savings
  • Helped them keep their projects on schedule and within budget

Overall, 100% of the managers agreed and 29% strongly agreed that global awareness training made them more effective in their job.

The dimensions discussed here have a demonstrably large impact on every aspect of a business relationship, from how agreements are reached, to how and when actions are taken, to how to conduct ongoing communication.

Employees of companies doing international business can benefit from greater awareness of these dimensions, and from building skills that will help them create mutually satisfying business relationships regardless of where they are in the world.

Individual Effectiveness

The struggle is the same in all organizations: the brilliant engineer who has the expertise to create major advances in the organization, but is unable to communicate clearly enough to get others in the organization to support his or her ideas. Or the salesperson who is loved by clients and can land the big sale, but when it comes to supporting implementation is unable to plan effectively. Or the customer service representative who knows the product backwards and forwards and can effectively communicate solutions to customers, but who can’t handle the stress and conflict inherent in the position.



It is clear that the effective individual is more than just the sum of his or her technical or professional expertise. In the 40-plus years we have studied individual performance and helped our clients develop their workforce, we have come to believe that, in addition to technical competence, what separates the effective from the highly effective individual is a core set of skills that a person acquires over his or her career, crossing from job to job, role to role. These “transferable skills” accumulate as an individual gains experience, takes advantage of developmental opportunities, and learns from mentors and coaches.

While we often spend years, sometimes decades, developing our work talents, we tend to disregard the importance of developing these transferable skills. Yet numerous studies have shown that these skills account for the majority of differences in individuals’ job performance. At Wilson Learning, we have grouped these transferable skills into three core skill domains:

  • Purposeful Communication: Studies of organizational effectiveness, individual performance, and team success have shown that an individual’s ability to communicate clearly, concisely, and openly while maintaining positive relationships with others is one of the largest contributors to performance success. The individual’s ability to communicate on purpose, with sensitivity and forethought, is Purposeful Communication.
  • Inspired Thinking: While there may have been a time when Inspired Thinking skills were required only by a few people at the top of the organization, this is clearly no longer the case. Everyone in today’s organization needs the ability to collect and organize information, create new knowledge, find innovative solutions, solve problems, and make judgment-based decisions. We believe ensuring that all employees have a broad set of Inspired Thinking skills is vital to organizational success.
  • Fulfilled Self: The values, personal characteristics, and sense of purpose that effective individuals bring to their lives is the Fulfilled Self. Employees who are fulfilled are more engaged and achieve higher performance levels. The Fulfilled Self is expressed and becomes evident in the consistency of behavior—the degree to which one’s actions match one’s thoughts and words. Individuals who treat others with respect, know how to manage their own emotions, and act in the interests of others, the organization, and themselves can be said to have a Fulfilled Self.

Work Talents

Individual Effectiveness Model

Work Talents provide the tangible means for an individual to make a substantive contribution toward achieving personal and organizational goals. They are the “stuff” of doing good work. A person’s technical or professional expertise and knowledge of his or her own organization and of business practices generally constitute Work Talents.

Balance and the Effective Individual

Thus, along with Work Talents, the three transferable skill domains of Purposeful Communication, Inspired Thinking, and Fulfilled Self define what all employees need in order to be successful in their work.

The purpose of this paper is to describe the three transferable skill domains in more detail. On the pages that follow, we will explore:

  • The core organizing principle underlying each skill domain
  • The individual skills and competencies that define each domain
  • How these skills can be developed in your organization

In today’s business world, the importance of Purposeful Communication is unquestionable. Numerous studies have linked Purposeful Communication with organizational performance, productivity, and employee engagement. It is essential that employees know how to communicate effectively!

The need for Purposeful Communication has increased for a number of reasons:

  • Technology changes mean that customers and suppliers expect to speak directly to technical support people, product experts, and other resources. This requires all employees, not just salespeople and managers, to be Purposeful Communicators.
  • Reduced cycle times and the need to shorten the period from new product development to launch means that people at all levels need skills to communicate cross-functionally more effectively.
  • Increases in global business, international outsourcing, and the “flattening” of the world means that people need improved skills for effective cross-cultural communication.

Several studies have shown the close connection between performance and Purposeful Communication. For example, in 2005 Watson Wyatt found a strong relationship between communication and a number of measures of organizational performance: Companies with high communication effectiveness had 57 percent greater total return to shareholders, 19.4 percent higher market premium, were 4.5 times more likely to have employee engagement, and had 20 percent lower turnover than companies with low communication effectiveness. Griffith (2002) explored communication effectiveness in the global setting and asserted, “Communication underlies the effectiveness of coordinating exchange activities, developing strong relationships, which results in improved performance.” Schmidt (2005) found effective communication to be a critical factor in transforming challenges of organizational crisis into opportunity to gain competitive advantage. In short, Purposeful Communication is one of the leading indicators of individual and organizational performance.

To excel in this domain, individuals need to understand the basis for Purposeful Communication. It is our perspective that Purposeful Communication exists when individuals effectively balance two forms of communication tension: relationship tension and task tension. Balancing these two requires both a desire to communicate effectively and skills that address each of these forms of tension. If done effectively, our research has shown that communication and organizational performance will improve.

Task and Relationship Tension

Task and Relationship Tension over Time

Whenever two or more people engage in a relationship, or even a conversation, there are always two forms of tension present—task tension and relationship tension.

Task tension is the desire or motivation to accomplish a certain goal or task. Something needs to get done or communicated, and until it does, there is tension. Task tension motivates action—the higher the task tension, the greater the potential for productivity.

Relationship tension is also always present in an interaction. Relationship tension is the lack of trust and comfort people feel in an interaction or relationship. High relationship tension causes people to not be as open and to hold back information and opinions. The higher the relationship tension, the lower the productivity.

Task and relationship tension both require energy. Therefore, if more energy is expended in dealing with relationship tension, then less energy will be available for dealing with task tension. In the early stages of communication, there is usually little trust and openness (that is, relationship tension is high). A lot of energy goes into figuring out just how to have the conversation, and the focus is on feeling comfortable. It is important to address and reduce the relationship tension. As the communication moves to the next stage and the relationship grows to a more familiar level, relationship tension goes down and individuals feel more comfortable and more trusting. As a result, more energy can be expended in dealing with the task (increase in task tension), thus creating effective communication.

Owning the Responsibility for Managing Tension

Managing relationship and task tension in order to communicate purposefully is an ongoing process. That is, a person does not reduce relationship tension in the first minutes of an interaction, then switch to increasing task tension. Balancing relationship and task tension is less a linear process and more like a dance; your reaction depends on the action of others. When you feel their relationship tension rising, you take steps to reduce it. When you see task tension lagging, you take steps to increase it.

Thus, while understanding the relationship between task tension and relationship tension is important for Purposeful Communication, what is more important is owning the responsibility to manage task and relationship tension. You must approach each communication with a positive intention. You must want to communicate clearly and take ownership for communicating effectively. It is too easy to blame poor communication on the other person—he or she is not being clear or is making you uncomfortable. Purposeful Communication will only occur when everyone acts as if they are responsible for communicating effectively, adapting their communication style to the other person and checking for understanding. If relationship tension is high, take steps to make others more comfortable. If task tension is low, take action to move the communication forward.

Skills of a Purposeful Communicator

Reducing relationship tension and increasing task tension requires a broad set of communication skills. While there are probably countless ways to categorize important communication skills, our research has identified the following critical skills for reducing relationship tension and increasing task tension.

