Recently, we discussed the notion of innate capacity and what it means for choosing your career path. Capacity refers to your underlying “hardwiring” — those characteristics which make you unique and are part of your biological and environmental heritage. Capacity is very stable over time and difficult to change. It includes your physicality, intelligence and personality. As one example in our earlier posting, we suggested that your personality plays a large role in deciding the kind of career you would enjoy compared to the kind of career that will drain your energy and enthusiasm.

Competencies on the other hand, refer to those skills, attitudes, and areas of knowledge that you can acquire with experience and training. Competencies, though they require effort to acquire, are available to anyone. Our competencies are usually what we emphasize on our resumes.

Both are important influences on the kind of work that we are best equipped to do. The “sweet spot” for work is where your capacity and your competencies are in alignment. When they are at odds, our work grinds us down, even depleting the sensitive neurological chemicals that facilitate our cognitive and emotional functioning.

Technical, Social, and Emotional Skills


Photo credit: DeusXFlorida via Flickr/Creative Commons

Work competency includes both technical skills and the people skills needed to do your work well. Technical, social, and emotional competencies required for a job are developed over a period of time.

The baseball player needs to spend countless hours in batting practice against a curveball in order to hit it during competition, even if he has great innate physicality.

The same applies to your work skills. Perhaps your innate capacity leads you to the design world. You’re still best served to go to design school to learn the tricks of the trade, no matter how much innate talent you might possess. And importantly, in order to progress in our careers we need to continue to develop our technical competencies through experience and training. Each year, you should be setting goals for yourself that include growing your technical competencies. A good supervisor will be your ally in determining areas for growth and helping you get the resources you need for further development.

All of this is common sense. We all know we need the technical skills necessary for our job. Less obvious, but equally important are, the social and emotional skills needed for you to succeed at work. In order to be a good colleague and valued team player, you should be developing your emotional and social competencies. This is especially true if you want to move into a leadership or management position.

For example, in one firm we supported, a senior manager consistently failed to listen and empathize with his team, made a big deal out of every little mistake, shamed his team publically, and gave staff the “evil eye” if they left for lunch or didn’t work 10 hour days. All of these are examples of very poor social and emotional competencies. He didn’t last as a manager, despite his good technical skills.

How often do you self-assess your emotional and social competencies? Do you set goals for yourself in these areas and intentionally work on your skills?

Emotional Intelligence

Competency, then, involves a great deal of emotional and social intelligence, a term coined by Daniel Goleman.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify the sources of emotion and to understand why they occur, and manage them properly. Social intelligence is the ability to understand and negotiate complex social relationships and environments.

Emotional and social intelligence matter when we talk about competency because most jobs, no matter how big or small the team, require teamwork and relationship. Without the ability to navigate the emotions of others as well as to understand better your emotions, your work suffers. The higher your emotional and social intelligence the higher your social effectiveness in managing teams and projects. Extensive research has demonstrated that leaders with high social and emotional intelligence have higher performing teams and organizations.

EI Development

RelaxingHow do you develop social and emotional competencies? A partial list includes empathy, listening, giving and receiving feedback, resolving conflict, inspiring others, self and organizational awareness, anger and stress management.

For starters, your need to commit to deliberate change. Figure out what you need to work on and set some concrete goals. It’s always a good idea to understand what you are working toward. It’s also helpful to engage in an assessment tool like the 360 degree feedback tool from Hay Group, to understand where you currently sit when it comes to emotional and social intelligence abilities. In the absence of such an assessment tool, a no-holds-barred assessment from those closest to you can unlock a general idea about areas in need of improvement. Again, a good supervisor can be a great help.

After you’ve endeavored to remain committed and diagnosed some areas of improvement, get specific and practical about changing that habit. Are you looking to communicate better? Set some guidelines and remain committed to practicing those guidelines. Give yourself a 2-hour window to respond to emails during work hours to ensure nothing falls off the radar. When someone enters your office, close the laptop and put the phone out of reach. Move to a separate area of the office to get out of your “comfort” level and focus completely on the conversation at hand.

These small things can create the new habits needed to build the competencies you want to develop. And as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. You’ll see those areas develop over time.

A Major League Baseball player wasn’t able to hit the curve ball the first time he saw the pitch. He might not have been very good at it after 100 pitches, but over the course of a decade of practice, the player is now a master.

The same applies to your technical skills. The designer needs to learn Adobe Creative Suite during her education. Over the course of time, she will learn the short cuts and efficiencies built into the product, eventually become incredibly productive at her craft.

Likewise, the emotional and social skills needed to complete the full idea of competency take practice and repetition, but achieving them will unlock the highest levels of competency. If your innate capacity provides guidance to the kind of work that energizes your soul and helps you thrive, competency helps you become more effective in your job, not only technically, but also socially and emotionally.

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