Did you know that September is International People Skills Month? Having people skills can make the difference between a solid career trajectory versus not so much. You may be curious as to what, exactly, denotes people skills. According to businessdictionary.com people skills can be defined as a set of skills enabling a person to get along with others, to communicate ideas effectively, and to achieve personal or business goals. Merriam-Webster defines people skills as the ability to work with or talk to other people in an effective or friendly way.
Interesting that Merriam-Webster implies that goals are achieved based on using the term “effective” in their definition. In both definitions there are three components that are critical: (1) you play nice with others; (2) you communicate well (which I assume is both written and verbal); and (3) you get stuff done.
Let’s dissect each to be sure we are following this month’s theme. First, playing nice with others seems simple and straightforward. And, I would argue, it is simple if everyone in your environment is like you. In other words, if you work with people just like you and surround yourself with people just like you in your personal life, chances are you will experience a friendly environment. However, what about working with someone who you find challenging? Are you still willing to play nice? Throw in a differentiating variable and there may be conflict.
Differences can create challenge, and that’s when the rubber meets the road. When this occurs, we have a choice to make. Do we put our head in the proverbial sand and wait for things to pass, or do we hold our head high and address the differences facing us? It is sometimes difficult to “play nice” and address differences at hand, right? Some would say yes, some no. I believe one can always address differences and issues with grace and professionalism. That’s a novel approach these days, but it can be done.
The second item in our definition of people skills is communication. Communication is more than a two-way street. Communication is verbal and non-verbal. Communication is good and bad. Communication is one-on-one, as well as to a large audience. Get the point? Here’s the key… whether you are communicating to a group, or individual, verbally or in an email, it is the quality of the communication that determine the communication’s effectiveness. And, quality will be based on the receptivity of the audience to which the communication is directed. To effectively communicate one must know the audience. Knowing the audience will dictate the best method of communication (verbal or non-verbal), as well as the construction of word choice.
For example, I had an awesome boss early in my career. He was one who people greatly admired. I met with him weekly to provide updates and status reports. To me, that meant providing detailed accomplishments and thoroughly written plans. To him, it meant having a conversation and reviewing the week verbally. I did not realize his true opinion of my weekly update until much later, but the truth was that he hated my detailed reports. Did that make me a poor employee? Was I incompetent? Yes and no. I was not incompetent, but I was not the greatest employee. Why? Because I was not communicating to my audience. Fortunately for me, he was a patient mentor. He provided me with some valuable lessons on communication.
The third and final component of our people skills definition is “get stuff done.” So, at this point we play nice, we communicate well, and now we need to achieve results. I think this is the true test of one’s people skills. Achieving results is not always easy, even when we play nice and have excellent communication skills. I would suggest that one will not achieve results without playing nice and communicating well. If you cannot get along with others and/or you do not know how best to communicate, chances are exceptionally good that you will not experience success.
Let’s tie this all together. Can one be a good leader without people skills? In other words, can one be a good leader without either communicating well, playing nice or achieving? I would say no. John Maxwell, leadership guru, defines leadership as the ability to influence others. This makes perfect sense. One cannot be a good leader if they are void of people skills, because their ability to influence would be nonexistent. You cannot influence others unless you have good people skills. And, you do not have good people skills unless you play nice, communicate well, and get stuff done.
The next time you are in a difficult situation, think about your own people skills. Challenge yourself to meet all three components of the people skills definition. Easy to say, hard to do, but worth the effort!