  • Listening to Learn: This is more than just actively listening. Purposeful Communication requires that you listen in ways that deepen your understanding of the other person’s facts, opinions, and interests. Listening to learn reduces relationship tension by showing others that their perspective is valued and that you are interested in their information. It also increases task tension by clarifying interests and desired outcomes.
  • Expressing to Explore: The ability to explore your own and others’ ideas through effective questioning is critical for both reducing relationship tension and increasing task tension. Expressing to explore is more than knowing a variety of question types; it involves knowing how to express yourself in a way that invites dialogue, rather than shuts it off.
  • Establishing Empathy: The ability to understand others’ perspectives and to show empathy helps reduce relationship tension by demonstrating to others that they are valued as individuals. Establishing empathy is the ability to look at issues from others’ perspectives, anticipate their questions, and accurately perceive their emotions.
  • Demonstrating Credibility: Relationship tension is reduced when others consider you a trusted source of information. You build credibility by demonstrating your competence, establishing commonality with the other person, showing propriety, and demonstrating a positive intent.
  • Persuading: When only a few people in an organization held all of the information and authority, the ability to persuade others was not a great issue. Today it is different. People, without the aid of a title or position, need to influence others and motivate action in order to achieve the organization’s objectives. With increased use of collaborative teams, the ability to persuade others in the organization is particularly critical to individual and organizational success.
  • Constructive Conflict: In a time when new discoveries and innovations cause rapid changes, individuals need the ability to resolve conflicts quickly. Thus, constructive conflict is about knowing how to deal with conflict by encouraging useful and productive feedback and creating a safe environment where the focus is on recognizing, addressing, and resolving the task at hand, while avoiding personal and less productive conflicts.
  • Uncovering Interests: While it is important to show empathy (an understanding of others’ emotions), you also need to show that you understand, and acknowledge, others’ needs and interests. By analyzing others’ needs, recognizing all of the stakeholders involved, and understanding their interests, you help others know that you share their values and, as a result, build trust and reduce relationship tension.
  • Presenting Effectively: For many people, few tasks are dreaded more than delivering a presentation to a group. Yet, the ability to deliver presentations is required for an increasing proportion of people at all levels of the organization. To be truly effective, individuals need to create and deliver presentations that not only inform, but also result in a clear “call to action” for the audience. Fundamental to this skill is a confident presentation style, knowledge of how to structure an effective presentation, and the ability to maintain composure when dealing with challenging behaviors or questions.
  • Negotiating: As organizations adopt flatter structures, it is not enough to assume that managers and executives are the only ones who need negotiation skills. In today’s business world, people at all levels of the organization are expected to negotiate with coworkers and clients. Highly effective individuals know how to focus on problems (not people), generate and weigh options, and work with others to negotiate win-win resolutions to joint problems or issues.
  • Interpersonal Versatility: The workplace is becoming more culturally, behaviorally, educationally, and philosophically diverse, requiring individuals to be more versatile in their interactions. Interpersonal versatility is the ability to interact comfortably with people in all parts of the organization. Individuals with interpersonal versatility will have the advantage when working with others to create value for the organization and its stakeholders.

It is widely accepted that there are a number of thinking skills that are transferable from job to job or situation to situation. While solving an engineering challenge or accounting problem requires detailed knowledge of those fields in particular, it is also true that the problem-solving process used in both situations is actually rather similar. In addition, an individual who has learned an effective problem-solving process in one area can more quickly learn how to solve problems in another area because he or she has acquired these transferable thinking skills.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking Tension

Whether examined at a corporate, team, or individual level, the Inspired Thinking domain is critical to success. For example, one study showed that organizations that derived a majority of their revenue from new vs. existing products outperformed their peers. Also, in their research, Christensen and Raynor (The Innovator’s Solution) have shown that while innovation is closely associated with organizational success, creativity alone is not sufficient; Inspired Thinking is also a necessary part of the process. Similarly, our own studies of teams show that those with strong Inspired Thinking skills perform better than other teams. Additionally, decades of research by William Miller (Flash of Brilliance) have shown that individuals with strong Inspired Thinking skills are more successful.

Convergent and Divergent Tension

What is key to Inspired Thinking? In our experience, the ability to move back and forth between divergent and convergent thinking processes is central. When faced with a complex task or problem, it is important to be open to new information and, at the same time, be able to organize that information into manageable relationships. That is, people need to deal with the tension between divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is the ability to create new knowledge and the capacity to expand knowledge. This includes the ability to draw on examples, analogies, metaphors, etc., to broaden options, ideas, information, and choices. Divergence is about being open to all possibilities.

In contrast, convergent thinking is the ability to take a broad set of ideas and compare, structure, group, and organize these ideas into a new reality to reach the best possible solution. Convergence is creating order out of chaos by picking out those few ideas that are most relevant and important to the problem or task.

Moreover, what differentiates the Inspired Thinker from the ordinary thinker is the ability to go back and forth between convergent and divergent thinking—to expand the knowledge and thinking process, then reorganize the information to come up with a new conclusion, then again to expand upon that conclusion, and again contract to a final outcome. Like a spring, the Inspired Thinker can freely move from convergence to divergence in order to end up with the best possible outcome—an ability Michael J. Gelb refers to as “Synvergence.”

Skills of an Inspired Thinker

Moving back and forth from convergence to divergence requires a number of different types of Inspired Thinking skills. In our research, we have identified seven skills critical to this process. While different positions require different levels of expertise in these skills, they all are needed, to some degree, to create organizational success.

  • Reasoning: People rarely have all of the facts needed to make decisions. Therefore, the ability to see links among facts that ultimately reveal new information is a critical process for divergent thinking. The individual with excellent reasoning skills knows that processes such as inductive and deductive reasoning, critical thinking, and logical analysis can help fill gaps in knowledge, leading to more solid and more reliable conclusions.
  • Problem Solving: The ability to define a challenge, ask the right questions, test assumptions, and draw conclusions is critical to individual and organizational success. The effective problem solver has the attitude of an investigator and the mind of a scientist in following a reliable process of finding new ways to tackle non-routine work challenges.
  • Creative Thinking: An individual with creative thinking skills knows how to look beyond the obvious to come up with innovative ideas. Generating creative ideas requires drawing upon both facts and intuition, using skills for detailed analysis as well as using analogies, metaphors, and associations to stimulate potential solutions. A core of divergent thinking, the creative thinker understands that finding a solution to a problem sometimes means going out of one’s comfort zone and “looking outside the box.”
  • Pattern Recognition: Convergent thinking requires the ability to collect, sort, order, and classify information in meaningful ways. Thus, the ability to map out concepts and systems, see order in what appears to be chaos, and construct knowledge from data are all elements of the pattern recognition skill.
  • Decision-Making: Converging on a single best decision is a critical skill for individual and organizational effectiveness. Inspired Thinkers have skills to effectively weigh evidence, evaluate sources, and judge the relevance of information to reach and implement a decision or action.
  • Planning: Everyone needs to know how to effectively plan. Whether planning strategy, a project, or just the day’s work activities, Inspired Thinkers have the ability to sequence activities, anticipate potential problems, develop contingencies, and estimate resource and budget needs.
  • Thought into Action: Putting these thinking skills into practice is the only way ideas can create organizational value. Too often, an individual with a wonderful idea that could help solve an important problem is unable to convert that idea into action. It becomes just another good idea without any value. The ability to use and apply the other thinking skills in order to achieve a goal is the core of Thought into Action.

For many years, organizations have tried to increase employees’ engagement and fulfillment by focusing on the elimination of things that make people unhappy. Companies removed poor working conditions, changed unfair employee policies, knocked down barriers to career advancement, and addressed inequities in compensation. However, today we recognize that, while these barriers may prevent engagement and fulfillment, their removal is not sufficient to create engagement and the Fulfilled Self.

Decades of research by people such as Seligman, Bandura, Snyder, Csikszentmihalyi, Salovery, and Mayer have shown us why this is so. All of the actions mentioned above are external to the individual. Studies by these noted scholars have shown that true fulfillment comes from within. One’s virtues, strength of character, resilience, and sensitivity to one’s own and others’ emotions are what enable a person to flourish.

Excelling in the Fulfilled Self domain translates to improved organizational performance. Numerous studies have shown that an individual’s Fulfilled Self image predicts higher performance for a wide range of occupations, from machine operators and retail store managers to U.S. Navy officers and CEOs. Additionally, studies have shown that up to 28 percent of individual work performance can be accounted for by a person’s feeling of confidence and self-efficacy.

Personal and Social Awareness Tension

Task and relationship tension define Purposeful Communication. The tension between divergent and convergent thinking defines Inspired Thinking. The Fulfilled Self is also defined by a tension—in this case, the tension between personal awareness and social awareness.

We all know people who are very grounded in who they are and what they stand for, but who lack sensitivity to others’ feelings and needs. We also know people who are so highly attuned to the needs, feelings, and expectations of others that it is difficult to know where they stand or what is important to them.

Fulfilled Self is defined by a balance between personal awareness and social awareness. Highly effective people have their eyes focused both inward to their personal values and outward to society and others. Most of us know at least one person who serves as a role model for Fulfilled Self—someone who demonstrates a true interest in others, maintains a calm presence most of the time, and always seems to make decisions based on a profound clarity of purpose and intent.

Personal awareness encompasses those skills and characteristics that allow people to manage themselves. It is a person’s awareness of his or her own values and purpose in life. It is the ability to stay calm and decisive in the face of adversity, adapt to the situation, and effectively manage one’s life. A person’s values shape what is meaningful and motivating to him or her. People with high personal awareness know how to connect with their inner selves and draw strength from this.

