Leading Edge: Limitless Transformation – Lack of People Skills

Limitless Transformation from Aegis Learning and Tim Schneider

The lack of meaningful people skills is certainly limiting and, in many cases, totally defeating for people. You don’t have to be the life of the party, but you don’t ever want to be the person that everyone avoids either. We occupy this blue marble with 7.89 billion other souls and the ability to interact with and get along with other people is paramount. People skills should also not be dependent on beer count, as everyone gets more charming by drink two.

The defending argument for a lack of people skills always relies on self-identification as either shy or as an introvert. Introvert or not, naturally shy, or not, we all need a minimum baseline of people skills to operate in the working environment and in even small social circles. Shyness and being an introvert are hardwired parts of our personalities, while the use of people skills is a learned behavior that can be embraced by all.
Failure to utilize commonly used people skills will dramatically hamper workplace success and the ability to work effectively with others, regardless of your technical expertise. Rather than being a valued team member, you will be the person everyone avoids. If you desire to move into higher levels of leadership, your people skills become even more important and more magnified and valued by others.

Consider this workplace scenario with significant consequences:

Shawn has been in the fire service for over 30 years and is a technical expert in the field. He is a walking encyclopedia of all things fire and what it means to be a first responder. The problem is that he is also an unapproachable, grumpy, curmudgeon who has not said good morning to anyone since 1994, and that was begrudging. He never asks about anyone and never seems interested in anything but his core work.

Vicky is a relatively new fire officer with only five years of direct experience and has not yet seen it all in her industry, but she is affable, approachable, asks about others, and demonstrates care for others. She has great people skills and is highly likeable.

A captain’s job is opening in the agency and both Shawn and Vicky will be applying. The panel interviewers will focus on the ability to lead the team and create meaningful connections with all the team. They are looking for someone who can rally the team when needed and who will have a positive impact on the morale in the department.

Who gets this job is obvious and this scenario repeats itself hundreds of times a day. People skills are more valued in most workplaces than technical skills.

People skills are also the foundation of relationships with others. I have encountered numerous people who are painfully hard to get to know because of their lack of people skills. Sure, once you get to know them, they are fine humans, but how many people give up trying because there is nothing there in the first two, three, or twenty interactions.

Another scenario to consider with a personal angle:

Two people join a meetup group at the same time. Lawrence is outgoing and loves to greet and talk with people. He has quickly built a reputation as someone they love to have on hikes and group outings.

Cindy goes to the events but doesn’t talk to anyone and when she does it has the tone of someone having a wisdom tooth removed. People try to engage with her, but she provides one-word answers and nothing more.

As the group grows and breaks into several subgroups, who is going to get the ongoing invitations?

Even in a close interpersonal relationship like a marriage, a baseline of people skills is needed for ongoing happiness and relationship success. Relationships fail without a healthy flow of communication, doses of empathy, and a great deal of interest in the other person.

People skills are best defined as those interaction and engagement skills that serve to connect with people. Most are communication based, meaning that communication must flow well, and you must have some great communication skills, and all require a level of discipline to turn them into a habit set. The core communication skill needed in people interaction is listening, real listening, not formulating your response, not letting your mind wander off, not interrupting, but real validated listening with the singular focus on the listening event and nothing else. As your listening skills improve, you’ll be amazed how people begin to migrate to you and value time with you.

Next on the importance triage of communication skills is our tone, how we sound to others. Most people have very little understanding of their own tone and the impact it can have on our other people skills. Visualize two people saying the exact same words, something simple like “thank you”, and a person with a harsh tone makes it sound almost punitive, while someone with a softer and more sincere tone makes the message much more believable and valuable. We craft this narrative about how we sound (our tone) and that narrative is completely removed from reality. How many of you have heard the sound of your own voice? Did you enjoy what you heard? Unless you are a trained voice actor, singer, or just particularly fond of yourself, you probably didn’t enjoy that experience. Solicit some feedback about your tone from some trusted sources and then begin to manage it by doing a few voice exercises for inflection (no one likes monotone) and learning to lower or raise your assertiveness as needed in any conversation.

The final couple of points related to communication involve clarity and richness. Clarity is about delivering messages in a way they are easily understood. There are people that talk in word clouds of language and take turns during a conversation that a Formula One driver could not follow. Reduce your word count and stay on track of the objective of the conversation. Don’t stray and don’t add any language or explanation that is not needed or requested. Communication richness is about the modality in which we communicate. In-person communication is the richest because it contains the words, non-verbal signals, and your tone. Any other form of communication such as telephone or email reduces the richness significantly. In the history of our planet, no one has ever been complimented or acknowledged about her or his people skills because of email. Where feasible, talk face-to-face and if not, schedule a virtual meeting or make a phone call. Take your fingers off the keyboard and thumbs off the phone and make genuine human communication connections.

Beyond communication, the most noted and remembered people skill is about showing interest in others and making other people feel important. This will absolutely ensure that you are remembered and valued in return.

Shameless Plug Moment: In LeadWell-The Ten Competencies of Outstanding Leadership, there is a major section devoted to improving our ability to communicate and connect with others.

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