Posts Tagged ‘social skills’

Dear McConslutting & Co,

Thanks for the booze. Please forgive the tone of this note. I’m still a bit drunk. Drunk enough to have done some drunk dialing on my way home to someone I haven’t even broken up with (or gotten together with, for that matter). Drunk enough to know that I’ll probably have a headache tomorrow. Drunk enough to have felt at ease monopolizing every conversation, thinking that everything coming out of my mouth tonight was terribly clever. Drunk enough for my parents to be partially amused but kind of disappointed when talking to me on Skype tonight. [Sorry, guys!] Drunk enough to still be contemplating whether or not I should take a shower tonight for the risk of slipping and drowning in the filthy shower I share with 5 other people because my roommate has had his whole family staying with us for the last week.

Since I know how much you enjoy continuous feedback, I thought I would give you some feedback. Rather than doing it positive thing first, I’ll cut to the chase and tell you what you can improve. I was kind of hoping you would have had hummus at your event tonight. In fact, as I was shoving my way down Regent Street this evening, I said just that to my friend, “Oooh, I bet they’ll have hummus.”

I can’t believe you didn’t have hummus. One of my best friends in your New York office always tells me that before they ever bother to do any work, you take the team out for some team bonding at Jean George or at L’Atelier Joël Robuchon. Only after the seared foie gras with raspberry reduction or the sea urchin with lettuce foam do they commence that cost cutting pharma project where they make half the client company redundant. So I figured there’d be at least something mundane like shrimp cocktail. Or hummus! Maybe next time you could call me ahead and I can pick up some hummus on the way. I don’t mind! There’s even a place called Hummus Brothers in London. In fact, I’ve been doing this mental exercise all weekend: what’s the next Hummus Brothers (i.e. what’s the next completely ridiculous food fetish?). I know it’s the recession and all, but this bbq was quite possibly worse than an INSEAD bbq at Tavers. And trust me, that’s pretty bad. Next time, you could just serve drinks and salty snacks.

On the bright side, I enjoyed the chit chat. Or rather, I enjoyed hearing myself talk.




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P3 is done – we’re 3/5 of the periods through the (cheat-sheet propelled, for some) MBA and half way done with our year together. I snuck away from the Grand Cafe before the tearful good-byes because I’m not very good at those. A lot of people got last minute jobs – a lot are taking unpaid internships, hoping to make a career switch. Some are working 100 hour weeks in London. Suckers. The rest are sailing in Croatia/trekking in Kashmir/partying in Beirut/studying French in Nice, Mandarin in China, German in Munich/getting married in India and Israel.

One of my friends keeps saying that leaving the bubble for the summer will be a reality check – a real-world reminder to most of us who we are, what’s important to us, what we want to get out of the remaining year. I hope that’s true. P3 has been a blast, but I need to find some time to have a good think about what happens afterwards.

Since I’m still in visa limbo, I’ve been hanging out in Fontainebleau awaiting a verdict from the UK Border Agency. This respite from the frantic, intense, unrelenting P3 has been quite welcome, though I imagine it could get boring eventually. In the meantime I’ve been learning how to Artfully Communicate (I’m just as awkward as I suspected, now I have video footage to prove it), making a half-hearted attempt at some bouldering, picnicing by the reflecting pool of the Cheateau, wandering around sleepy French towns where in the 1800s Romantic Realists painted en plein air, seeking to capture the matte late evening light over the tranquil Loing.

At 10:45 it’s still light out – the days last forever, and on most nights I don’t even start to think of getting to bed until around 2. Not so good when you have class the next day. Perfect when you can sleep in until noon.

I’ve been cramming in q-time with my favorite(st) people before we disperse for the summer, and am thankful for the visa delays that are giving me a chance to get to know some of my classmates better. (That’s another shout out, yo.)

But being in Fonty also means that I can’t get the distance I feel I need to sum up the last 6 months in a meaningful manner.

