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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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Being "anti-social" harms business

I am more and more convinced that far from damaging business efficiency, as is often claimed by naysayers, becoming more social at work heals so much of what goes wrong.

How often are people de-motivated by a manager treating them as a number or a statistic on their spreadsheets rather than relating to them as a person? How many costly misunderstandings occur because those burdened by responsibility are more comfortable with broadcast than respectful listening? How many projects fail because of the dominance of a powerful individual at the expense of the social bonds of a group?

We have disparaged the "soft" social skills of relationship building as being un-businesslike in favour of a dispassionate coldness. Maybe we should think again.



Reader Comments (20)

The modern business paradigm has become one of 'process' - with people seen as players, or drivers, of process. Go back a hundred years, and it was one of relationship.

Of course it still is. When people talk about 'the sales process' they are usually talking about the journey towards building relationships with prospects and turning them into customers, by building more relationships. It's still beyond me why businesses believe that the importance of relationships stops at their reception desk - Even when they uses phrases like "internal customers" (sic).

In a knowledge driven business, (repeatable) process isn't king. Exchanging knowledge to produce new knowledge is. Knowledge is exchanged through the medium of relationship. That's 'social'. Business needs to get over its allergy to the word and get with it.

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin Ellis

Isn't the problem more that individualism (rife in the modern society) has been encouraged to breed within the corporate setting and more focus on the success of the individual rather than the communitive workplace.

Individuals are almost pre preprogrammed now to believe that success in the workplace will bring them happiness (through more money, status benefits etc) and so forming relationships comes second place, a long way down the list of priorities.

I think a good slagging off on social media just becomes aligned with back stabbing, gossiping, stitching up, lying, boasting, cheating and all the other things that people will use in order to gain their success in the workplace.

I've thought for a long time that the individual/communitarian balance needs addressing and everyone will benefit especially the business.

Interesting post. I found it because Benjamin above posted on twitter that he had commented on it.

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGary Dickenson

I remember two stories told by old men, when I was a raw recruit. Forty years ago, most British companies could afford to employ more people than they needed to get the work done. And the managers used to organize themselves according to what rank they'd held in the forces.

Those of us who left school in the Thatcher years never worked in an environment like that. [*] The conservative managers were obsessed with paring down costs, and the ambitious yuppie types wanted to automate and reengineer. Innovation was mainly about fear, and trying to hang on your share of a market that was shrinking.

This isn't about what happened a hundred years ago; it's about what we've seen in our lifetimes. So, given our recent history, it's hardly a surprise that today's fifty-something managers are deeply suspicious of anything informal or unquantifiable. They are the generation, remember, who saw their predecessors retire at fifty-five with nice pensions, and that's got to hurt. So maybe we should stop burning each other's straw men, and reflect. One of Stephen Covey's principles is 'Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood". The Anti-Social Managers are doing business the only way they have know it. We must try to understand them.

[*] Unless you worked for Saatchi & Saatchi, of course. :-)

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGordon Rae

Definitely agree with you on the importance of soft skills, Euan, as I wrote in 'soft skills are foundational competencies' last year.

August 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHarold Jarche

Hi Euan,

Your post makes me wonder: has anyone used Social Network Analysis software to map *both* people's extent of engagement with social media in their lives/organisations *and* the positive or negative 'energy networks' of the individuals?

It's Rob Cross who has mapped whether individuals have an energising or de-energising effect on their colleagues - ie their 'energy networks'.

I suspect these 'energising' individuals are also those with good 'soft' skills and a non-broadcast approach to communicating with others.

But are they also the ones who are using social media?

It also seems fairly likely to me that the individuals with energy draining 'energy networks' would be the ones who also don't engage with social media.

Has anyone done this research?

Is someone doing it now?

Matthew Mezey

August 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Mezey

Hi Gary, thanks for visiting and sorry for the delay in responding. Interesting take on the individualism. Can you explain more what you mean by "I think a good slagging off on social media just becomes aligned with back stabbing, gossiping, stitching up, lying, boasting, cheating and all the other things that people will use in order to gain their success in the workplace."?

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Gordon - unlike most social media bods commenting on business, having worked as a manager at various levels in a big org, I do understand why managers are the way they are - doesn't mean I don't want to help them be different.

In fact the BBC retained enough of the older style of management that you described when I started nearly 30 years ago that I was lucky enough to experience it before Birt visited Thatcherism upon us!

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I remember the post well Harold!

