Success Wanted: Interpersonal Skills Required

What makes a person successful? Some attribute their success to hard work, while others attribute it to luck, mentors, brains, or social skills.

In a recent three-part series on NPR, people from all rungs of the economic ladder are interviewed on why they either are or are not financially “successful.” In the first installment, Bob Hatley, president and CEO of Paragon Commercial Bank, tells his tale of going from a childhood with limited means to a millionaire. Hatley says: “People who use their family as an excuse not to achieve, I have no patience with.”

Hatley was determined to be successful and modeled himself after the successful people he looked up to. From watching the behavior of successful people, he discovered that “interpersonal skills trump brains.” Knowing how to communicate and connect with people helped him climb to the top.

However, even though interpersonal skills are — and always have been — a way to make your place in the world, schools do not emphasize how crucial these skills are to have in order to be successful beyond school. Learning soft skills, or even a second language, take a backseat to increasing IQ, test taking, and reading volumes of archaic textbooks.

Today’s grads need the soft skills to find a job, keep a job, and network with the people who can help them meet their professional goals. Even though today’s students grew up texting, instant messaging, and social networking, it doesn’t mean writing a professional email comes as second nature. Today’s youth may have over 600 friends on Facebook, but it doesn’t mean they learned how to network face to face, over the phone, or through written correspondence. Schools may teach courses in history, math, reading, and science, but not teach basic problem solving, critical thinking, social, and emotional skills. As the workforce changes and more new grads become entrepreneurs, small business owners, and start-up founders, it’s a necessity that they learn the social intelligence they need to navigate the working world.

We need to send grads into the world of work with both academic and social knowledge. My books Critical & Creative Thinking for Teenagers and People Smarts for Teenagers are great classroom companions that teach teens the question asking skills they need to ace an AP trigonometry class or to diffuse an argument between peers at lunch.

It’s worth noting interpersonal skills are not the only way the interviewees say they became moderately to highly successful (in financial terms). Family is a big influence on success. So is staying out of debt. Everyone has their own success story; but for many successful individuals, the journey was a social event.

Read NPR’s complete series starting here: “Want to Be Rich? Be Lucky, Know the Right People.” 

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