Smart in the heart but not much else.
January 12, 2021 6:21 PM   Subscribe

It seems, from feedback and knowing more about myself, that I have high(er) emotional intelligence. What I'm not good at though are the things that are valued more in workplaces--math, data, or "harder" skill things. How can I see my soft skills as useful while I try (I'm hoping it's possible) to become better at these hard skills?

This question is looming above me as I am up for promotion to lead one of our teams at work. I'm working on my own confidence, and just recently, I was suggested to take both the Strengths Finders assessment and the Myers Briggs test. A lot of my strengths lie in connecting and empathy and input, and my type was INFP. It seemed to fit my personality well.

However, in my work place I know that I'm not as strong in some areas like understanding and interpreting data (or finding it very interesting--but I'm not sure if I just never learned it well enough.) I am good at reading people, making people feel welcome, and facilitating conversations. I've been told that I'm very easy to work with and dedicated to my jobs.

But I am not sure how valuable these soft skills are in a workplace compared to my colleagues who are so smart and understand data so well. This part of the field is new to me (I've been in the role for 6 months) and I'm learning more about data, but I can't seem to see my soft skills as valuable in comparison. We've got a coworker who can be pretty hard to work with, but he is also incredibly smart, so I feel like on a scale--that's a lot more valuable.

I feel like it takes me a bit longer to grasp data/math related things. I read that INFPs are often not wired for math, which made me nervous that this might be fundamentally difficult for me. I also feel like I'm not great at asking critical questions. I'm often too in my head thinking of the next thing to say in a meeting that I blank until later when I've had time to process.

When my supervisor said they would like me to apply for a lead position I was actually very shocked because of the mentioned lack in hard skills, but they think I can grow in that and also work on becoming more assertive, and they believe I can do it. Although I know Myers Briggs is not the end all be all, I can't help but think that the INFP in me has doomed me to not ever make [data, critical thinking, being a leader and assertive] my strong suits. The INFP description really seemed to fit me and the career paths are some that I've thought about doing, or am doing in some aspect. (My dream would be to go into graphic design or counseling but that's a later explored dream I guess. I can't afford going back to school. I'm currently doing community work/public health, but the data side and the leading side is all new.) I do feel brighter when I can do design, or provide technical assistance, or talk one on one with someone. Some of those things I can do in my job, but not for a majority of my role.

I mean, maybe I find out that this job isn't the one for me, but I want to try it on. I am having low self-belief though.

If I'm pretty strong in emotional intelligence, but these other skills don't come as easy to me, and I'm...almost it possible to become strong in these areas? I'm sure it all comes with practice, but how long before I should say "Ok, well, against my better judgement and personality, this is not really working"? If the Myers Briggs thing has as much weight as was explained by one of my managers, then can I escape INFP tendencies? Maybe that just means I won't enjoy any of these things...but there's a possibility I could get it down?

Honestly, I'm not sure any of this made complete sense, but would appreciate any advice (perhaps from fellow INFPs too!)
posted by socky bottoms to Work & Money (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a manger in a data heavy field. I can teach people math, I can't teach them to lead, be a good person or to do the right thing. I can't teach judgement. I can't teach someone how to communicate an idea or to notice that a colleague is struggling.

Have faith in your managers assessment and apply yourself to the leadership role. Do not take your soft skills for granted.
posted by larthegreat at 6:30 PM on January 12 [12 favorites]

You might want to read about Carol Dweck's work on "growth mindset". She summarizes the results as follows:
Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.

Certainly we have some innate talents that make some things easier than others. That doesn't mean that you can't learn to be good at the others - absolutely you are capable of growth in all areas. It does mean that you might find somethings come more easily and some require more work. Your manager has confidence that you can learn what you need - try believing in their judgement and build your own confidence that you can figure it out.

Secondly, in the long run the people skills are the ones that will take you out of coding and into management. Get as good at your job as you can and then work on leveraging your technical confidence + people skills into long term advancement.
posted by metahawk at 6:33 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]

I echo that technical skills can be learned but the soft skills can't always.

I moved into web development about 4 years ago & I was lucky to be a part of a team where what I didn't know, they'd teach me. Most of my technical skills were self-taught so it was nice to be among people who wanted to show me more.

Also, 6 months is nothing in a job. It takes at least that to figure things out. It could be that this job isn't for you but it also may be too soon to tell.

(And don't assume that your coworker who is hard to work with but knows the data is more valuable -- it's been my experience that people like that are not.)
posted by edencosmic at 6:41 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

As someone who loves, and is certified to use, the Myers-Briggs: I will tell you that your Myers-Briggs type is not your destiny, it merely helps you sort out what comes naturally to you and what you need to work a bit harder at. It sounds like you've already done that and are deep into fearing that what comes naturally to you isn't very valuable but the things you need to work at are just sooooo much more important. Welcome to the imposter syndrome. Remember that those people whose skills you admire probably, to a person, admire your people skills and are envious of them. (Hint: They have a case of imposter syndrome too.)

