In an earlier post on HR departments and hiring, I considered whether it's ever appropriate to discriminate against people on the basis of personality:
Should corporations never discriminate against people on the basis of personality? Ironically, the personality type that thrives best in interviews--particularly the informal ones that are so popular today--is the type that is potentially the most toxic of all: the narcissistic, manipulating backstabber who charms his superiors, undermines his equals, and takes credit for the work of his underlings, advancing through the corporation and undermining morale and productivity.Given just how toxic the psychopathic employee can be for the workplace, one can appreciate how important it is to consider personality and social behavior. The problem, though, is that people often conflate two different types of socially problematic personalities:
(2) people who mean well--or at least don't mean ill--but are socially awkward.
Personality does matter, but the aspect that matters most is decency, not charm.
In reading the comments on my earlier post, I've realized that two other general factors that seem important in making hiring decisions can be bifurcated in similar ways.
the ability to communicate and work with others is being shown to be an important part of successful performance of many jobs, including the ones that include significant technical skills.As with personality, so, too, with the ability to communicate and the ability to work with others. Each has a more social aspect, and a more job-relevant aspect. For the former:
(1) conversational skills; being fun to talk to
(2) content-based communication skills: understanding directions, getting your points across clearly.
For the latter:
(1) getting along with people socially; behaving such that they enjoy your company
(2) understanding what your role is in a collaboration and being competent and conscientious enough to fulfill it.
The more job-relevant aspects of communication and working with others aren't trivial. A programmer on a software development team I was part of--someone who appeared to have gotten hired in part because he was a drinking buddy of one of the team leaders--set us back about a year (and many paychecks worth of funds) because it turned out he wasn't able to follow our directions or communicate what was confusing to him. I'm sure he was fun to hang out with after hours at bars. A lawyer friend of my regularly laments how her firm hires "team players" who don't pull their weight because, for all their Ivy League training, they're lacking in reading and writing skills.
Maybe I'm insufficiently "21st Century" in my thinking, but I'd take a decent, competent coworker who understands directions and can get his or her point across clearly, however socially awkwardly, over someone who's engaging to talk to and fun to be around but, like so many people these days, is a sloppy, inaccurate reader; an inarticulate writer; an inattentive listener; a poor follower of complex directions; and a lazy, responsibility-deflecting coworker--even if s/he isn't also a manipulative, backstabbing psychopath.