Getting along with others smooths life in grade school, and scoring well in that category as an adult may be the best indicator of professional success, too.
According to University of Mississippi business professor Gerald Ferris, social astuteness and political savvy outweigh traits like conscientiousness, and even intelligence, in predicting whether or not an employee will be effective on the job.
Observing that the corporate trend of flattening management structures means employees need to interact with each other more effectively, Ferris came up with the Political Skills Inventory (PSI). He theorized that talent in dealing with other people would be essential to working successfully in teams and in fluid work structures.
The PSI is constituted of six traits: the ability of people to imagine themselves in the role of others, make people feel comfortable around them, develop an easy rapport with others, understand people, get others to respond positively to them and find common ground with others.
People scoring high on the index are more likely to be successful on the job than those who cannot, Ferris believes.
He tested the index in five different organizations, including a group of computer programmers. While social skills are not considered essential to programming prowess, how well the workers scored on the PSI was the single strongest predictor of their job performance, Ferris said. His findings were based on a comparison of the workers' PSI outcomes with job ratings by their supervisors.
Ferris admits he's not the first to promulgate the notion that skill in working with people is essential to getting ahead. The Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C., has found that social skills, or lack of them, is one of the most important factors in whether or not a manager succeeds. Other researchers have pointed to the importance of emotional intelligence for success.
Ferris' work is new because it defines how to be effective in the new business world, he says. Recruiters often tell him they're looking for someone who "fits" but they can't articulate exactly what that means.
"I would argue 'fit' can be managed by people who have good social skill, " Ferris says.