Speaking now as a person whose job is to assess the leadership skills and style of executives: I will tell you that the higher you go in an organization, the more those people skills (or emotional intelligence, if you prefer to call it that; it's often abbreviated as EQ) will be prized because EQ becomes an increasingly large part of the job. That's why the job often seems increasingly amorphous, too, but you have to take the bad with the good.

I once assessed a candidate who wasn't the brightest guy around, but he had the highest EQ I'd ever seen in a financial executive. My client didn't hire him because they felt they needed the IQ more than the EQ in that particular job, but I've followed his career and he has done extremely well; he hardly seems scarred at all by not getting the job with my client. :)
posted by DrGail at 7:12 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

Here's what I've seen time and again: people who are not great at something but who work hard at it do just as well if not better than the people who don't have to try.
posted by aniola at 7:39 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]

Management skills you might be better at than others:

-managing up/smoothing the way for your team to get the job done by finessing the personalities who gatekeep needed tools and data
-connecting the best people to collaborate and complete projects efficiently
-engaging people directly, making them feel valued/heard, and elevating their skills as individuals so that the team succeeds
posted by phunniemee at 8:07 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Hi there, fellow INFP!

I took the MBTI when I was 19. It felt so meaningless as to be a horoscope. This year, though, in response to COVID work-travel restrictions, my department in my non-profit org decided to take the opportunity (with upper management's blessing) to look inward. My department is pretty small, and we're capping off a years-long period of having to really struggle to pick up credibility in our field by being in the fortunate position of finally having to learn to say no, learn to focus more on managing and optimizing our work, learn to look to one another for cues on how to achieve the org's goals that we're all extremely motivated to achieve. So we went back to management skillsets like the MBTI and Clifton Strengths.

It's been a little bit groundbreaking, personally. The MBTI looks very different at 40 than it did at 19. And, maybe more relevantly, Clifton Strengths does a neat little tilt on the question(s) you're asking. A big push under that rubric is that it's more important to recognize where the strengths are in your working group than it is to try to bring everyone up to a point where they have to struggle to pick up skills that aren't going to make a person thrilled and energized by their work. There's a lot of nuance here, so let me give an example. Let's say someone's dominant strengths fall into that high EQ category (relationship building, communication, strategic thinking and planning, adaptability, etc.) while they aren't as strong in some "executive" skills (hard math, technical or discrete analysis, arranging information, etc.). If you're working in a team setting, is it easier to teach someone a new set of discrete skills, or is it easier to find someone on the team to handle those parts of any given project and let the high EQ person do what comes naturally and organize/communicate/integrate the work of those people, especially if some of the discrete skills folks don't feel energized by the work of making hay from the raw math they're so excited to churn out?

To put it another way with an admittedly off-the-cuff example/analogy: Let's say you've got a team of 10 people, and that team includes three people who are fluently bilingual in combinations of Spanish, German, French, and English. Most of those bilingual folks are new to the team, and all the folks who have the deep inter-organizational contacts/contexts/histories with partner organizations and clients are monolingual native English speakers. A big project comes along with a new client, a client who needs to be integrated into the ongoing work of all these diverse partner organizations, but the new client has no officers who are fluent in English. You, high EQ OP, are really good at working with big groups of people. Is it easier for you to get up to working speed in three additional languages pronto, or to elevate the involvement of the bilingual-but-novice staff under your expert direction? We're not talking about picking up second languages as a hobby, on your own time, for your own pleasure and life goals. We're talking about work, with deadlines and deliverables and presumably a mission statement that needs fulfilling. Your organization is much better served by working with the strengths you have on hand, which in turn exposes you (as a secondary benefit) to inter-language communications, while also introducing your newer staff to a more diverse relations skillset. Your respective skillsets get room to mutually benefit one another. Confidence in the capability of your org goes through the roof. You all, on your team, benefit. The organizations involved benefit. Your missions benefit.

In the longview, yeah, pick up those new hard math skillsets! But they should be framed as such: long-term investments in an organization's staff (and I hope your org is willing to pay for the education and training you need to expand those hard skills if they're telling you that you need them). And, for reference, assertiveness training is a thing that exists and is generally much more easily acquired than, like, calculus--I've paid for several of my direct reports to take assertiveness skills courses over the years).

Put your INFP-ness, in all its glory, to good use. Talk with your management about how best to take advantage of what's available to you now, in the immediate- to short-term, and build on those harder skills as you go along.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:40 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

I’m an I/ENFP and literally did data analysis and statistics as my full-time job for the last seven years. The only reason it’s less of my day now than it used to be is because I now do more managing and teaching.

Myers-Briggs is useful insofar as it tells you some general things about your personality, but being “good at math” is not a personality type. It’s a set of skills that you can cultivate. Of course some outliers have amazing math aptitude or dyscalculia or something but, first of all, the MBTI doesn’t measure that, and secondly, most people by definition aren’t outliers.

I think most people can learn quantitative skills in the way they would pick up an instrument or a language or anything they practiced for long enough. For me, honestly I think a big chunk of it was just learning to wait out the initial anxiety and being patient enough to see it as a puzzle instead of a threat (which also comes a bit with age). Also, giving myself enough non-pressured time to chew things over and play around. Once you start getting the hang of things you also get more of the satisfaction and thrill of solving puzzles, and that can propel you further.