A friend from home came to visit recently. When I say “friend” I mean it in the loosest sense of the word – someone I had classes with in undergrad, and would see about twice a year when visiting my parents who lived in the same town where he worked after graduation. He had been traveling the world for the past few months, and came to France (I suspect) because he’d have a free place to stay. Moocher. There are very few people I would feel comfortable crashing with for a few night, let alone an entire week. Someone more socially skilled and perceptive (or perhaps simply less selfish) would be self-conscious, but he has no compunction about imposing for an entire week. His world travels have produced little else other than a slew of complaints about lack of infrastructure in the developing world (umm, what did you expect?) and shallow generalizations about how the US is different from Europe because you don’t have to add tip and tax.

This guy is a complete downer, which makes me wonder what our friendship was based on some 8 years ago. Was I also like him? Did I look at the most negative aspect of every situation, complain about every trivial inconvenience? Is it just recently that I’ve changed so much?

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I distinctly remember having done the egg drop experiment at some point during high school.  Since I’ve heard from many people that INSEAD is just like high school – or at least clique-ish like one – it’s only appropriate that orientation should start with an egg drop! 

The point of the egg drop of course is not to learn how to protect an egg from a 5th story fall or a catapult throw.   If you want my expert opinion: you protect the egg by first slowing down the velocity of the egg by constructing a parachute and/or by creating a suspension system that decouples the impact of the fall from the core containing the egg.  Duh.  There are a million ways of doing this, of course, but the solution has to work within the constraints of the presented challenge: materials, size, weight, etc.

The point is to learn about each other’s communications styles.  The most obvious of the realizations that we’re supposed to come away with is that engineers aren’t the ones that have the good solutions.  Oh no!  Am I about to learn that I wasted the last 10 years?!  Well, no.  Good engineers can look at first-principles of the challenge and, working alone, construct a fine device.  

The point is that engineers aren’t always the best at communicating their solutions or getting buy-in from their team members on the value of these solutions.  Engineers like to be right, and aren’t always likely to listen to input from an art major.  In my career, I’ve seen plenty of engineers beating someone over the head with their idea instead of bringing them along, helping them understand why they think their idea is best.  

When I first joined my company, a really over-the-top ridiculous Maria Something came in to teach a class on Social Styles to all the new employees.  Prior to this two-day touchy-feely seminar, several of our friends and co-workers filled out questionnaires on each of us that gave insight into a person’s communication style and their flexibility.  Then we pigeonholed everyone into the graphic below.  The four social styles originate from the placement on a people-task scale vs. an ask-tell scale.  Are you likely to give marching orders than ask for input from your team?  Are you happier crunching numbers or organizing a rally?  To help you out, the shorthand for the four styles are clockwise from upper right are Asshole, Fag, Wuss, Nerd (I didn’t come up with that, ok?).  


The premise is that we have a default communication style, which becomes modified in predictable ways when under stress.  Being cognizant of other people’s communication styles can make us better able to empathize with and be receptive of other people’s points of view.  

Let me say here that once of the greatest obstacles to my accepting this methodology is the lack of understanding of the premise behind it.  It’s easy to find people who fit into these categories, but it’s harder to tell if all people fit into these categories.  One colleague repeated the survey with a different group of co-workers got a differing result.  Each time, Maria Something, unaware of this conflict, nodded sagely saying, “I knew you were a Fag” or “I would have automatically picked you as an Asshole.”  Not in those words, of course.   

My own style was no great surprise to me (or anyone else).  I’m a very consistent Asshole.  I like for people to communicate with me openly and directly.  I don’t like stories and metaphors in place of facts.  In return, I am direct and honest.  I don’t mince words.  On the flip side, I can be impatient and intolerant, and my standards can be irrationally high.  I’m learning to adjust my expectations and be more patient with people whose decision-making styles are different from my own.  Of course, this attitude just thinly hides my total insecurity.  [Is she kidding?]        

Today I found myself going crazy when talking to an HSBC rep in person.  The woman over-enunciated and over-communicated.  It took her three times longer and five times more words than necessary to get a point across than it should a normal person.  The amazing thing was that her languid, fluid, tranquilizing speech did not have any breaks for Um’s or Uh’s where one could jump in to interrupt and let her know that I had gotten her point 5 minutes ago.  

She either thought that I was retarded, or she could not read my body language and communication style to adjust accordingly.  I say here that she should adjust to me – and she should because she was the service rep and I was the customer – but I simply did not know how to adjust to her.  

Maybe I need more Social Styles training.  Though personally, I would prefer an iron chef style cook-off to an egg drop.

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