Win the Talent War: Vanessa Van Edwards, Science of People
According to Vanessa Van Edwards, people skills are among the most valuable we can possess, yet we’re never given any formal training as to how to acquire them. A dynamic speaker, Van Edwards considers herself a “recovering awkward person,” and through her business, Science of People, she is on a mission to share what she has learned. Entrepreneurs, managers, corporations, and job seekers can learn to put her hacks to work for them in business, on the job, and in their personal lives.
[00:00] Introduction of Vanessa Van Edwards of Science of People.
[01:29] Why can’t there be hacks for human behavior?
[04:25] We are not all bubbly extroverts.
[08:37] How to break the negative feedback loop.
[09:08] Life beyond the social bot.
[10:38] Corporate Culture and the Platinum Rule.
[12:25] Agreeableness – how it works for and against you and your team.
[20:15] Team Personality Quotient.
[22:13] Van Edwards’ newest book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People.
[23:16] Van Edwards’ advice today for her college-aged self.
Introduction and Background
Vanessa Van Edwards is a lead investigator at Science of People, a human behavior research lab. Through her behavioral investigation and the science to back it up, she shares her ideas and the hacks she has developed to increase communication effectiveness. A Huffington Post columnist and published author, her work has been featured on NPR, Business Week, and USA Today. A keynote speaker, Van Edwards frequently appears in the media to discuss her research and has written for CNN, Fast Money, and Forbes. Her latest book, Captivate, is among Apple’s most anticipated books of 2017.
Although now considered a dynamic speaker by her audiences, Van Edwards confesses, “I’m one of those recovering awkward people. I wish I had been taught people skills and social intelligence in school, but I just never was.”
The Science of People Skills
It was a college professor who provided the defining moment for Van Edwards that led to the invaluable work she pursues as her career. Her professor assigned a 10-page paper to the class, but they had to research, write, and present it in teams. She found group work intimidating and dreaded the idea of working with her peers. She tried to cut a deal with her professor that if he let her work on the assignment alone, she would produce a 20-page paper. He replied, “Vanessa, this is not about the writing skills. This is about the people skills. Part of the assignment is working with other people.” Having hoped that she could avoid people and get by with just book smarts, Van Edwards finally realized that in order to make it as an adult she was going to have to effectively deal with people. What her professor said next stuck in her mind and was the seed of what her business is today. “You love science, chemistry, English, and history. Study people like you study for those subjects. Try to apply the mindset of frameworks, blueprints, and formulas to people.”
Van Edwards decided to study her relationships like she was studying for a final exam. “There are computer languages for computer programs. We have formulas and hacks. Why can’t there be hacks for human behavior?” She wondered. “Why can’t there be programming language for behavior? And that’s what I set out to create. It’s taken about eight years, but I think we’ve finally created a framework that is just like hacking for humans.”
More than One Brand of Charisma
The number one goal for Van Edwards is to help people be the best version of themselves. “I think the problem is that most people who are teaching social intelligence or people skills try to teach one brand of charisma. They try to teach everyone how to be the bubbly extrovert, and that is not everyone. If you are just naturally not that, and you try to force yourself into the bubbly extrovert, it ends up coming across as inauthentic.” She points out that Steve Jobs was not a bubbly extrovert, but was charismatic in a quiet, powerful, way. There are as many different brands of charisma as there are personality types, but no one talks about how a person can identify and hone their own. Van Edwards and her team have developed a framework for doing that, providing steps you can take to interact your way, but in a better way.
Feeling a Little Social Anxiety?
You’re at a networking event, and you begin to feel twinges of anxiety. You were never comfortable at these kind of things, but at least it’s your little secret, right? Wrong! When you begin to feel even a little bit of discomfort, it shows up in small, non-verbal ways, according to Van Edwards. “In the average 30-minute conversation, we’re sending out over 800 non-verbal signals,” she says. If you’re sending off anxiety signals, others will pick up on them, and it makes it even harder for them to have a conversation with you. As you send off signals, others can tell, and probably won’t approach you. Because you are anxious, you probably won’t approach them either, so you’re running a negative feedback loop. Van Edwards says it is her goal to help you break that loop, and she can teach you how.
Corporate Culture and the Platinum Rule
How should people best communicate or leverage their charisma when working with their team? There’s actually some interesting science behind this, and that is Van Edwards’ specialty. “I like the Golden Rule, treat others the way you would like to be treated, but I don’t love it, especially in terms of teams and corporate culture,” says Van Edwards. “It can be quite detrimental. Whenever I do trainings, I prefer to teach the Platinum Rule, treat others the way they would want to be treated.” The best way to do this, according to Van Edwards, is to understand the science of personality. There are so many personality quizzes out there, Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Enneagram, or Colors. She advises that the only one that is actually based on academic science, is used around the world, and has been reviewed in peer-review journals is called The Big Five. We all have five basic personality traits, and we are either high or low in each of those traits. “The best thing you can do for your corporate culture,” she advises, “is understand where your teammates fall on the spectrum, and if that is different or the same as you.” The big five are: openness, (your level of curiosity), conscientiousness (how organized you are), extraversion (desire to interact with other people), agreeableness (how you work on teams), and neuroticism (how emotionally stable you are, how much you worry) – you can remember these with the acronym OCEAN.
“Agreeableness is a real pesky one when it comes to personality. If someone defaults to yes, when asked about their degree of agreeableness, they tend to be highly agreeable, cooperative, trusting, compliant. If they default to no, they tend to be more skeptical, more cautious, and will Google-search everything you say, for verification.” Both ends of the spectrum are incredibly important to your team, because both have pros and cons. If you know someone’s level of agreeableness, it makes it easier to pitch to them. If you’re pitching to someone who is high on the agreeableness scale, they tend to be positive, optimistic, and enthusiastic. If you are dealing with someone who defaults to no, you need to go in with research, charts, data, graphs and social proof. It’s not a good idea to go in without a pitch deck. Go in without this arsenal, and a low agreeable person will kill the idea. They are known as dream-killers. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They are a good balance against the highly optimistic yes-person. The more you understand your team, the better you are going to be at communicating with them effectively.
Advice for Her College-Aged Self
Van Edwards’ advice for her college-aged self is simple. “I would tell myself to stop studying and start going out more. What mattered to me after school was not my GPA, but the people that I met while in college. They had a bigger influence on my career. I’d say, study less, play more.”
Van Edwards’ Newest Book, Captivate
Van Edwards sees her newest book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, as a textbook filled with all the people skills she wished she had been taught in school. “I’m using it with teams and individuals who want to see the hard side of soft skills. It includes 14 behavior hacks, all based in academic science, and research from our own lab. I tried to tell a few funny stories, although some of them are funny-painful. If you get turned on by formulas, codes, and algorithms, this book is for you.” You can find Captivate everywhere books are sold and on her website.