Social awareness encompasses skills for creating effective working relationships. Showing others respect, demonstrating compassion, and valuing individual differences are all elements of social awareness. People who are high in social awareness know how to connect with others and can work collaboratively toward goals. They value the opinions and perspectives that come from differences in style, culture, and background, and they show respect and compassion in their interactions with others.

The Being and Doing of the Fulfilled Self

There is always tension between serving yourself (personal awareness) and serving others (social awareness). Understanding this tension is important, but more important is accepting the personal responsibility to balance these two forms of tension and owning the responsibility to serve others and serve yourself. This choice is what we call the Being of Fulfilled Self; this is the first step to excelling in this domain. Once you have made the choice, you also need the skills to fulfill that promise—this is the Doing of the Fulfilled Self.

The Skills of the Fulfilled Self

Accepting the responsibility to balance the tension between serving others and serving yourself is a first step. However, you also need skills to be open and sensitive to your own and others’ needs. In our research, we have identified a number of characteristics that define both personal and social awareness.

Personal Awareness

  • Personal Development: Today’s business environment is characterized by constant change. In response, individuals must not only develop core competencies; they must also develop skills that allow them to change and adapt to the business environment as it changes. Assessing strengths and needs, planning development, and taking action to learn and apply new skills are elements of Personal Development.
  • Self-Management: Managing time and emotions is critical in today’s chaotic work environment. People with effective self-management skills can deal effectively with job-related stress and remain focused and productive in spite of adverse circumstances.
  • Drive and Initiative: Recognizing when actions are needed, then taking action promptly and persevering through completion, are important elements of Drive and Initiative.
  • Risk-Taking: A quickly changing work environment requires a degree of risk-taking. There is never enough information or time to be certain about actions. Organizations need people who are aware of their risk tolerance—who know how to calculate risk and weigh the costs and benefits of actions, and who can initiate unconventional, uncommon, or risky action.
  • Courage: Recent business scandals and failures clearly point out that organizations need people, at all levels, who will stand up for their principles and values even in the face of organizational or business challenges. A willingness to sacrifice for what is right and good is at the core of Courage.

Social Awareness

  • Integrity: Knowing when to make promises and commitments, and keeping them once made, is a critical skill. Integrity today is as much about knowing when and how to say no to a request as it is following through on commitments once made.
  • Compassion: Everyone is compassionate, but some are better at expressing it than others. People with a strong Fulfilled Self know what gets in the way of expressing their concern for others, pause before judging others’ actions, and appropriately balance positive and corrective comments.
  • Valuing Diversity: Today’s work environment is much more diverse than it was in the past. Add the increased global nature of work and the frequent need to interact with people from a variety of cultures, and it is easy to see that all people in an organization need to value the diversity of individual backgrounds, cultural experiences, and beliefs.
  • Contributing to Teams: Given today’s business demands for effective teamwork and collaboration, effective individuals need to demonstrate the ability to play the role of contributor in cross-organizational collaborations.

Despite the emphasis that many American business authors place on other domains (communication, thinking, self-fulfillment), it is important not to ignore the critical value of work talents.

Many years ago there was a popular cartoon published in a Japanese magazine. The drawing showed two men in business suits, one American and one Japanese, sitting on a commuter train. Both were reading books. On the cover of the book held by the American man was the title of a book that was popular in the U.S. at the time: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. On the cover of the book held by the Japanese man was the title All I Really Need to Know I Learned by Studying Hard in Advanced Engineering Courses. As this cartoon clearly points out, the value of work talents is at least equal to the value of the three transferable skills.

All people bring unique and specialized skills to the work environment, and they are essential to accomplishing the mission of the organization. By definition, Work Talents are specific to a profession, industry, company, and position. To try to delineate all of the skills required would be futile. However, the kinds of unique skills required of individuals tend to fall into four major areas:

Business Acumen

In the past, it was sufficient for a company’s leader to understand how the organization worked. In today’s complex business environment, everyone needs to have some understanding of business processes and operations.

Organization Knowledge

In addition to general business acumen, it is also important for people to understand what makes their organization unique. This includes knowledge of the organization’s products and core values, as well as the organization’s key performance indicators and how they are managed.

Technical/Professional Expertise

What more can be said? Everyone needs to bring a unique talent or capability to the job.

Working with Technology

In the modern workplace, knowledge of advanced technology is required of almost everyone. Whether it is computer applications, Internet functions, phone and telecommunication systems, or specialized electronic equipment, almost all employees utilize some technology on a daily basis.


As may have become apparent, central to the three transferable skill domains is the concept of balance. In our research into these three domains, the concept of balance between two opposite tensions repeatedly occurred. It is our conclusion that individual effectiveness exists in a zone between two different and opposing forces. These forces create a source of energy that propels an individual to new heights of effectiveness.

Some people associate the word “tension” with “stress” and give it negative connotations. From our perspective, tension actually plays a central role in creating value. Tension is what makes a rubber band work. Tension on a machine’s belt or chain allows that machine to function. Tension makes things work!

Each skill domain has its own form of tension. In each there is a natural tendency for an individual to move toward one source of tension and away from the other. The highly effective individual has learned to recognize this pull and consciously makes an effort to maintain a balance.

Balance and the Effective Individual

In summary, we believe that the four domains (Purposeful Communication, Inspired Thinking, the Fulfilled Self, and Work Talents) are critical elements to individual effectiveness. That does not mean that all employees require all of the skills to the same degree. Different situations and positions will require a different mix of these skills. For example, people in more direct contact with customers or the public (salespeople, customer service representatives, public relations specialists) may need to better develop the Purposeful Communication skills than others, while people in technical positions (designers, scientists, accountants) may need to focus on developing the Inspired Thinking skills.

The Effective Individual
Purposeful Communication Inspired Thinking Fulfilled Self Work Talents
Accepting responsibility for managing both relationship and task tension in communications. Freely moving between convergent and divergent thinking processes to determine the right action at the right time. Acting on the type of individual you want to be by balancing personal and social awareness. Bringing unique and valued skills to the job.
K E Y   C O M P E T E N C I E S
  • Listening to Learn
  • Expressing to Explore
  • Establishing Empathy
  • Demonstrating Credibility
  • Persuading
  • Constructive Conflict
  • Uncovering Interests
  • Presenting Effectively
  • Negotiating
  • Interpersonal Versatility
  • Reasoning
  • Problem Solving
  • Creative Thinking
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Decision Making
  • Planning
  • Thought into Action
  • Personal Development
  • Self Management
  • Drive and Initiative
  • Risk-Taking
  • Courage
  • Integrity
  • Compassion
  • Valuing Diversity
  • Contributing to Teams
  • Business Acumen
  • Organization Knowledge
  • Technical/Professional Expertise
  • Working with Technology

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

Nevertheless, everyone needs to develop skills from the four domains to at least some degree. Customer service people need Inspired Thinking to help them come up with effective and sometimes creative approaches to customer problems. Technical employees need to communicate their ideas and collaborate with others to generate creative solutions.


Some have suggested that many of these skills cannot be learned—that when it comes to things like creativity, risk-taking, and communication skills, people either have them or they don’t. To the contrary, research shows that not only can these skills be developed, it is essential that organizations provide opportunities so their employees can learn and apply them.

While there are multiple ways to approach development, many of our clients have found that a simple four-step process is the most effective method for developing new skills for existing employees. While any one organization may not implement all steps in this model, following the basic process below has reduced the time to proficiency and increased the sustainability of these skills in the workplace.

Assess, Learn, Plan, Sustain

Assess: Any development effort should begin with an assessment of current strengths and developmental needs. There are a number of methods for assessing skills: job simulations, tests, and multi-rater (360- or 180-degree) feedback are some of the most common. At the completion of this step, both the individual and the organization will have a good understanding of this person’s needs for development.

Plan: We are all familiar with the expression, “people don’t plan to fail as much as they fail to plan.” This is also true when it comes to developing skills. A large amount of development in organizations is haphazard and unfocused. This ultimately wastes people’s time and the organization’s resources. Having a clear plan that defines what each individual will do, when he or she will do it, and what the intended result is provides a focus to learning and development activities.

Learn: Learning occurs in many places and in many ways. Learning needs to utilize both formal and informal development activities, such as on-the-job learning activities, as well as classroom-based learning.

