Don Peck, in his recent The Atlantic article, “Can the Middle Class be Saved?”, reports that Bruce Weinberg, an economist at Ohio State, found that in jobs where computer use and teamwork is prevalent, interpersonal skills are generally more highly valued. Weinberg has also found that in jobs where interpersonal skills are highly valued, women are taking the lead. Men, now is the time to stop telling the women in your life, “You’re reading too much into it,” and take note.
Computer use and teamwork both require an ability to observe, interpret, and astutely respond to subtext. How many times have you received an email which could be open to interpretation? Was the sender irritated or was she just running late to a meeting? If she was irritated, was it because of something you, the receiver, did or didn’t do, or was it because of something else outside of your control? Would it be best to respond immediately, or wait an hour? Should you respond over email, or in person?
A large part of being successful at work is learning how to gauge other people’s emotions and, preferably, stay a step ahead. If you know that your boss tends to be short on patience half an hour before meeting with his boss, wait until after his meeting before stopping by his office. If you know the best time to engage your boss in a dialogue is after most of the office clears out for the evening, stay late for important conversations.
Yes, it’s a lot of work to operate in high awareness mode. You may start to feel like you’re making an effort to read everyone else’s emotions and no one is making an effort to consider yours. “If she really took a minute to think before she acted,” you may say in your head, “she wouldn’t have sent such a curt email. I’m thinking before I act. Why can’t she?” Vent when you get home. Maintain your front at work. It will pay off in the long-term.