Maybe check out A Mind For Numbers by Barbara Oakley — might resonate with you.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:05 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]

You sound like you will be an excellent manager! I suggest you trust your manager’s assessment and lean into that. (I teach graduate management students.)

As far as learning data science, just keep asking questions and learning. But also pay attention to learning materials where you find things more intuitive. For example, when I went to review statistics for a project, I picked up an education research textbook and notes from psychology. Why? Because the explanations are a lot clearer (to me) compared to eg econometrics. I can do stats, I just care a lot more if the examples are talking about people. Or maybe you’ll feel better with some structured classes live (online) or with a MOOC. Figure out what works for you, because a lot of this stuff will get radically easier once you get past what I call the frustration barrier.

Finally, there are some great critiques above about psychometric assessments. In addition, one of the key critiques about doing these tests, from an organization development perspective (i.e. Anderson, 2012), is that it can make people feel called out or somehow less than. Which is why it’s better to go through one with a coach or psychologist to help you interpret and make sense of things. Without that, it’s better to frame the outcome as something like the test is highlighting some of your strengths, but you don’t have to be perfect across the board. This is just useful info to think about, not to take too seriously... (Fixed vs. growth mindset is also highly relevant here.)

PS - please look up imposter syndrome before you start managing. It will help...
posted by ec2y at 10:52 PM on January 12

Defining yourself based on MBTI results is like defining yourself based on your horoscope. Yes they can be be "fun" and "interesting, " but there are validity issues to both.

Generally speaking, having/ being a boss with a high EQ is a good thing. As the manger your role will be to help the team's collective efforts be greater than the sum of their individual parts. Most people do better work when they feel respected, heard, and valued. You will help your team navigate obstacles as they arise, and provide meaningful coaching to ensure their growth.

I wouldn't worry too much about a lack of advanced "hard skills" as long as you know what you don't know. For instance, you probably wouldn't be able to do an in depth quality assurance review on a very technical matter. However, you can make sure there is a review procedure in place so that (a) qualified person/ people is /are doing the review. Moreover, this would force you to delegate certain tasks :).

At my workplace at least, a lot of the technical experts dislike managing (or are bad at it... or both). In addition, I've noticed that folks with higher EQs often have to help sooth "ruffled feathers" between colleagues and clients.

So yes, I would encourage you to go for the opportunity!
posted by oceano at 4:55 AM on January 13

Leading a team is often much more about those soft skills than the hard data skills you mention. I often come out as INFP on MB, though don't find those tests that compelling, and have been managing other analysts or analytical teams for several years. Feel free to MeMail me about it if you like.
posted by knapah at 10:35 AM on January 13

Your MB type is not fixed! It can change, depending on what you focus on and practice. I used to test as an INFP before I went to grad school. Now I usually show up as an INTJ.

Seconding others' comments about the importance of soft skills!
posted by acridrabbit at 10:42 AM on January 13

It's actually often a big problem to have a manager who is really deep into the data and math side of things. One of the big challenges with newer or more technical managers is that they tend to try to keep doing the job themselves even as they are managing the people who are doing the job - So sometimes they micromanage or don't delegate appropriately or just generally run out of bandwidth because they're trying to do too many things at once. Managing - motivating people, encouraging them, identifying their skill sets and matching them to the work that needs to be done, catching problems early and working out solutions, planning - is a job all by itself.

Now, if you're going to be managing the project as well as the people, you'll need to understand what the priorities are and how to assess the quality of their work, how to evaluate their input to make decisions, etc. But you can (and should) ask a LOT of questions as part of that. The point of being the manager there still isn't to know the technical content better than anyone, it's to be able to take the technical experts on your team and turn their understanding into a big picture plan and recommendations.
posted by Lady Li at 1:16 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I believe soft skills *can* be cultivated in a person, at least well enough to work in a team or a business, but the person would have to learn sympathy and people management, rather than believing that meritocracy will always prevail.

Please also stop taking Myer-Briggs seriously. Using them in hiring decisions is downright bad idea. All Myer-Briggs can tell you is the overall type. It doesn't tell you if you're the light or dark version. It's rumored that both Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler are INFJ's.
posted by kschang at 1:50 AM on January 14

I used to work for a Big Four consulting firm, and they had a saying 'technical skills are table stakes' - that is, they aren't anyway enough. People need soft skills as well, and yours sound really valuable.

To give some examples from my perspective as someone who is strong and experienced technically: I have one former workmate who wasn't as strong, but was very outgoing and had incredible interpersonal skills. She could talk to anyone, always remembered what people had told her and brought it up in subsequent conversations, always made people feel welcome. So she could help me build relations with other teams/clients, and I could help her deliver the best quality work.

Or I've had bosses who were brilliant at strategising, working out who to talk to, who to get onside for a project, how to approach them ("talk to Bob, but not just now, I saw him in the lift and he looked grumpy"). Then I'd take a deep look at the project, spot problems and solve them.

If you can pull a team together, keep them aligned to the wider organisational goals, promote their work (to clients and bosses), and help protect them, you'll be hugely valuable.
posted by Pink Frost at 11:44 AM on January 15

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