Sustain: The vast majority of learning in organizations is lost, forgotten, or never applied in the work environment. Thus, the final step is to ensure learning transfers to the workplace and is sustained in the person’s job performance until it becomes a repeatable habit. Providing manager support, supplying a mentor or coach, encouraging follow-up reinforcement learning, and giving employees tools to help them apply the skills on the job are some examples of how you can sustain learning and its use on the job.


It is not surprising that the concept of balance is at the core of individual effectiveness. Balance has been at the center of life purpose and value for centuries. Whether it is the “Yin-Yang” of Taoism, the Korean “Kwae,” or Buddha’s “Middle Path,” balance is intertwined with fulfillment, enlightenment, and engagement.

Highly effective people maintain a balance in their lives, in their communications, in their approach to thinking through problems, and in their relationship between themselves and society. While some people will achieve high performance within an unbalanced life, these achievements are often, maybe always, temporary and fleeting. When you think of the people you know who consistently produce high performance throughout their lives, you will likely think of these people as well balanced in their lives, relationships, and sense of self.

Versatile Leadership

It is well documented that people who understand differences in communication preferences, and learn to adapt their own communications to make others more comfortable, are more effective leaders. This skill is called Versatility, and it is the core of Wilson Learning’s Social Style capability. But how does that actually work? What are the kinds of adjustments managers and employees need to make in order to increase their Versatility and make their work unit and organization more effective?

img_1046In an attempt to better understand how managers and employees express their Versatility, and the needs that different employees and managers have, Wilson Learning conducted a set of in-depth interviews with both managers and their employees, each lasting at least one hour. In all, 82 interviews were completed from 35 different organizations in various industries. These interviews provided detailed information about the style preferences of managers and employees, and the impact of Versatility on their relationships.

The results indicate that leaders need to pay attention to a number of factors in order to increase their Versatility. For leaders, Versatility is most critical during performance review sessions and when dealing with conflict. Individual employee expectations regarding performance objectives, feedback, and support all differ according to the Social Style of the employee. How a leader approaches these issues can greatly affect individual and organizational performance.

What Are Social Style and Versatility?

Effective communication between managers and their direct reports is critical, both for the success of the organization and the success and satisfaction of employees. The most common reason people give for leaving a job is poor communication or a poor relationship with their manager. Good communication skills are associated with success in sales, sales leadership, negotiations, and a host of other areas.

Versatility is key to effective communication.

Versatility is based upon Wilson Learning’s Social Style model. Nearly half a century of research has shown that people are divided equally across four primary communication styles. These four Social Styles are called Driver, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytical. When you find that a person is easy to communicate and work with, it is often because you share the same Social Style. When a person seems difficult to work with, it is often because your styles are different.

Because each style represents about 25% of all people, managers only share a Social Style with about one-fourth of their employees. As a result, almost all managers are faced with the dilemma of creating effective communication with the remaining three-fourths of the workforce. The Versatility skill allows managers to do just that.

Understanding the Causes and Consequences of Leader Versatility

To help leaders develop Versatility, we needed a clear understanding of how a manager’s actions affect the performance of the four Social Styles. That was the purpose of this study.

Our primary objective in this study was to truly understand how the things leaders do and say affect employee performance. Therefore, we felt that an open-ended interview procedure was the best approach. While this does not provide statistical or numerical results, it does provide a rich description of situations and actions that can guide organizational leaders toward increased Versatility. This study had some important and unique characteristics:

  • We needed to interview both managers and their employees to have a complete picture of communication patterns.
  • We needed to know the Social Style of both the managers and their employees.
  • We needed a balance of all four styles.
  • We needed a representative sample across a range of organizations and industries.

Each interview lasted at least one hour, and many lasted much longer. Our questions covered a wide range of topics, including how different Social Styles manage people; how different Social Styles prefer to be managed; situations in which Versatility was most valuable; the impact of Versatility on trust; and how managers and employees build and lose trust in each other.

In total we interviewed 82 people, evenly divided among the four Social Styles and between managers and employees. These 82 people came from 35 different organizations, representing several different industries, including high-technology, pharmaceutical, financial services, insurance, telecommunications, and automotive.

The results provide a rich description of how Versatility skills can affect the manager-employee relationship and the important role of communication in building high performance. In this paper, we will focus on two major outcomes: the impact of Social Styles on the manager-employee relationship and the role of trust in the manager-employee relationship.

What Do Leaders Need to Pay Attention to?

We start by describing the results relative to the impact of Social Style on key elements of the relationship between a manager and employee. It is important that leaders know Social Style and how it impacts their employees’ performance.

The Ideal Manager

Style of the employee Ideal characteristics of managers
Driver Is sincere and direct
Expressive Is friendly, open in communication, trusting, and empathic
Amiable Shows confidence in employees; is honest and trustworthy
Analytical Is knowledgeable and shares information openly

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

Employees with different Social Styles see different characteristics as being descriptive of an ideal manager. While all employees express that ideal managers give them clear objectives and the autonomy to carry them out, the following characteristics tend to be related to the style of the employee:

A manager needs to be aware of his or her own behavioral tendencies and the expectations of different employees. For example, an Analytical manager who does not express empathy and an open sharing of feelings may not be meeting the needs of all his or her employees.

Managers’ Weaknesses

Style of the employee Weaknesses of managers
Driver Giving too much or too little direction. Too little makes the task too vague to be effective; too much keeps employees from using their personal discretion.
Expressive Being closed-minded. Expressives do not like managers who see only one way of doing things and are closed to discussing options.
Amiable Not expressing personal concern for the employee. Amiables do not like managers who show little personal interest in them.
Analytical Giving too much or too little information. Analyticals do not like to be told things they already know or that are irrelevant to the task; at the same time, they don’t want gaps in the information that the managers could have provided.

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

Parallel to views of the ideal manager, the primary weaknesses of managers are also style related. While all employees express that a common weakness of managers is supervising too closely (“micro manager,” “looks over my shoulder too much”), each Social Style describes slightly different characteristics as weaknesses in managers.

Thus, effective leaders balance the amount of information, direction, options, and expression of concern for their employees and match that to the style of their direct reports.

Giving Support to Employees

Style of the employee Support expected from managers
Driver They want advice but not direct intervention. They want the freedom to solve problems themselves.
Expressive They want a sounding board; someone with whom to discuss and evaluate options and choices. They want managers to support and back up their ideas.
Amiable They want a manager to guide them down the right path, checking in and expressing confidence in them and making small course corrections along the way.
Analytical They want managers to give them direct feedback on their decisions and provide a clear and full acceptance of their decisions.

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

From time to time, all employees need support from their managers. The employees interviewed said that managerial support—in the form of advice and removing organizational barriers—was critical to their performance. But, different Social Styles also expressed some differences in the types of support they want and expect to receive from their managers.

Managers who give support in the way they would want to be supported (that is, as their own Social Styles would want to be supported) may not be providing the kind of support the employee needs to be most effective. Managers need to be aware of their own tendencies and adjust them to the varying needs of their employees’ Social Styles.

When Is Group Involvement Needed?

Style of employees and managers When to involve the group in a decision
Driver When the decision or action affects the responsibilities of any individual in the group, or for coordinating work efforts
Expressive When the whole group is affected
Amiable Anytime the group can contribute to brainstorming, problem solving, or planning
Analytical When decisions or actions affect them directly

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

When to involve a group or team in a decision is a common dilemma for managers. When asked what situations are appropriate for group involvement, the answers by both managers and employees were consistent and differed by Social Style.

Managers’ Biases for Giving Employees More Responsibility

Style of the manager When they provide more responsibility
Driver Tend to give more responsibility to employees who repeatedly exceed expectations on current tasks; that is, based upon a demonstration of desire to do more
Expressive Give more responsibility to employees who ask for it and directly express a willingness to do more

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

One clear finding that may affect the success and advancement of different employees is how managers of different Social Styles tend to give additional responsibilities to employees. In this case, Drivers and Analyticals (both being more task-directed) gave similar answers, as did Expressives and Amiables (both being more people-directed).

Of course, in all cases, the primary factor is the employee’s ability to do the job. But if you are an Expressive or Amiable manager, don’t assume that those employees who don’t ask for more responsibility don’t want it—they may be trying to communicate their desire for more responsibility by working hard to exceed your expectations. Similarly, if you are a Driver or Analytical manager, pay attention when people say they want more responsibility.

How Employees Judge Their Own Performance

Style of the employee Criteria for judging own performance
Driver Tend to focus on measurable criteria. Driver and Analytical styles (Task-Directed Responsiveness) base their own performance on indicators such as deadlines, number of mistakes, tasks accomplished, etc. They place less emphasis on the positive reactions of others.
Expressive Tend to base their self-judgements on feedback from others—coworkers, managers, and customers.

