My Dad’s Best Advice

The best advice my dad ever gave me was:

“When it comes to people: don’t seek to be right. Seek to get it right.

This was my first step towards understanding emotional intelligence (a.k.a “EQ”).

What my dad meant was simple. Getting along with people pays off, and it yields larger returns than momentary righteousness. Furthermore, this is true no matter the context: business, friendship, romance… you name it.

By being cooperative, you show the other person you care about their feelings, interests, and needs. This builds mutual trust and respect, the foundation for any relationship.

Building Bridges

Before he retired, my dad was a civil engineer and transportation planner. His work centered around designing and building freeways, bridges, and light rail infrastructure.

As his career progressed my dad took on increasingly senior roles. This continued until he became the Principal Consultant on more than one major project. He was even the Engineer of Record in some cases, such as the SR 22 highway project in Orange County, CA.

How did he do it?

My dad was certainly a great engineer. But he knew building bridges with people was just as important as building them in real life. He knew designing open communication channels was equally as important as designing congestion-free roadways. And so he did.

As you can probably tell, I’m proud of my dad. He always has been and always will be my number one role model. Mom, if you’re reading this don’t worry – you’re tied for number one. 🙂

Trust, Respect, & Safe Spaces

There’s a funny thing about “getting it right” with people. It tends to improve your chances of “being right,” too.

But how?

For starters, mutual trust and respect makes people more receptive to your ideas. It also creates a “safe space” for two-way conversation (see: Psychological Safety). Within this space you have far greater ability to influence, lead, and motivate.

The existence of a safe space also allows you to more candidly discuss (and even disagree about) what’s actually “right” for a given subject, without each person fearing a loss of status, respect, or self-image.

Resulting conversations tend to be objective, collaborative, and highly productive for both parties. Win-win outcomes are sought, explored, and identified. Memories are made, and bottles of champagne are popped.

In summary, “getting it right” with people will leave you rich, happy, and loved by many.

Anger, Fear, & Aggression

So, what’s the alternative?

When you fail to build trust and respect, your discussions can easily devolve from collaborative pursuits (“let’s find the best way together”) into personal arguments. Such arguments are characterized by each person feeling the need to defend their individual ideas (“I’m right / you’re wrong”).

In the most heated cases, people begin to feel personally attacked. Once this occurs the real discussion is usually over, because the issue re-centers around each person protecting their pride, ego, and inherent sense of value as a human being.

Even if the words on the surface remain on topic, the interaction has fundamentally changed. Objectivity, collaboration, and productivity are greatly reduced or lost. Each person may begin to feel anger, fear, and aggression towards the other. This increases separation, decreases listening, and paves the way towards mutual resent.

From a business standpoint, this is terrible because you aren’t making progress. Things aren’t getting done. Your attention span, and that of the other person, are shifted away from business objectives towards unproductive personal battles.

From a personal standpoint, this is terrible because you lose friends and loved ones. In the short term, you lose each other’s love and emotional support. In the long run, you may lose each other completely.

In summary, “getting it wrong” with people will leave you broke, unhappy, and alone.

The Makings of “Getting It Right” – Empathy & Social Skills

There are two core skills behind “getting it right” with people:

Empathy and Social Skills.

These are two of the five dimensions of EQ (all five are listed below). This is where you should start to “get it right” with people more often.

Two helpful books on empathy and social skills are:

For a more accelerated journey to mastering your people skills, you can take a professional EQ assessment and/or work with a certified EQ specialist (of which I am one). This will help you identify your unique strengths and weaknesses, and allow you to build a personal development plan around them.

For some time now, I’ve been mentoring people in EQ. Here’s a photo of me speaking to a local HR group on EQ after work:

From my #EQ #emotionalintelligence talk at ATX HR tonight in downtown #Austin … Mission accomplished!

A post shared by Steven Fies (@smfies) on

For those who aren’t familiar with the science behind EQ, the basic model is comprised of five core modalities:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social Skills

Beyond helping you to “get it right” with people, empathy and social skills (in particular) feature some additional benefits:

Empathy allows you to:

  • Understand the emotional makeup of other people
  • Effectively anticipate and meet a person’s needs
  • Sense a person’s developmental needs and bolster their abilities
  • Cultivate opportunities through many different people
  • Read a group’s emotional currents and power relationships

Social Skills allow you to:

  • Wield effective tactics for persuasion
  • Listen openly and sending convincing messages
  • Effectively negotiate and resolve conflicts
  • Inspire, guide, and mentor individuals and groups
  • Create group synergy in pursuing collective goals


As you can probably infer, there is great power in developing your empathy and social skills.

On a basic level, these skills allow you to “get it right” with people more often. This helps you reach your goals faster while building genuine, happy, productive relationships.

At higher levels, these skills allow you to effectively lead, manage, and motivate others. Imagine being able to inspire people on a level such that they are independently motivated to work for you – without any need to rely on your position, authority, or formal systems of control (one of my colleagues is particularly skilled mentoring executives in this area).

In summary, you will always get more done with a high EQ. Furthermore, in my professional opinion EQ is the way of the future.

Corporate leaders are already noticing their decreasing influence over millennials in particular. This is chiefly because millennials demand trust and respect, and their tolerance for low-EQ bosses (and workplaces) is very low. The traditional “command and control” management paradigm, which often features a characteristic lack of EQ, simply isn’t as effective with millennials.

On an individual level, people are beginning to realize their happiness isn’t rooted in money or career status – but instead in the quality of their relationships with other people (in fact, there’s a 75-year study that confirmed this recently).

Thus, you are wise to develop yourself in this area regardless of the method you choose (i.e. books, professional assessments, workshops, mentoring).

EQ has helped me build my business, and more importantly, fulfilling relationships with my friends and family. For this I’ll always be thankful for my dad’s advice, which will always echo loudly in my ears:

“When it comes to people: don’t seek to be right. Seek to get it right.

So, what’s next for you?

Are you ready to develop your empathy and social skills?

Want to achieve your goals while becoming a better person in the process?

If you’re interested in “getting it right” with people more often, drop me a line here.

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