05 May 2017 18:56 IST

‘IQ will get you hired; EQ will get you promoted’

It’s important to build trust-based relationships at work, says CSB faculty member Preeti Singh

In the contemporary workspace, the ability to influence co-workers is an invaluable skill to possess. While a good grasp over technical knowledge will get one hired, it’s the ability to interact and build relationships with colleagues and clients that guarantees a promotion, says communications and leadership development specialist Preeti Singh. A visiting faculty member at Crescent School of Business, she specialises in creating positive influencers, thereby sculpting a good leader out of everyone. In an interview with BusinessLine on Campus, she talks about influence, self-awareness, breaking hierarchies in workplaces and more.


There is a very fine line between influence and manipulation…

Yes. Manipulation addresses an individual’s needs, whereas influence will benefit everyone around them. It’s about convincing someone to do something they don’t want to without applying force. You can either give them an order and expect them to obey it or give them a choice. In today’s world, hierarchies are dissolving; workplaces are more collaborative so it’s essential to build trust and understand the dynamics of a relationship. The moment there is trust in a relationship you can appeal to a person’s values and work with them on whatever needs to be achieved, which is in the interest of the company.

How essential is it to have influencing skills at a workplace?

Everyone needs to learn them. We are producing students with domain knowledge and subject expertise but they can’t adjust to change quickly. These days, it’s imperative for everyone to learn and unlearn quickly and absorb data, which is why influencing skills come into the picture, implicitly and explicitly.

So, the change in how companies behave has a role to play in this?

Yes! The nature of leadership and organisations has evolved. Before, it was a more top-down structure; ideas and information would trickle down from the boss and there wasn’t space to ask questions. Now, it’s a more collaborative environment and there’s more freedom. Employees are encouraged to dissent and have different viewpoints. There is also cross-cultural working so we have to be sensitive to nuances and building relationships. All of this requires good influencing skills.

Simply put, you’re talking about developing soft skills?

It’s a more cut-throat world now. While your intelligence quotient will get you hired, it’s your emotional quotient that will get you promoted. The very nature of problems we face has changed. The corporate space is no longer black and white; it’s tenuous and ambiguous. This makes you think you’re Atlas carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s simple to build trust but we aren’t taught how to. But the education system is slowly changing…

What’s the first step towards becoming an effective influencer?

All this goes hand-in-hand with self-awareness. Personal growth is the most important factor. Before you can be a good leader or influencer, you need to identify what you want to change and what you want to preserve about yourself. Everyone has weaknesses (or learning edges, as I like to call them – language is powerful), which is why feedback is important.

Everyone throws ‘feedback’ at you. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Stop listening to Facebook feedback! Everyone has blind spots, but one has to make a conscious choice to recognise and act on them.

How do you hone inter-personal skills?

Everyone has the skills, so you just need to hone them. It’s like a muscle in your body that hasn’t been used for a while. When you start to exercise it, it hurts. It’s a process and takes time; it’s not a sudden transformation. So, the first step is to create trust-based relationships. Without that, you can’t influence people.

Millennials tend to look for shortcuts…

Yes, they do. But B-schools are now teaching them to be patient and understand a process before jumping to conclusions. Providing feedback is an essential part of this process. And by feedback, I mean constructive criticism that a person can reflect on as opposed to openly criticising them.

Can everyone be a leader?

Isn’t that the million dollar question? As far as leading yourself is concerned, everyone should be a leader. You should understand your triggers, beliefs and values, which impact all your reactions. But a more practical definition of leadership lies in the question: who decides you are a leader? The answer is other people. You can’t proclaim you’re a leader, your actions have to speak it, which means you have to achieve something or create a visible impact. If not a leader, a person can be a good performer. Sachin Tendulkar wasn’t a great leader like MS Dhoni, but he was a great performer. Basically, everyone has leadership traits but not everyone can have a followership and those break-through moments.

You’ve been an interviewer… What do recruiters look out for these days?

First is how you show up to the interview. Second is clarity of thought. I realise it’s unfair to expect newcomers to know what they want to do in five years (I hate that question and make it a point to never ask it to interviewees), but I’d want to know what’s driving them and how much they like doing what they do. I look for people who can learn and unlearn quickly. If you’re really wedded to your thoughts, how can you hold two opposing ideas without getting hung up over it? A person should be able to pick up on nuances; it shouldn’t be “my way or the highway”. If you think about it, there are actually very few solo roles, so a person’s ability to work as a team with minimal direction is important.