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Employees will perform based upon both their manager’s and their own criteria for good performance. An employee’s criteria for judging his or her performance also seems to be closely related to whether they are more task-directed (Drivers and Analyticals) or more people-directed (Amiables and Expressives).

While neither group ignores the quantifiable indicators of performance, or the reactions of others, it is clear that when employees are asked to judge their own performance, they will likely make reference to Social Style-specific criteria.

When Is Knowledge of Social Styles Most Helpful?

Most managers and employees indicated that knowledge of Social Styles is useful in any interaction. However, there were three specific situations in which both managers and employees agreed that knowledge of Social Styles was most helpful:

  • Conflict situations: Whether the manager is dealing directly with a conflict or is helping others deal with conflict, almost all of the people interviewed indicated that knowledge of Social Styles is very helpful in addressing these situations. This knowledge helps people focus less on the emotions of the situation and more on the resolution of the conflict, and helps identify the differences that are at the root of the conflict.
  • Performance reviews: Knowledge of Social Styles was also seen as greatly helpful during performance review or appraisal meetings between a manager and an employee. Social Styles knowledge can help put the employee more at ease during performance reviews and can help focus the discussion on areas of particular concern for both parties.
  • Efforts to persuade: While more an issue for employees than managers, knowledge of Social Styles was also seen as critical when presenting information in an effort to persuade a specific course of action or decision. Knowledge of Social Styles can help in addressing interests that are highly important to the other person and, as a result, increase success in efforts to persuade.

A Common Misperception: The Social Styles of Top Management

Style Employees’ perception of top managers’ dominant style Wilson Learning’s Database: Percent of top managers by style
Driver 53% 25%
Expressive 14% 39%
Amiable 6% 17%
Analytical 20% 19%
Mixed/ don’t know 7%

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One common misperception we identified through the interviews was employees’ assumptions about the Social Styles of top management. While we did not know the Social Styles of the executives in each of the organizations, when asked their perceptions of the dominant style in top management, the majority of employees indicated that Drivers dominate. However, the actual results from our database of Social Style Profiles tell quite a different story. As the chart at right shows, Expressives actually dominate top management positions. In addition, Amiables are much more frequent in top management positions (17% of all top managers profiled) than was assumed to be the case by the employees interviewed.

Trust in the Manager-Employee Relationship

One of the most critical elements of effective leadership is trust between the manager and the employee. The more trust a manager has in an employee, the more autonomy and job responsibility he or she gives the employee. The more trust an employee has in a manager, the more open and honest the communication is, and the employee has more commitment to the organization. Knowing how to build trust is an important skill for all people.

When Do Employees Lose Trust in a Manager?

Causes of Lost Trust
Style of the employee or manager Employees’ views Managers’ assumptions
Driver Breaking confidences or making poor decisions Failure to answer questions or resolve problems
Expressive Failure to back up employees Breaking confidences
Amiable Failure to adequately address requests for support Misinterpreted behavior
Analytical Lack of manager competence, inconsistency in providing feedback Monitoring work too closely, not consulting with the employee

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Managers need to know what kinds of actions might cause employees to lose trust in them. Unfortunately, there are two potential blind spots. First, the Social Style of the employee affects what he or she sees as the primary causes of low trust. Second, the manager’s Social Style affects what he or she assumes leads to low trust. The chart at right summarizes the primary causes of an employee losing trust in a manager.

None of these causes are unique to a particular style—they all cause lower trust for all styles. However, the style-related actions represent manager behavior that is more likely to cause a loss of trust for that style in particular. The fact that employees and managers have different perceptions of what causes a loss of trust is an interesting finding and can greatly influence manager-employee relationships.

The Impact of Lost Trust

Impact of Lost Trust
Style of the employee or manager Employees’ responses Managers’ assumptions
Driver Anger and defensiveness Need to supervise more
Expressive Less contact and communication Need to supervise more
Amiable Anger, defensiveness, and less communication Termination of relationship
Analytical Expectation that time is required to smooth over the issue Loss of employee responsiveness

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

When trust is lost (the manager losing trust in the employee, or the employee losing trust in the manager), it affects both parties. In all cases, there is increased strain and tension in the relationship. In addition, there are style-related effects, noted in the table at right.

One clear finding had to do with efforts to re-establish trust. For both Amiables and Analyticals, re-establishing trust inevitably involves the passage of time. In other words, Amiable and Analytical styles expressed that efforts to re-establish trust immediately after an incident will fail and that only “time heals wounds.” This is particularly important information for Driver and Expressive leaders, who may attempt to re-establish trust too early, only to increase the resistance of the Amiable or Analytical employee and further delay the re-establishment of a productive relationship.


Employees don’t leave companies; they leave managers!

Numerous studies have shown that the most common reason people give for leaving a job is a poor relationship with their manager. Turnover, productivity, performance, and employee satisfaction are all tied to a manager’s ability to build effective relationships with employees.

Versatility is the key. While several studies in the past have shown the link between performance measures and Versatility scores, this study shows in more detail how Versatility actually works in the manager-employee relationship. A manager who is sensitive to the style of his or her employees, and takes steps to adjust his or her behavior to meet the needs of employees, will communicate more clearly and establish a more trusting relationship.

You Might Also Be Interested in:
 Building Relationship Versatility: Social Styles at Work
About the Author
Michael LeimbachMichael Leimbach
Michael Leimbach

Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., is Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide. Dr. Leimbach provides leadership for researching and designing Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities. He has managed major research studies in sales, leadership, and organizational effectiveness, and developed Wilson Learning’s learning transfer, impact evaluation, and return on investment models. Dr. Leimbach has consulted for a wide variety of global client organizations, serves on the ISO Technical committee for development of ISO 29999 Standard for Learning Service Providers, and is Editor-in-Chief for Advances in Developing Human Resources. Dr. Leimbach has authored six books, published over 100 professional articles, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences.

Share your Morals


A moral compass guides the actions people choose and is based on meeting the needs of the greater good. One aspect of the moral compass ishonesty. An example of a wavering moral compass was seen with Lance Armstrong, who started his professional cycling career in 1992. In 1996, he was diagnosed with cancer from which he recovered. When he returned to his career in 1998, he had the support of legions of fans who admired his spirit. However, in 2012, as a result of doping charges (which he initially denied), he was banned from the sport. Armstrong justified his usage by stating others were doing the same thing.

ppA different scenario occurred with golfer Brian Davis. In a championship game, he called a penalty on himself. Since the official did not see Davis’s error, they watched the action in a slow-motion replay, which revealed it. Although his honesty cost him the game, his demonstration of integrityearned him the respect of colleagues and fans.

Fidelity describes people who demonstrate faithfulness. In May 2013, Edward Snowden leaked top-secret papers about Internet-surveillance programs. Some felt his actions were wrong. He defended himself by stating his intent was right because he wanted to inform the public about questionable actions of the government. The answer to whether he acted with fidelity depends on who is asked.

George Everly Sr.’s family came to America in the late 1600s and farmed for 300 years. Although farming was a long tradition in his family, he chose to attend college and join the Army. When he spoke of his service in WWII, he focused on duty and camaraderie rather than the stories of destruction that are inherent in any war. When he was offered a D-Day medal in 1994, he was reluctant to accept it because he was simply doing what he said he would do, being guided by his moral compass. This is a sharp contrast to today’s modern world, where many people expect a trophy just for showing up.

Ethical behavior is demonstrated by people who do the right thing. It is a natural response for those who operate with honesty, integrity, and fidelity. Tylenol demonstrated ethical behavior in 1982, after seven people died from taking their capsules. When it was revealed that those tablets were laced with cyanide, Tylenol recalled all the products still on the market. They also implemented tamper-resistant packaging to prevent this from occurring again. Although the financial costs were huge, Tylenol become known as an ethical brand.

People who are not comfortable with their past actions can form a new moral compass by:

*Believing in themselves. People must realize that they can act with a moral compass. When they make an effort, they will eventually find that honesty and integrity become intrinsically rewarding. When reward results from an action, it increases the likelihood of that action occurring again.

*Surrounding themselves with people who operate with honesty and integrity. Individuals who operate with a moral compass encourage others to do the same. Spending time with such people makes it natural for all members of the group to operate with a moral compass.

*Receiving encouragement and support from others. A peer group is important beyond the teenage years and needs to be composed of quality people.

