Navigating Dangerous Waters at Work to Achieve Success

Navigating dangerous waters at work to achieve success could be the title of my autobiography. I don’t know if it is because I’m hyper aware of the emotions of others or overly sensitive, but I wasted too much energy in non-productive emotional states over my 25-year corporate career. The non-productive emotional state was typically the result of a frustrating interaction with a work colleague, either inside or outside the company. Being in the non-productive emotional state blocked my work productivity. Trying to get over the non-productive emotions took time and continued to negatively impact my work productivity until the non-productive emotions were dissipated.

DangerousWaters Clipped

Just what are non-productive emotions? Non-productive emotions are emotions that distract you from having productive impact and contributions to the workplace, to society, and to yourself and others. Non-productive emotions are authentic experiences of negative emotions. The PANASx scale provides a scientific way to understand authentic experiences of negative emotions. PANAS was developed by Watson and Clark as a way to measure positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA) using a 5-point scale (S). PANAS-x is an expanded version of this scale developed by the same authors. PANASx has four negative emotion scales as follows (see “PANAS-t: A Psychometric Scale for Measuring Sentiments on Twitter” by Goncalves P. et al at PANASt.pdf):

  • Fear (afraid, scared, frightened, nervous, jittery, shaky)
  • Hostility (angry, hostile, irritable, scornful, disgusted, loathing)
  • Guilt (guilty, ashamed, blameworthy, angry at self, disgusted with self, dissatisfied with self)
  • Sadness (sad, blue, downhearted, alone, lonely)

Navigating dangerous waters at work to achieve success explores three topics. First, understanding the top social skills needed for career success that organizations are not providing. Second, identifying the new tools and techniques needed to remain productive in the face of toxic work microclimates. And, third, three recommendations to get started on developing the social skills needed for career success.

The first topic is the top social skills needed for career success that organizations are not providing. What are the top social skills needed to achieve career success? To explore this question, I interviewed technical and business professionals attending the Greenbuild International Conference and Exposition in Washington D.C. on November 19th, 2015 (see about social skills in the workplace. The survey results showed that the top three social skills important to career success also appeared as the top three social skills lacking in workplaces today. In other words, organizations are not developing the top social skills needed for career success. These social skills are moving targets because of both advances in technology and because of the different preferences of different people. There are no universal rules to follow when it comes to social skills because social skills are more about how you do things (the process) then what you do (the content). Furthermore, the how you do things needs to be flexible to accommodate the needs and preference of different people. The top three social skills needed for career success are as follows:

  • Self-presentation: exuding confidence and approachability but also caring about people more than tasks and practicing informed sharing of information.
  • Interacting effectively with others: showing genuine interest in others but also proper use of email and texting versus phone and in-person communication.
  • Adaptability: demonstrating an openness to learn from others and the ability to address the challenges of dealing with arrogance, the generation gap, and fear of change.

There are no universal rules to follow when it comes to social skills because social skills are more about how you do things (the process) then what you do (the content).

Valerie Patrick

The second topic is identifying the new tools and techniques needed to remain productive in the face of toxic work micro-climates. A toxic work micro-climate occurs when an interaction between two or more people in the workplace results in the experience of negative emotions by one or more of the people involved in the interaction or later impacted by the interaction. In Social Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman explains the science behind how emotions spread from one person to another (see
The Greenbuild survey referenced above also identified social challenges frustrating people in the workplace, their sources of toxic work micro-climates. These social challenges were found to be categorized as communication barriers, motivation barriers, productivity barriers, sources of stress, and innovation barriers. While the topics of communication, motivation, productivity, stress, and innovation are not mutually exclusive, respondent input was categorized based on the gist or primary focus of the input barriers to productivity. An example of the interaction of these categories is that an organizational climate or culture that is conducive to innovation is typically conducive to communication, motivation, and productivity. In addition, barriers to communication, motivation, innovation, and productivity tend to lead to workplace stress. Nevertheless, there is plenty of research to support that an organization can’t sustain innovation or productivity without effective communication and motivation. In addition, chronic emotional stress has been shown to lead to decreased productivity in the affected employees. In short, the social challenges frustrating respondents are detracting from the performance of the organization.

