Intelligent people rose to the top of the corporate ladder just a few decades ago regardless of their social skills. But, being smart isn’t enough to guarantee a meteoric rise in the business world anymore – leadership requires you to be socially adept. In fact, your social skills may be just as important as your intelligence when it comes to achieving success, according to new research published in in the Review of Economics and Statistics.
Catherine Weinberger, a UC Santa Barbara economist, studied what high achievers have in common and she discovered that today’s workplace values a combination of book smarts and social adeptness. Her research began by reviewing past high school records of people in the workforce. She evaluated their math scores, as well as their social engagement – such as their participation on sports teams or other social activities.
Next, she examined how those students were doing in the labor market as adults. Some people had landed positions that only required intelligence – like a number-crunching position. Others had obtained jobs that depended highly on social skills – such as sales positions. But, she noticed the highest-earning management positions and leadership roles were filled by people who possessed both intelligence and social adeptness.
The research also reviewed how the workplace has changed over the past few decades in terms of what skills are most valued. Weinberger discovered that people who are both smart and socially adept earn more in today’s workforce compared to similar workers in 1980. In the past, there wasn’t nearly as much benefit to having both skill sets.
Improve Your Social Game
Your IQ is relatively fixed over time so although you can gain more education, you can’t gain more intelligence. But the good news is, you can work toward becoming more socially adept. To reach the height of success, you’ll need excellent leadership, communication, and social skills.
Everyone can improve their social game in some way, shape or form. Perhaps you aren’t good at meeting new people, or maybe you tend to a little passive-aggressive in the leadership department. No matter which social struggles you experience, these six strategies will help you become more socially adept:
1. Commit to developing an awareness of your strengths and your weaknesses. Recognizing areas where you could improve requires a willingness to take an honest look at yourself. Instead of trying to hide your deficits or being embarrassed by them, be willing to acknowledge the areas that could benefit from improvement. An open mind and a willingness to admit you don’t have perfect social skills is the first step if you aspire to improve.
2. Examine how the environment impacts your communication. Just because you’re a good communicator at home, it doesn’t necessarily mean those skills translate to the office. Group dynamics and office culture influence communication styles and strategies. Analyze how you communicate with your counterparts, superiors, subordinates, and fellow professionals and look for ways to improve upon your communication techniques.
3. Recognize how outside issues impact performance. Sometimes stress and or an unbalanced work-life interfere with your social game. At other times, underlying mental health issues become problematic. It’s hard to be friendly and outgoing when you suffer from social anxiety. And it’s nearly impossible to be upbeat and friendly when you’re feeling depressed. Until you adequately address those types of issues, you’ll struggle to appear socially adept.
4. Request feedback on your leadership skills. It’s hard to objectively evaluate your own leadership skills. (See my recent article about how research shows we’re often oblivious to whether people see us as a pushover or a jerk). Often, people judge their ability to lead by looking back to see who’s following, but this isn’t a good way to accurately measure your ability to lead. Sometimes people appear to follow a poor leader simply out of self-preservation, not because of their excitement about where the leader is taking them. Be willing to ask others how you’re doing as a leader – even if it’s allowing people to anonymously comment on what’s working and what isn’t – and you’ll gain valuable feedback on your skills and areas where you can improve.
5. Use self-help resources. Reading books on business strategies provides practical solutions to common business problems. But, the key to improving your performance- no matter what your goals are- often lies in increasing your mental strength. Managing your thoughts, regulating your emotions, and behaving productively will improve your interactions with other people and provide you with a new perspective.
6. Practice is key to improving your social performance. Knowing and doing are two very different things. You can have plenty of knowledge about how to communicate and how to lead, but practice is necessary to sharpen your skills. Learn from your mistakes and establish goals to help you improve your social game.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of forthcoming book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.