*Learning to manage impulsive behaviors. This helps people develop a better sense of control and reinforces the positive actions they are capable of. Small successes helps people believe they can have even more success.

Knowledge should be Maintained

Coupled with the ability to understand what others find meaningful, knowledge mining involves building a body of knowledge to draw upon in the future. This involves six different concepts:

1. Embodiment. Each person embodies unique knowledge, life experiences, and social connections. People can be the embodiment of their generations, their communities, their cultures, or the human race. While embodiment is not essential to creating, it constitutes a pool of knowledge to draw upon.

2. Immersion. People can tap into knowledge through immersion in another culture. By assimilating into another culture, someone can learn almost everything there is to know about that culture. A shallower immersion, such as a taking a class or researching a culture, may provide enough knowledge to work with while reserving the time to learn about other cultures as well.

3. Connecting the dots. Calling upon past experiences to inform similar projects is a way of connecting the dots. This method relies on people’s ability to see similarities and links between seemingly unrelated experiences. It also depends on the insight to recognize which dots are important and which ones are not.

4. Casting for ideas. Ideas are everywhere, but not every idea is a good one. The key to catching a good idea is to remain open to unexpected inspiration. The person who can recognize and harness innovative ideas can use them to create something completely original.

5. Mining the past. The most successful creators do their homework before launching a new idea. They find out about the history of their fields, what has worked in the past, and what has not. Building a body of knowledge helps people see where they came from, where they are going, and what is missing and needs to be filled in.

6. Donut knowledge. Sometimes, the missing piece is more important than the rest of the puzzle. Cultivating the ability to see what is not there, like a donut hole, is another way to gather knowledge.

Discovering people’s dreams is a more powerful strategy than asking about their needs. It reveals what is truly meaningful in their lives. Mining for knowledge is not just a fact-finding mission; it is a quest to discover what others find meaningful, and the most successful innovators deliver the meaning that people long for. This requires compassion, connection, and engagement.

Just like many companies are not capitalizing on their employees’ vast knowledge, many individuals overlook their own skills and experience. The first step in building a foundation for creativity is becoming more familiar with them. The next is becoming receptive to creative thoughts by freeing the mind, disconnecting from the rest of the world, and thinking.


Putting a traditional idea into a new context reframes it into something new. For example, Kickstarter, an online funding site that lets people contribute to and participate in creative projects, reframed the idea that artists and their supporters are separate entities, encouraging group alliances for project funding.

Everyone holds beliefs about the world that are equivalent to different frames. Creative people redefine or discard these frames, changing the way people see the world. By practicing framing and reframing, people can learn to change their perspectives and become more innovative.

Narrative reframing changes the way people do a particular thing. For example, a medical team reframed the way the hospital routinely conducted chemotherapy sessions to make them more comfortable and convenient to patients. Reframing a narrative often depends on switching the point of view to allow someone else to tell the story.

The Internet and social networking have reframed engagement on a larger scale. Whenever interaction occurs, the potential for innovation arises. Each group has its own rituals and etiquette as well as its own protocol for entrance. For example, friend requests on Facebook are a way of “knocking at the door” of the social network.

What-if framing challenges the status quo and explores other possibilities. Strategizing about the future encourages multiple perspectives that may lead to collaboration with people outside of familiar peer groups and cultures. What-if framing helps people imagine the unimaginable.

Basic framing skills help people adjust to changes and maintain control of their destinies. The ability to reframe helps people make sense of the world and gives them direction for defining the future.


During play, people set aside the rules that govern their everyday lives. They improvise and take on new roles. Among creative entrepreneurs, playing is key to building strategy, and companies like YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, and Apple are among the results.

Serious play among players who trust each other produces the best ideas. Serious play has rules, incites competition, and produces winners as well as losers. It transforms problems into challenges that are fun and have several possible creative solutions.

Establishing a “magic circle,” or room that is separated from normal activity and governed by a separate set of rules, is essential to enhancing a work team’s creativity. The people who play there should trust each other enough to suspend judgment while experimenting.

Making a game out of a task that people typically put off encourages action. For example, the 12-week Keas program engages employees into a fitter lifestyle by using a gaming platform and competition via social networking. Such programs access the power of fun and friendly competition to drive results. The most successful programs build in an element of choice that is essential to play.

Game designers distinguish between simple and complex games. Simple games, like crossword puzzles, do not offer game-changing options. Complex ones, such as poker, feature changing dynamics that depend on players’ choices. Complex games mirror the ambiguity of the real world and provide valuable lessons in strategizing. The creative advantages of complex gaming include:

*Dynamism and adaptability.

*A dependence on possibility, not probability.

*The use of scaffolding that provides increasing complexity.

*Deceptive simplicity that requires smart choices.

*The ability to change the rules.

Although play is a complex behavior, it is something that anyone can relearn. Stepping outside a normal comfort zone to find the right team or partner is often essential to constructive play. Games help people explore and break through their boundaries.


A new maker movement has emerged since the turn of the 21st century, with people preferring to be active rather than passive. Making involves mastering the tools, such as computers, that convert creative ideas into reality. Corporations as well as communities are adopting a go-local philosophy. Even industry giants like GE are returning some of their offshore manufacturing facilities to the U.S.

The combination of a maker philosophy and low-cost, simple to use digital tools is driving the maker trend. 3-D printers facilitate turning ideas into prototypes. Being funded, such as by an online community like Kickstarter, results in going into production sooner. Online publicity and social network sharing sells the product.

The first step in becoming a maker is visualizing a satisfactory result. The next is realizing that it is easier to make something than most people think. Plenty of classes and workshops are available to help. Finally, established online platforms like eBay and Etsy provide forums for marketing products.


Designers everywhere are becoming entrepreneurs, pivoting from the creative to the business worlds. Many young people are pivoting from curating online spaces to creating physical products and launching businesses. Widespread pivoting from product concepts to business creation is also driving urban revival in cities like New York.

Pivoting describes the movement from inspiration to production. It involves transforming intangibles like dreams and desires into tangible, marketable products. Pivoting bridges the gap between social and market norms, requiring skills not usually characteristic of the business world.

Products that have embedded meaning are more attractive to an audience that shares the meaning. For example, Apple products have a “cool” aura as a result of the company’s ability to produce innovative, attractive, and quality products. When pivoting from creativity to creation, a prime consideration is making the product relevant to its audience.

Because pivoting from creativity to creation requires capital and markets, the assistance of a person who can make the right connections is a must. This person is a “wanderer” who may be a talent scout, a coach, or an agent, but he or she is the link between creativity and practical necessity.

Building a pivot circle of supporters also helps bring an idea to fruition. Many entrepreneurs start out with the help of family and friends, and then expand their circles through social networks and other media. The goal is to leverage creativity through the support of those who see the value in an idea or product.

Some creators are serial entrepreneurs who specialize in ideas and then leave development to someone else. Others prefer to see an idea through the developmental stages and into the marketplace. Some startups, such as YouTube, pivot by selling to a larger platform like Google. Other entrepreneurs prefer to build their companies by themselves through platforms like Etsy.

Charisma is a powerful tool for entrepreneurs because it inspires a larger following. Some people view charisma as an internal light that the lucky are born with, but anyone can learn to become more charismatic. One common trait of leaders with charisma is the drive to achieve more than just profits. They follow a calling or a higher interest. They understand that the relationship between leaders and followers is the promise of meaning in their lives.

To be successful, an entrepreneur needs a product with an aura, a wanderer to help bring the product to the world, a pivot circle or network, and the charisma that comes from learning to clearly articulate a calling.

We all need to RESPECT Creativity

As one of the most innovative companies in recent years, Apple does not fit any of the traditional criteria for innovation. It does not invest large amounts of money into research and development, nor does it have a formal innovation funnel. Instead, it produces a small number of innovative products. The social dynamics leading to Apple-style innovation, including serendipity, connection, discovery, networking and play, are more typical of a college campus than a big corporation. According to a 2010 IBM survey of 1500 CEOs, creativity ranks among the most valuable management skills in the contemporary business environment. It has become something to train for and an accessible skill.P

The work of Teresa Amabile of Stanford University in the 1980s revealed that creativity has a social context. People in different career fields interpret the ability for original thought by different criteria, making domain knowledge a prerequisite for creative innovation.