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

That research sounds a cracking idea Matthew.

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Hi Euan,

Sure, basically I was throwing it in to the existing box called 'individual negativity'. You could argue that the use of SM is different to the others however it is the intent of the user that determines this.

If you are not connected to any other colleagues then it is simply venting off with no likelihood of any effect.

If however you are connected to colleagues then it is more likely that you are broadcasting in order to reach them and for them to take a side, hopefully yours.

This can go on to form a clique or indeed strengthen one. I've often thought of cliques as the cancer of community.

Hope that is helpful, maybe it raises more questions than answers. It's a complicated topic to discuss on a blog.

PS: You should look into getting nested comments so replies can given to comments.

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGary Dickenson

Gosh - loads of assumptions there Gary about the use of social media which I would beg to differ with. Much of the time folks just chuck things out to see where others take them, sometimes you get responses that you don't expect and that can be wonderful - much as we are doing here.

I also reckon blogs can be one of the best places to deal with complex topics!

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Not really assumptions, just thoughts and examples. I wasn't suggesting that they were always the case although I do stand by my comment regarding cliques. More so in the work place. Sorry gone a bit off topic really but never the less I'm quite sure that social media is used as a tool to gain a step up, sometimes at the expense of others - that's life I guess, rightly or wrongly.

There are of course positive examples as well.

It would be much easier to discuss complex issues if comments were nested/threaded :)

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGary Dickenson

Hi Euan,

The Social Network Analysis guru Rob Cross doesn't know of any research looking at whether individuals who show 'energising' (rather than de-energising) interactions with others are also the ones who are most engaged with social media.

I wonder whether Lynda Gratton ('Hot spots') might know something....



August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Mezey

The Social Network Analysis guru Rob Cross doesn't know of any research looking at whether individuals who show 'energising' (rather than de-energising) interactions with others are also the ones who are most engaged with social media.

You might want to check Valdis Kreb's list of white papers re: the SNA he has done.

There's also a growing incidence of algorithms purporting to measure some kind of engagement (mostly applied to Twitter use), i.e TweetLevel, Klout, etc. However, the ones I have looked at are not really very transparent about how they are trying to 'measure' engagement.

August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon H.

Hi Jon,

Great idea - I'll go and look at Valdis' white papers.

I did post my query (ie does 'energising' interaction with people in your network correlate positively with social media use) to the SNA-prac Yahoo group, where I think Valdis is active: http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/ona-prac/

No answer back though.

Rob Cross did say "it seems a really interesting area!".

I've been trying to follow some of the tools that measure Web 2.0 engagement - particularly the free ones.

I guess this could end up being pretty easy to do.

Whereas measuring a person's 'energy network' (positive or negative interactions) will be rather more tricky to do. It's a bit 'persona', after all - and is a qualitative measure too.

Matthew K

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Mezey

Matthew / Jon I wrote a blog about he subject of these so called engagement tools a while back, you may be interested. http://www.creospace.co.uk/blog/2009/12/why-you-cant-base-twitter-success-and-expertise-on-stats/

I guess for research purposes they may give good data on overall engagement but aren't much use for gauging personal success which was more the point of my post.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGary Dickenson

Euan, I was struck by this statement:

"How many projects fail because of the dominance of a powerful individual at the expense of the social bonds of a group."

I did a presentation at a public sector project management forum last week on projects in trouble where I raised exactly this issue of dominant domain level experts who are almost above challenge. If you think of the knowledge flows in your organisation as a solar system, these are people who would exert their own gravitational pull. They are not bad people - they are often highly credible and highly capable individuals - you just have to handle them with care and make sure your projects include sufficient challenge to ensure that the 'Emperor's New Clothes' syndrome does not apply.

The presentation is on slideshare - let me know if you want the link.

Andrew Ball

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Ball

Hi Euan,

These dominant experts who are almost above challenge might be those people whose interactions with their colleagues are 'de-energising', as Rob Cross has been mapping through Social Network Analysis.

I'd love to see the link to the presentation you recently gave.


September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Mezey


I didn't want to overtly post a response that looked like I was using it as an opportunity to promote something else, but as you have asked see below:


There should be a narrative as it was uploaded as a slidecast but I have had reports of one or two glitches so hope it works OK.


September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Ball

Interesting Andrew. Thanks for the comment and the link. Just today in a workshop with senior managers it came up again. This time it was the cultural assumptions behind "who do you think you are to say that? That's not your job"

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

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