Are You Good With People Or Are You Just A Button Pusher?
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
There's lots of information out there on developing people skills. Some are about developing empathy and understanding. And about listening and learning what people really want. Or about how to reach your goals by helping others achieve their goals
But let's face it, what you really want to know is how to get other people to do what you want them to do -- be better employees, buy your product, sign up for your newsletter, etc.
You don't care if you call it people skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills, social skills, negotiation skills, emotional intelligence or mother's cookies.
If you're like most business folks, you don't want the long, drawn-out, "touchy-feely" nonsense. Hence the number of articles, books and other training literature, audio and video on "how to get people to do what you want them to do and bless you for it."
You just want techniques that work, not just more pablum about developing working relationships, networking and social savvy.
O.K., here's the deal. The techniques that work for business development rather than a one-shot sale are in the pablum. The ability to get employees to work with enthusiasm are in the pablum. The ability to get your boss to like you is in the pablum. The ability to sell is in the pablum.
The techniques you read about that tell you how to write slick ad copy, get thousands of new subscribers through joint ventures or trick people into subscribing to your list do work. Sometimes. For some offers. In the short term.
There are methods you've probably heard about that tell you how to manipulate conversations to steer people into seeing only what you want them to see. To believe what you want them to believe. So they will agree to what you want. Those methods work. For a while. Until your targets figure out they've been misled.
The best contrasting examples I can think of are a couple of TV shows that are fairly popular. They are "The Mentalist" and "Midsomer Murders."
The "Mentalist," character Patrick Jane is a con man turned police consultant. Formerly, he had posed as a psychic and used skills such as "street" hypnosis and cold-reading to entertain audiences and make them believe he had true psychic powers. In the series, Jane continues to use those skills, along with twisted bits of NLP, to get information from unwilling witnesses and push suspects into confessions. When people tumble to his game, they just want to break his neck.
He's charming and disarming. He's a master manipulator. He's a lovable scamp who constantly gets his supportive friends and colleagues into trouble.
It's fun as TV. I wouldn't want to know such a character in reality. He's a self-centered jerk who uses people to achieve his goals without regard to their well-being. He's not a friend. His people skills are limited to being able to read expressions and behaviors and then use his reading to know what buttons to push.
In "Midsomer Murders," the main character is Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby. Barnaby has all the great people skills of your favorite kindly uncle. People eventually want to talk to him. Even if reluctantly. Because he truly listens. With understanding and compassion.
When he asks a question, he asks. He doesn't accuse. He doesn't work some sort of judgment into the question. He just asks the question. Then he listens carefully to the answer. He follows up the answer with relevant questions. He asks politely. He thanks people for their answers. And he constantly proves he cares about the people involved in his investigations.
In one episode, Barnaby interviews an older lady who is a potential witness. She's a bit chatty and makes a few remarks about herself. One of the things she tells him -- totally irrelevant to his investigation -- is that she's kept herself in good shape all her life. She says she can still bend over and touch the floor with the palms of her hands. Then she asks, "Would you like to see?" Ever affable, Barnaby says yes, with as much interest as if she'd asked if he'd like to see a pot of gold. And indeed she performs the feat.
Later, the dotty old thing is murdered herself. When investigating, he talks about her to another character, describing what he knew about her personally, and says, "Did you know she could stand and touch the floor with the palms of her hands?"
Now that is someone with people skills. He listens with attention to details. He considers the details in making judgements about people's characters. He ends up knowing where the pieces fit in the puzzle. He can figure out from it how people are going to behave. How they probably have behaved. What he needs to do to get them to behave in the way he wants. But within the context of actually caring about the good of everyone involved.
Real "people skills" are hard. It takes study, time and practice to make them work. They are difficult to learn because they are difficult to explain. You can't simply learn them from books. And you have to want them. Want them enough to take the time and trouble.
If you learn them and practice them, people skills will help you to more easily determine who is your best audience or customer/client group. And how to reach them. You'll select better employers or employees, and work better with them. You'll be able to better work with any group you must work with, because you'll understand their needs and desires. Because you'll ask better questions and get better answers.
And if you do social networking and social marketing, you'll understand better how and why that works.
"People skills" is not the "stepchild" study in business. People skills are at the core of what you need to know. Once you understand them, and work with them in face-to-face mode, you'll probably easily adapt that knowledge to online use.
Ask yourself: Do you want to learn people skills, or just learn to push people's buttons?
Here's a list of some good books to get you started on people skills development. They focus on verbal and written communications skills. Remember that there is also a behavioral component you need to learn and practice. So, again these book suggestions are just a start.
Messages: The Communication Skills Book
The Art of Talking So That People Will Listen: Getting Through to Family, Friends & Business Associates
How To Win Friends and Influence People