Cognitive psychology theories about the mental processes of creative people produced psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of “flow”–a distinctive, cognitive state of mind people enter when they create. The elements of flow include:

*Absent sense of time

*Extraordinary focus

*Feeling of great confidence

*Intrinsic motivation

*Absent fear, hunger, and fatigue

*Joy or rapture

In the 1990s, brain imagery technology showed psychologists images of brain functions while people were creating. It debunked the belief that creativity is exclusive to the right brain. In fact, during a creative task, a person’s entire brain is involved.

The best way to decode creativity is to learn from creative individuals and organizations. In Florence, Italy, during the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, and Donatello were at the forefront of a group of great painters who frequently collaborated in a society highly appreciative of their work. The super creativity of this group of masters was largely due to the social and cultural context in which they were working.

Three elements are essential to creative teams:

  1. Trust
  2. Familiarity with each other
  3. Shared commitment to similar goals

If cognitive psychology and neuroscience have shown that individuals have the ability to be creative, then a sociocultural approach demonstrates how to act within groups to foster creativity. Rather than search for a specific spot in the brain where an individual’s creativity originates, people should team up with others to multiply their creative abilities.

Creative intelligence exists across several disciplines and in all spheres of life. It is a social activity that grows through collaboration and sharing. With the rise of social media networking, corporations, schools, hospitals, and all other large organizations must adapt to social technology or be phased out.

Facing an uncertain future, people must be innovative and agile. They must seek ways to create things that change their lives. Five competencies are essential to this endeavor:

1. Knowledge mining to discover what is meaningful to themselves and others.

2. Framing, a lens that helps people focus and adapt to changing situations.

3. Playing to open up creativity, free people from rules, and find new ways to solve challenges.

4. Making products locally.

5. Pivoting to bridge the gap between innovation and creation.

People using creative intelligence are building a new business model called Indie Capitalism. It is free of many of capitalism’s traditional constraints, and it is a social system that is local rather than international.

Creativity is not a lightning bolt, but a light bulb. It can be common and routine. It is a means of expressing humanity and the uniquely human ability to create, connect, and inspire.

Respect Emotions in Negotiation

Negotiation is one of the most common and constructive ways of dealing with conflict. It can be defined as the joint decision making between interdependent individuals aimed at resolving a perceived divergence of interests (Pietroni et al., 2008). Negotiation is a part of our life and we negotiate every now and then, consciously or subconsciously, for creating value and/or claiming value. We negotiate in an informal way with our friends and family or we take a formal approach to negotiation in a work environment which IMG_3704includes business deals, dispute settlement, conflict resolution etc. But wherever we negotiate or whenever we negotiate, just like any other social interaction emotions are inherent to negotiation. Negotiations involve people and people are indispensable from emotions. The things that people care about are not just the outcomes but also respect, power and identity which are bound to incite strong emotions.

As an emotion emerges, it entails coordinated changes in physiology, motor readiness, behaviour, cognition, and subjective experience. Emotional reactions emerge in response to perceived or actual alterations in the person’s environment (Mayer et al., 2007). Emotions intertwine with rational thoughts to make us human. Reasons cannot easily operate without feelings, or vice versa. We need to understand, channel and learn from our emotions in order to adapt to the situation at hand and engage others successfully. The key to a successful deal most often lies not in technical details, or even in price, but in the proper treatment of the emotion and psychological motivations that drive the buyer or the seller (Garai and Pravda, 1993). Even when the economies or the strategies are right, a transaction can break down if critical personal concerns are not recognized and addressed (Garai and Pravda, 1993). Being emotionally prepared is as important as any other aspect of the negotiation planning.

Effect of Emotions on Negotiation

In Greek myth, many of the ills that plagued mankind were creatures of emotion, such as revenge, spite, and envy. Released by the goddess Pandora, they sought to torment the world (MacDonald and Matthew, 2008). To be able to use emotion as a weapon in negotiation, we must first understand the effect of emotions on negotiation. Acknowledging the critical role emotions can play in the negotiation, more and more studies are focussing on emotive other than cognitive aspect of the negotiation.

Both cognitive and emotional approaches to negotiation have highlighted not only outcomes related to the negotiable items on the table, but also outcomes related to the social relationship between the parties at table (Kopelman et al., 2006). Effect of emotions on negotiation can be studied as intrapersonal effect of emotions on a negotiator and interpersonal effect of emotions on other negotiators around the table. Various models such as affect-as information model, affect-priming models, affect infusion model etc. have been developed guiding the research on intrapersonal effect and various models such as motivated information processing model, social information model, actor-partner independence model etc. have been developed guiding research on interpersonal effect.

Intrapersonal effects of emotions in negotiation is the influence of a negotiator’s emotional state on his or her own behaviour (Van Kleef et al.) Studies have shown quite consistently that negotiators experiencing positive affect tend to be more cooperative and conciliatory, whereas negotiators in a negative affective state tend to be more competitive and reluctant to make concessions. Positive affect of emotions has shown to increase concession making, stimulate creative problem solving, increase preferences for cooperation, reduce the use of contentious tactics, and increase the use of cooperative strategies. Conversely, negative affect has been shown to decrease initial offers, decrease joint gains, promote the rejection of ultimatum offers, increase use of competitive strategies and decrease desire to work together in future (Van Kleef et al.).

Negotiation is a complex process which demands high level of attentiveness and awareness of the environment. Emotional effects of a negotiator are not only intrapersonal but also interpersonal that is our emotions not only influence us but also people whom we are interacting with. Negotiation is a social phenomenon whereby emotions of one negotiator not only affect themselves but also their counterparts (Van Kleef et al.). Negotiators use their opponent’s emotions to infer the location of his or her limits and subsequently used this information to make a counteroffer (Van Kleef et al.). In other words, negotiators who are confronted with an angry opponent estimate the opponent’s limit to be high, and to avoid costly impasse, they place low demands and make the large concessions. Conversely, negotiators with a happy opponent, judge the opponent’s limit to be low, feel no need to concede to avoid impasse, and accordingly place high demands and make small concessions. But anger is considered to be a negative emotion and negative emotions are highly contagious that they can anger the opposite party resulting in an impasse.

Disadvantages of communicating anger in a negotiation could be that the negotiator may be perceived with a negative personality, may anger the counterpart and/or negatively affect the future relationship. But communicating anger can have positive affects financially with the angry party claiming higher concessions. Studies by Beest et al. (2008), revealed that communicating anger has profound impact on multiparty negotiation and may trigger negative impressions in multiparty negotiation. But if the parties are forced to include an angry counterpart then the angry party tends to claim higher value than others.

Positive emotions lead to better cognitive thinking and result in better results whereas negative emotions influence the parties to focus on distributive approach resulting in one party gaining more than the other or reach an impasse.  Negotiations are best when they are integrative and result in added value instead of a fixed pie approach. Fixed –pie perceptions lead negotiators to engage in distributive negotiation[i] and to forego possibilities of an integrative negotiation[ii], typically resulting in sub-optimal agreements (De Dreu, 2003). But there may be some instances where fixed pie is an actuality and distributive bargaining is the most appropriate approach to take. In these negotiations strategic display of anger can yield better results for the party expressing anger.

The effect of emotions in negotiation cannot be generalised but is influenced by various other factors

Effect of Power

Negotiation parties often differ in terms of power, and power differences exert an important influence on the way in which negotiation processes develop and conclude (Van Kleef et al.). The effect emotions have on a negotiation depends on the power level of the parties involved in the negotiation. The party with a higher power will be more expressive of their emotions and less or not affected by the emotions of the counterpart. This resonates with the theory that negotiators with higher power are found to be more demanding and less conceding since their BATNA[iii] is relatively stronger.

Effect of Epistemic Motivation[iv]

The effectiveness of the use of emotional deception as a strategic ploy depends on whether the target of the influence attempt is motivated to think about the implications of the other’s emotions for his or her goal attainment (Van Kleef et al.). Negotiators’ tendency to concede more to an angry opponent than to a happy one is moderated by individual differences in epistemic motivation. The epistemic motivation is another factor that governs the extent to which emotions play a role in negotiation.  The higher the epistemic motivation the more the parties will be willing to achieve an outcome. Hence, the parties will be more receptive to emotions.

Whether individuals will engage in a systematic and thorough information processing depends on their epistemic motivation – the desire to develop and maintain a rich and accurate understanding of the world, including negotiation task (Van Kleef et al.). Epistemic motivation depends upon need for cognitive closure, attractiveness, environmental noise, mental fatigue, time pressure.

Effect of Emotional Transition

In a negotiation, a party can maintain a steady state emotion of being happy or angry throughout the negotiation or transition from a happy to angry or angry to happy emotional stage. The transition from happy to angry has been found to be the most effective where the negotiator started with a happy emotion transitioning to angry emotion (Filipowicz et al.).

