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Passion, People and Principles

Screening for Relationship Attitudes and Skills?

post # 462 — November 8, 2007 — a Client Relations post

Yesterday’s post was about whether relationship skills must be “found” by firms in their hiring process or whether they can be developed.

As I reported, about one-third of a conference of leading management consulting firms felt that these values, attitudes and/or skills are mostly “hired in” rather than developed once people have reached the age and stage of being hired by consulting firms.

Which raises these questions:

  1. How can firms screen for and identify relationship values, attitudes and skills?
  2. How, in fact, do they screen for them?
  3. Do formal testing approaches work?
  4. What about “behavioral interviewing” (I’m still not sure what that is!)
  5. Do you have to rely on the “take them out for a beer” test?


Peter Gwizdalla said:

Hi All,

I read all these posts but don’t contribute much usually, but given I’m an “organisational psychologist” by profession and have been helping companies hire the right people for a couple of decades, maybe my opinions will be of some value to you.

1 The best evidence available is clear on this – the most valid and cost-effective “screens” for selection processes are combinations of either general mental ability testing and “structured” interviewing, or general mental ability and “temperament” or personality assessment. “Structured” interviews are based on carefully thought out job criteria and usually involve “behavioural” interviewing where you get candidates to tell you stories about how they have done things in the past (eg, “tell me about the most difficult person you ever had to work with?)

2 Most organisations that are serious about selecting the right people use a combination of general mental ability testing, temperament assessment and behavioral interviewing. Some go as far as designing and using slightly more valid (but much more expensive) processes like assessment centres, that involve the above tools and also include things like role plays and group discussion or problemsolving activities

3 Formal testing processes absolutely work, but it’s the usual story – there’s a lot of average stuff out there and you pretty much always get what you pay for.

4 re “behavioral” interviewing, I think I addresses that above

5 I like the take out for a beer test, as long as you don’t rely on it as the sole decisionmaking data input. Almost anyone can act like they really care about other people and are interested in them for a couple of hours..although I’m often surprised how supposedly “smart” people like lawyers and accountants, when put into a group discussion process for selection or development purposes, then proceed to argue with each other, cut others off and generally behave as if it’s some kind of competition…..I thought it would be pretty obvious theprocess is about how you get along with others, but still…..

posted on November 8, 2007

Jeff Temple said:

We’ve found testing to be an excellent screen for this purpose. Good at separating the people who show well and can say the right things while interviewing, but whoses natural tendencies are not relationship-oriented.

For behavioral interviewing, we watch closely for narcissistic tendencies. These can fuel productive work, but can create big relationship problems.

posted on November 8, 2007

Jim Bullock said:

Interview for Relating Skills

A couple less formal ways to screen for relationship skills are the famous “How’d they treat the receptionist?” question, and simply watching how they interact, while they’re interacting. I’ve used interviewing with myself (the hiring manager) and another manager together. First, it makes the thing a lot more of a conversation than a quiz. Second, one of you is in the “observer” position – watching what’s going on. That’s one reason most facilitated / experiential workshop things have two or more facilitators. When one’s “in the moment” the other is watching the process, hearing the music not the words, feeling what’s flowing or not, to know whether the relationship going on right then passes the sniff test.

BTW, some flexibility is one thing I look for in relating skills. For example, whatever their preference in sensory language, they ought to be able to mix it up a bit. Extra style points for adjusting to the preference of the other guy, in imagery, rhythm, person and sentence structure and so on. A second thing I try to notice is whether they’re aware of managing their own relating behavior. Unconsciously pacing the other guy’s rhythm and pictures – good. Consciously pacing the other guy’s ditto – also good. Doing it automatically and knowing you are doing it automatically – because it is a learned skill, developed on purpose – bingo! The ability to adjust your sensory language and metaphors is kind of trivial among the relating skills. Yet, it’s a good indicator. A sushi chef makes rice balls and cuts fish – two little things done exquisitely.

posted on November 10, 2007

Jim Bullock said:

What’s Behavioral Interviewing – An Informalist’s Description and a Coyote Trick

A description: Get the subject to tell stories, while you observe the behaviors being used in the story being told (vs. in the interview here and now.) In the interview they’re demonstrating how well they explain their life to a stranger, the ability to deliver talking points regardless of what’s asked and a certain degree of amoeba-like adjustment to the surrounding currents. These are decent selection criteria for small-time politicians, local soft news hosts and amoebas. I’m not so sure about anything else. So ask them about doing the job, and you might find out something about their ability to do that. “Behavioral interviewing” is one attempt to guard against the default hiring decision process of talking to somebody for a while, then saying yes or no simply depending on how much you like them, determined by how much they seem like you. I have a rant about destructive monocultures and the solipsistic hiring practices that reinforce them which I might publish one day. I need to calm down – a lot – before that one will go anywhere but my hard drive.

They coyote trick is getting them to talk about this job. Why tell a story about some other job? Tell a story about this job. Let’s work on a thing together. So, sometimes I’ll pitch them the situation and work with them in the contemplated role – a sort of informal audition. (And what is this nonsense with contrived, BS auditions – “Why are manhole covers round?” “I don’t know. Is this job mostly about solving brain teasers, because the software development I’ve seen is mostly about people working together effectively.”) Talking about this job is particularly effective in “hiring your replacement” situations. You know exactly what they have to deal with, and frankly they want to know that too, desperately. Everybody who’s been around for a while has had at least one hiring bait-and-switch con job. They’ll thank you for the real scoop.

The last part of the Coyote trick is after the conversation is over. Sit and imagine this person in that role, doing something. A scenario will come to your mind. Let it play out. How did it go? What skills & behaviors did they use – ones you’ve just seen? Now, is having that person around like you just imagined worth the grief of having that person around? And now you know.

posted on November 10, 2007