When owners and managers listen to me conduct an interview they are often impressed. They think I’ve got all these tricks, techniques and shortcuts to finding out what people think. When they ask me how I do it I usually answer something about doing thousands of interviews and people skills.
Few things are as important in business as people skills. Lack of people skills can cause a good business to flounder and never get off the ground. Strength in people skills can give a small market player a big market potential. People skills are sometimes thought of as the ability to get people to do what you want them to do. This is simply manipulation. Manipulation worked pretty well in the early days of the industrial revolution when employees used their bodies more than their brains. It was a simpler time when customers were less sophisticated and employees less demanding.
Business is usually a series of human contacts. Those that are skilled at human contact often get better results than those that are not. Notice the distinction in getting results and manipulating results. As the human animal evolves to a higher level of social being so too must those that deal with humans on a business basis. Dinosaurs always go extinct.
I first became truly aware of people skills in my travelling days. I usually traveled alone and as a consequence I was ‘forced’ to meet new people in new lands with sometimes a new language. After a time I began to develop a ‘traveler’s profile’: a profile of those that had traveled, often alone, that had a perception and a experience level that others did not. It was as though the travel experience could be seen in their personality.
Then when I entered social work and counseling it became apparent that some of my colleagues and coworkers possessed highly developed people skills. They seemed to be able to ‘read’ people with the greatest of ease – almost as second nature. They had the ability to speak with someone for several minutes and come away with a very accurate impression of that individual. Yet they were not psychoanalysts of psychologists. Professional ‘mind people’ may take years to gain understanding of a psyche.
How did these non-professionals do it? Were they born with this aptitude or did they develop this skill? Why did some of my most intelligent colleagues have the least developed people skills?
To get some answers I began to play a game that I still continue today. In a crowd – it doesn’t matter where – I would see individuals and guess what they were like without speaking to them. I would notice mannerisms, expressions, how they related to others around them and so on. As my skills sharpened I began to look at people skills in greater depth. Some keys that I found were:
It is generally assumed that people skills beyond courtesy and politeness cannot be taught. This is only partially true. People skills cannot be taught quickly. People skills must be honed over many, many years. Experience, focus and interest are three key dynamics. As more business processes like technology become standardized the prediction is that people skills will play an even larger role in tomorrow’s business environment. Those businesses that demonstrate a high level of people skills will have a definite competitive advantage.
Jack D. Deal is the owner of Deal Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 831-457-8806.