Managing Emotions in Negotiation

History is riddled with instances where emotions overpowered reasoning. In contrast to the historically dominant view of emotions as a negative influence in human behaviour, recent research in neuroscience and psychology has highlighted the positive roles played by emotions in decision making (Shiv et al., 2005). The automatic emotions triggered by a given situation help the normal decision-making process by narrowing down the options for action, either by discarding those that are dangerous or by endorsing those that are advantageous (Shiv et al., 2005). This process can be lifesaving in certain events but when it comes to negotiation, relying on automatic emotive triggering can lead to damaging results. Here, we must inhibit the trigger and take a cognitive approach with emotions being used strategically. Emotional Intelligence (EI) [v] will enable us to accurately perceive and express emotion in the self, recognize and appraise the emotion in others, regulate emotion in the self, and use emotions to facilitate performance by guiding them towards constructive activities and personal performance.

Before walking into a negotiation, every negotiator must assess and accept the emotional complexity of the negotiation. They should follow the six-step warm-up exercise suggested by Kimberlyn Leary (2013) to emotionally prepare themselves for negotiation.

Strategic Control of Emotions

People sometimes are unable to control the emotions sparked by a negotiation. More often than not they end up conceding major concessions to the opposite party or the negotiation fails to materialize. The two most intense emotions that confront negotiators are fear and anger (Adler et al., 1998). Anger and fear in negotiations can be good and bad. The emotions in themselves are not negative; they affect us negatively if we let the emotions control us in situations which also demand certain level of rationalisation, whereas if we are aware of our emotional state, control it and use it for our own benefit, results can be positive. Adler et al. (1998) have suggested following ways to successfully deal with anger and fear arising in conflict situation:


·         The critical need for self-awareness

·         Determine situations that trigger inappropriate anger

·         Decide whether to display anger

·         Behavioural techniques to reduce anger like calling for a temporary break

·         Express anger and disappointment affectively

·         Avoid “negotiators bias”

·         Try to promote trust


·         Defuse beated emotional buildup

·         Assess the significance of angry displays

·         Address an opponent’s anger

·         Respond to anger in strategic ways

·         Help an angry opponent save face

·         Involve a mediator where we anticipate anger


·         Know your warning signs

·         Understand that fear is often a normal reaction

·         Determine how visibly you display fear

·         Determine situations that trigger fear

·         Behavioural techniques to reduce feelings of fear like thinking about a positive thought from the past

·         Careful preparation reduces fear (refer to (Kimberlyn Leary, 2013))

·         Act confident even if you do not feel so

·         Avoid quick agreements motivated by fear

·         Try to reduce stress level by exercising etc.


·         Monitor all negotiations for emotional build-ups

·         Show flexibility in how we react to your opponent’s fear

·         Where helpful, share your fears and anxieties with your opponent

·         Help your fearful opponents save face

Emotions as Strategic Information

Negotiators must use the information about the other’s emotion to design their own negotiation strategy. When negotiators lack information about counter parties, they bend towards distributive negotiation instead of an integrative negotiation (assuming win-win situation is a possibility). Studies by Paul Ekman, helps us understand the basic emotions and universal language of facial expressions. The study can be very helpful in face-to-face negotiation (assuming counterparts do not maintain a poker face[vi]) which is the most common setting especially for high level negotiations, dispute settlements and conflict resolutions.

Even though negotiators may not explicitly and deliberately inform others about the structure of their preferences and payoffs, an emotionally intelligent negotiator may extract this information from other’s emotional displays. Accurate recognition of particular patterns of emotional expression may help negotiators to revise their fixed-pie perceptions and discover mutually satisfying win-win agreements (Pietroni et al., 2008). For example, if a counterpart expresses anger in response to a particular issue, the focal negotiator can infer from the emotion that the issue is of high importance to the counterpart, and vice-versa. Hence, by gaining information about the high importance and low importance issue, the negotiators can work towards an integrative agreement.

Strategic Display of Emotions

Both cognitive and emotional approaches to negotiation have highlighted not only outcomes related to the negotiable items on table, but also outcomes related to the social relationship between the parties at table(Kopelman et al., 2006).  Emotions are deliberate behavioural strategy that is available to the negotiator. Strategic display of emotions refers to emotions intentionally expressed by the focal negotiator to attain a desired outcome. The displayed emotions may convey information and may influence strategic information processing or it may pursue the counterparty to act in a different way they would not have acted otherwise. This strategic display of emotions can be achieved by deep acting where internally experienced and externally displayed emotions are aligned or surface acting where displayed emotions are purely strategic and are at odds with internal experience. In his research (Kopelman et al., 2006), has shown the effects of strategically using positive or negative emotions or maintaining neutral emotion. His study resonates with the effects discussed above.


We have discussed the powerful role emotions play in the negotiation and how emotions can be manipulated and used as a weapon in tough negotiations. Strategically using emotions can be argued to be an unethical approach to a negotiation. But I feel that it is an art that negotiators develop to achieve better outcomes and since the emotions are used under a controlled setting the rationale is never lost.  So, instead of accepting the consequences of uncontrolled real emotions, the approach of gaining strategic information from emotions and using emotions strategically are tools which should be cognitively practiced by the negotiators.

Two goals primary in negotiation situations are those of creating value and claiming value. We talk about creating value in a negotiation but at the same time we must stress upon effectively claiming that additional value. Effective negotiation depends on the ability of parties to manage both the integrative and distributive component  of the task (Kumar, 1997).  Many of the abilities within emotional intelligence that assist negotiators in creating joint value might also assist in claiming individual value for themselves (Foo et al.).  Hence, negotiators must work on raising their Emotional Intelligence.  A research by Peter Salovay (2002) shows us how we can improve Emotional Intelligence.

Still a lot needs to be done in assessing the role of emotions in different scenarios.  The studies and information on which this essay is based has been conducted in specific settings in an experimental environment with limitations, hence the results cannot be generalised but helps us in getting a fair idea of the role emotions play in negotiations. One important limitation in the studies on effect of emotions on negotiation is that they do not take into account the social or cultural diversity of the experimental group which is another important indicator in this area. Cross-cultural negotiations are very important in today’s globalised environment. Hence, a negotiator should work on developing his or her Cultural Intelligence (CQ)[vii].

[i] Distributive negotiation is also sometimes called positional or hard-bargaining negotiation. It tends to approach negotiation on the model of haggling in a market. In a distributive negotiation, each side often adopts an extreme position, knowing that it will not be accepted, and then employs a combination of guile, bluffing, and brinksmanship in order to cede as little as possible before reaching a deal. Distributive bargainers conceive of negotiation as a process of distributing a fixed amount of value. BRAZEAL, G. 2009. Against Gridlock: The Viability of Interest-Based Legislative Negotiation. Harvard Law & Policy Review (Online), 3, 1..


[ii] Integrative negotiation is also sometimes called interest-based or principled negotiation. It is a set of techniques that attempts to improve the quality and likelihood of negotiated agreement by providing an alternative to traditional distributive negotiation techniques. While distributive negotiation assumes there is a fixed amount of value (a “fixed pie”) to be divided between the parties, integrative negotiation often attempts to create value in the course of the negotiation (“expand the pie”). It focuses on the underlying interests of the parties rather than their arbitrary starting positions, approaches negotiation as a shared problem rather than a personalized battle, and insists upon adherence to objective, principled criteria as the basis for agreement. . Ibid.


[iii] Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement


[iv] Epistemic Motivation can be defined as the desire to develop and maintain a rich and accurate understanding of the world, including the negotiation task. DE DREU, C. K. W., CARNEVALE, P. J., DE DREU, C. K. W. & CARNEVALE, P. J. 2003. Motivational bases of information processing and strategy in conflict and negotiation. ADVANCES IN EXPERIMENTAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, VOL 35, 35, 235-291.


[v] Emotional intelligence concerns the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought. MAYER, J. D., ROBERTS, R. D. & BARSADE, S. G. 2007. Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 507-536.


[vi] A face on a person that shows no emotion, often called poker face because in the game of poker it would be foolish to show any emotional traits that might screw the game for you.(


[vii] Cultural Intelligence is defined as an individual’s capability to adapt effectively to situations of cultural diversity. IMAI, L. & GELFAND, M. J. 2010. The culturally intelligent negotiator: The impact of cultural intelligence (CQ) on negotiation sequences and outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 112, 83-98.