Social Dancing

Social Skill: An ability to find common ground and build rapport.

Paying attention to emotions is hard work, I’ve decided. Mostly because, well, one tends to feel so much more. As I wrap up (for now) this public exploration into emotional intelligence, I find for the first time in writing a blog post for work, I have a sense of sadness about completing the writing process. I don’t like things to end. So, in advance, apologies if this post runs long.

Finding common ground can be difficult, too. I recently was snookered into a dance lesson, and I found that it was actually quite easy to be the lead dancer. The lead walks forward, can see where the couple is going, and through arm movements signals every movement of the dance. To be honest, I was quite awed by the trust the other dancer must place in the lead.

But, is it really easy to be the lead dancer? Trust doesn’t just come freely in leadership, it must be proved and earned. A leader needs to be able to look ahead, plan, and understand the signals the partner needs to be able to build that trust. A raised hand signals a twirl, and the lead dancer must know just when to do it, so that the partner has time to prepare.

There’s an article titled Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair by Joel Brockner1. Process Fairness happens when colleagues and partners believe that

  • They have legitimate input in decision-making processes.
  • Decision-makers use ethical, accurate, and consistent processes.
  • Respectful dialogue and engagement occur throughout processes.

This doesn’t mean everyone always gets what they want. What it does mean is that the organisational structure of the decision process can still be fair.

In short, what is required is to be genuine. It is difficult to trust people who are not honest, transparent, and fair. It is difficult to discover if someone has these characteristics if there is not honest, open communication.

If I were going to summarise in one word what I have learned so far on this emotional intelligence journey, it is that it is impossibly imperative to communicate and to communicate well.

Communication is a two way street. To do it well takes the courage to listen and answer, not guess and defend. It takes the courage to speak up when there is something important and to be silent if others need a turn. It takes the courage to outsmart the marketing-psychologists at Android and Apple and leave a cell phone in an office.

My dancing experience was very instructive. It was quite helpful to see, whenever the dance faltered, that it happened because of something very specific one or the other of the partners was doing (or not doing). Not enough or too much tension in my right arm or my partner’s left, too much pressure with my left or my partner’s right. Not enough trust in the lead dancer’s direction, not enough experience in the lead dancer’s choices. (It’s quite easy to run into other people or walls.)

I don’t know that I’ll go back to more dancing – I may be quite happy enough as I am in that regard. I do know that I will put a lot more effort into practicing, preparing, and polishing my communication abilities. In today’s text-and-email driven world, it can be so tempting to not use a phone for a voiced conversation or to use a phone too much. (I’m as guilty as the next person in having my cell phone out during meetings sometimes.) I think in the last month or so I’ve tried to make a genuine effort to leave my phone behind, and I’ve been amazed at how much more I get out of meetings. This doesn’t always work out well, but it has done some good.

One area where I know I want to improve on social skills is being better at accepting feedback. I like to think of myself as a dedicated, hard worker, so I find it emotionally devastating when there are not universal accolades and acclaim for what I’ve managed. Feedback can be tough.

But then, it seems that most things that are worth doing might be challenging. Without trust and honest listening, it can be difficult to communicate a New Idea That Needs Polishing to the co-workers and colleagues who can Make The Idea A Plan That Works.

So, the next time you see me, I look forward to listening to you better, sharing an Idea (or two) with you, and getting some thoughtful feedback. Recently, I was able to apologise to someone who tried to offer me feedback years ago, and I wasn’t able to appreciate their help back then. To the people who helped me realise my mistake, thank you!

If I don’t see you before the winter break, stay safe over the holidays. It’s a big world out there, and it’s getting bigger every day.




Matt Wiley is a tenured, associate professor of mathematics with awards in both mathematics education and honour student engagement. He earned an assortment of degrees in computer science, business, and pure mathematics from the University of California and Texas A&M systems. He is the director of quality enhancement at Victoria College, assisting in the development and implementation of a comprehensive assessment program to enhance institutional performance outcomes. A programmer, a published author, a mathematician, and a transformational leader, Matt has always melded his passion for writing with his joy of logical problem solving and data science. From the boardroom to the classroom, he enjoys finding dynamic ways to partner with interdisciplinary and diverse teams to make complex ideas and projects understandable and solvable.

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