Yes, you can instantly improve your people skills! And sometimes it’s as easy as reminding yourself what effective people skills are. We often get caught up in our to-do’s, in our perspectives, in our worlds that we forget to consider others more often.
People Skills Definition
People skills are often called soft skills (as opposed to hard or technical skills like accountancy, building a house, assembling a manufacturing line, merchandising a product display in a retail shop). If you are running a project to build a piece of infrastructure or design a new car, you’ll need hard skills: engineering, planning, cost-estimating, scheduling. These are the skills that will enable delivery of some kind of output. But the skills associated with whether what you produce, and the process of producing it, is successful are largely soft: working with the client or managing your supply chain; negotiating changes to the scope of the project; agreeing solutions to address unanticipated risk; managing any conflict; motivating people and keeping everyone committed to the project.
They are the behaviours we use when interacting with other people. You might not think of them as skills though (yet). You might feel they are just what you do to communicate and relate with others, be it your family, friends or work colleagues.
Good People Skills for Instant Impact
These skills (outlined below) might seem obvious and it’s amazing how often we forget to use them to improve our effectiveness as communicators and leaders.
Smile sincerely. Many people respond in kind and do what we do so make eye contact and smile when appropriate before even saying anything. Go a step further and smile with your eyes too. Saying ‘cheese’ as cheesy as that sounds does evoke a smile.
Position things in terms of the other person, not yourself. Use the word ‘YOU’ more often then ‘I, me, my, mine.’ Remember someone’s primary interest is in themselves and their world, not in yours. Put yourself in their shoes to try and understand what they might be thinking and feeling.
Make people feel important, genuinely. Notice their achievements, their unique qualities or characteristics. For example, instead of saying well done, say you do that well or even better say you did the report on time and with great attention to detail. Praise behaviours and qualities, not the person or their identity. Do it often, 4-5 positive pieces of feedback for every one negative.
Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen to understand rather than respond. Listen for what’s said and what’s not said. Sense mood and feelings. The term active listening is often used to refer to listening in an engaged manner. Look at the person who is talking (on videos this means looking at the camera lens, not the person’s face on the screen), lean forward, nod your head when you agree, don’t interrupt, take notes. This is also another way of making people feel important.
Ask questions. Be curious. Ask questions to understand things from the other person’s perspective. Stop yourself from making assumptions by asking questions. Ask open questions which require more than a yes/no answer. The best open questions start with WHAT and HOW. Avoid WHY as that has people justify what they said or did.
Find out their motivations and needs. This can be done by listening to what they talk about, by watching what they do and how they do it or by asking (which is the fastest). Common motivators at work are: money, power, autonomy, creativity, avoiding stress or risk, structure, group identification, not working alone, recognition or personal growth. Most people have a combination of some of these.
“Yes, and”. This is a comedy improvisation technique to find something in what the other person said that you can agree with and then name that and build on it. Even if you don’t agree with anything they say find something you can align with like their intention. For example, you can agree with someone who supports an opposing political party to you by aligning on the fact they want the best for the country.
Replace the word ‘BUT’ with ‘AND.’ IT will sound funny at first as we are used to using and hearing BUT a lot. Using BUT often eradicates everything that was said before it. For example, you did a great presentation, but you were confusing in the Q&A. What will people remember? The poor Q&A.
Admit when you are wrong or made a mistake. This builds trust with other people, makes it a safe place for them to fail as well and makes you human and relatable.
Say thank you and mean it. Say it slowly and clearly, not mumbling or as you are walking away. Look at them. Say their name.
How to Improve People Skills
The best way to improve any skill is to practice it. Which of the above ideas do you want to practice? Think of the situations or people with whom you want to practice. How are you going to remember to practice? We need reminders when we are trying something new as it’s so easy to fall into old habits and just do what you’ve always done. Set a reminder for yourself – it can be a post-it note on your computer, it can be a task entered into your calendar, it can be a picture posted on your office wall (of an ear for example if you want to listen more).
Books on People Skills
The right book on people skills for you depends on what your specific development area is around people skills – whether it’s your self-talk, how to have ‘difficult’ conversations, listening or talking. Here is a proven selection from the archives and more recently:
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Leader’s Guide to Influence by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent
Emotional Intelligence Quick Book: Everything You Need to Know to Put Your EQ to Work by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves
Soft Skills Hard Results by Anne Taylor (yes, me!)
What impact would better people skills have on your leadership?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your people skills and leadership development opportunities.