The barriers have to do with organizational and micro-climates created in the workplace by how people behave. Since you can’t control how others behave, the focus needs to be on your response to how others behave because you can control your response to some degree. To be able to control your response to how others behave, you need to become more aware of your emotional state and resulting self-talk. You need tools and techniques to more readily access your emotional responses to damaging behavior by others. You need coping strategies to address the resulting self-talk that damages productivity. Positivity research shows the value of journaling to savor the positive aspects of a day (see “Regulation of Positive Emotions: Emotion Regulation Strategies that Promote Resilience” by M.M. Tugade and B.L. Fredrickson in Journal of Happiness Studies, 2007, p. 311-333). In my own experience, journaling can also help put the negative aspects of the day in perspective. I have three tools I use on a fairly regular basis. First, I capture five things I am grateful for before I go to bed every day to savor positive emotional experiences. Second, in the morning, I read devotionals and then reflect on the upsetting or negative emotional experiences of the previous day. This practice gives me the coping strategies I need and in some cases actions I made need to take to address negative emotional experiences from the previous day. Third, when the negative emotional experiences in the workplace get overwhelming, I use a career coach to help with coping.

The third and final topic is three recommendations to get started on developing the social skills needed for career success. One recommendation is to invest in developing your personal brand for the workplace. This improves your understanding of who you are and how you can contribute. Understanding how you can best contribute helps to identify your area of subject-matter expertise which you can develop further towards mastery. Subject-matter expertise is a key component to effective collaboration. The most effective collaborations involve people with complementary skills but at similar skill levels. The second recommendation is to improve your learning process. Being a deliberate learner is also a foundational skill to effective collaboration and is a pre-requisite to mastery of a subject-matter area. Fulcrum Connection has developed a LEARN Plan to help improve learning (see the-learning-creativity-innovation-continuum). The third recommendation is to hone collaboration skills. Collaboration is the pinnacle of interacting effectively with others and includes the ability to interact creatively with others and have social influence.

Because the three recommendations to help develop the social skills needed for success are also important to collaboration, let’s consider the foundational skills of collaboration. I have searched for the core competencies needed for an individual to be good at collaboration but I really haven’t found them. What I found instead were some different approaches to collaboration. One approach is Fulcrum Connection’s Team Collaboration Assessment© (see structured-analytical-approach-team-collaboration). A second approach is achieving a state that Dr. Keith Sawyer calls “flow” in his book Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. I also found a third approach presented in a paper looking at collaboration across STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. I uncovered the skills fundamental to these approaches. These skills are shown in the diagram below according to their role in the collaboration. You will see that three of the skills are exhibited in preparation for the collaboration. Another four of the skills have to do with behavior during the collaboration. And, the final three skills have to do with processes used during the collaboration. Fulcrum Connection is developing an on-line “Secret to High Performance Teams” program that describes these ten skills in detail along with methods to develop the skills.

10 Skills of Collaboration 23Dec2015

Fulcrum Connection LLC provides training, coaching, and professional facilitation services to help individuals and groups improve social skills and solve collaboration problems. For example, Fulcrum helps organizations improve teamwork, social intelligence, creativity, learning, and innovation using structured processes and proven tools. Get a copy of the complete findings from the GreenBuild survey by taking the survey here: Get added insights on social skills for the workplace by listening to the Science of Success Podcast on i-Tunes (science-of-success-podcast) and leave a review. Sign up for Fulcrum Connection’s Quadrant II newsletter to receive a free white paper on five ways to improve creativity for innovation ( and stay up-to-date on Fulcrum Connection’s blog posts and podcasts. In addition, the newsletter will announce when the following content will be available on-line: “Secret to High Performance Teams” program, the Team Collaboration Assessment© Tool and Guide, the LEARN Plan, the collaboration assessment quiz, and new tools and techniques to remain productive in a toxic micro-climate. To learn more, please contact Valerie Patrick at Fulcrum Connection LLC (412-742-9675 or Also ask about our first-time client offer.