Earlier this week we posted a podcast interview between myself and amazing Rachel Gertz from Louder than Ten. Once of the topics we talked about was the idea of providing training in Social Engineer for PMs and Team Leads. For me, this is one of those topics I found my way to on my own, but really wish I had learned more about it earlier in my career. For many PMs, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence is a gateway towards the work of people like Dr. Paul Ekman. Once you begin learning how to be aware of and understand the unintentional information being communicated the natural next steps are to figure out what to do with that information and how to make sure the information you put out is what you want it to be. And this is where you’ve crossed over into Social Engineering.
Social Engineering is kind of a touchy subject with some folks. It tends to evoke an almost reflexive response that stems from the idea that a social engineer is an evil person who is out to do us harm. (Think Kevin Mitnick as portrayed in Takedown or Roy from The Grifters.) While there are plenty of people out there in all areas of life that are trying to grift or con their way into out lives and wallets. I would like to offer a different view.
We’re all social engineers.
And if you work in technology, leading projects or teams, you’ve probably already been exposed to things like Emotional Intelligence, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Non-Violent Communication, Situational Leadership (just to name a few). Developing your abilities in social engineering is a way to enhance or compliment your abilities in each of those areas.
Whether we are interacting with co-workers, our spouse, our children, the airline rep at the customer service counter in an airport full of angry travelers, we’re all trying to get something.
- I want my daughter to remember to stop leaving dirty dishes in the living room.
- I need the developers to start commenting their code.
- I want to get bumped up in the standby list.
- I want to take my wife to dinner at the Indian place instead of the noodle shop.
These are all simple things we face every day. Wanting them is neither good, not bad. Whether it is done with conscious intent, we are all trying to bend situations in a way that results in an outcome we desire.
If you are a project manager you probably spend a lot of your time trying to find ways to get people to do things you want them to do, or work the way you want them to work.
If you are a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach, you spend a good part of your day trying to figure out how to get people to want what you want them to want.
Some folks are naturally gifted with this. Some, not so much. The good news is that there are ways to develop your abilities in this area. The challenging part is that building your skills here is going to require learning a bit about a number of topics and finding ways to practice at using them. Developing your knowledge and abilities in this area will help you in two very specific ways:
1. It will enable you to become more mindful of the unintentional or non-verbal communication that is taking place when you interact with or observe others
2. It can enable you to become better at modifying your own verbal and non-verbal output in a way that will sway an interaction more towards your desired outcome.
If the success of the projects we work on hinges on communication (PMBOK 5th Edition Appendix X3.4), then our ability to understand what is being communicated and to manage what we communicate, is our greatest asset. Deepening your understanding of things like micro-expressions, changes in body language, conversational techniques for building rapport can only strengthen your ability to communicate. It helps you unpack the messages sent by others and can help you wrap up the messages you are sending with conscious intent. While it is unlikely you’ll end up like Sherlock or the guy in Lie to Me, simply becoming more mindful of these concepts will give you an edge and help you in your work with teams and individuals. The first step is educating yourself (some great starter resources are listed below). The second step is finding places to actually practice (in a non-career limiting, non-marriage limiting environment). The practice part can be tough - especially when you are just starting, but you’ll want to build skill and confidence before your start trying to use some of your new tools at work.
I spoke about this idea with a colleague at the Agile conference this summer and he expressed great concern that it would teach people to message information in a way that is less honest. That is certainly possible. My hope would be that developing knowledge and skill in these areas, if applied correctly, could help us to understand messages of others more clearly and to be more mindful of the noise we introd
uce into our own signals as we communicate with others.
Here are two books I’ve read recently that I recommend as a great starting place if you are interested in learning more about Social Engineering.
Unmasking the Social Engineer- Christopher Hadnagy (pictured above)
It’s Not All About “Me” - The Top Ten Techniques for Building Rapport with Anyone - Robin Dreeke
Christoper Hadnagy also has a website full of great resources at social-engineer.org