Five Techniques to Make you a Better People Person
Commit your efforts to serving others and improve your relational skills, your workplace, and your chance of being promoted.
Consider the leaders who have been most impactful to your career. Are they approachable, aloof or disengaged? Are you confident in what they expect of you or do you find it difficult to know where you stand with them?
I’ve spent 25 years in progressively responsible roles in management and leadership, including more than seven as a local church pastor. I’m convinced the most impactful leaders in organizations are the ones gifted in forming meaningful relationships. Successful leaders are relational and have a quality that endears them to other people. Beyond their technical competence and operational skills, they seem to have a knack for easy conversation, being approachable and being liked. It is evident they are mindful of their encounters with others and deliberate in their approach. So, what can we learn from these relational leaders? Here are five servant-minded techniques that can improve your relational skills, your workplace and your chance of being promoted.
1. Shift Your Focus from Technical Skills to People
Simply put, if you want to be elevated, elevate others. Successful leaders I know consistently credit their promotion within an organization to other people. These leaders were not motivated by a possible promotion but tended to have a natural bent toward relating to people. As they advanced higher in organizations, they became more reliant on others and relational skills became increasingly important. Most demonstrated high competence in their roles but expressed becoming less reliant on those skills as they advanced in leadership. The overriding sentiment among successful leaders was that promotion was tied to their increasing ability to handle people matters. Their suggestion: spend as much time as possible developing people skills and start by mindfully putting the needs of others ahead of self-interests.
Try this: Work to identify the needs of others in your organization and focus on meeting them without considering if others have something to offer you in return. Try asking, “What can I help you with today?” or “Is there anything I can do to make this easier?” Prioritize being available and present in the moments of other’s lives.
2. Form Relationships Throughout your Entire Organization
Candidates for promotion are considered viable candidates long before an official job opening or promotional opportunity exists. Often managers will keep a mental catalogue of existing staff they see as viable successors, ones who can assume greater responsibility when the time comes. These prospects are thought of positively not only for their competence and technical skills but also based on their soft skills and ability to form positive and collaborative relationships within the organization.
Try this: Over the next three days, focus on being approachable, polite and respectful to everyone you encounter, not considering their level or position. Be intentional and work to form relationships based on common interests. As you feel more comfortable, strive to make this a regular practice.
3. Embrace Tough Conversations
As Todd Hunter wrote in his book, Our Character at Work, “we cannot be servant leaders if we are afraid of people.” As a young pastor, I avoided a tough conversation with a church elder that, if addressed, could have prevented significant financial loss to our church. I am now convinced that avoiding tough conversations is not leading or serving. As a local government manager, I have encountered employees who develop negative opinions about others in the workplace largely because the two parties at some point had a disagreement or misunderstanding and chose to avoid each other. It is impossible for people to come together and agree to anything if they avoid communicating with each other.
Try this: As you find yourself dealing with the prospect of a difficult interaction, decide to break the silence. Press through fear and anxiety and refuse the urge to avoid discussing the issue. Create safe space with the other party by sharing, clarifying and restating your intentions. Focus on finding common ground wherever possible and seeking a mutually beneficial outcome.
4. Share the Authentic You
In general, people are more willing to engage with others when there is a sense of realness and truth to the relationship. Your willingness to humbly share failures, weaknesses, hopes and fears can be the catalyst for forming trusting relationships. Of course, with any relationship, there is always risk of disappointment or hurt. In the workplace, there is also a need to maintain appropriate boundaries. In most cases, the risk of hurt is outweighed by the benefit of forming trust by being authentic. Trust leads to meaningful engagement and better working relationships.
Try this: Seek opportunities to be thoughtful and genuine in praise and criticism. Push your comfort level appropriately based on the setting and circumstances. Find relatable moments to appropriately share with others in the workplace while being careful to not place yourself unduly in a position of regret by oversharing.
5. Practice to Improve People Skills
As with most things, we get better at what we practice. Developing people skills is no different. To become better at relating with people, place yourself in a position to interact with people. I started to practice this years ago, using everyday encounters to hone skills to better relate to people. My wife now expects that I will speak to strangers, start conversations in the grocery store and inquire with workers at businesses about a host of matters that on the surface might seem like unnecessary conversation. My motivation is to understand people and better relate to them. These brief encounters are invaluable in developing soft skills that are transferable to the workplace. Taking time to practice can also help you identify what works and what doesn’t and help you adapt your approach based on the responses you receive.
Try this: To start, keep it simple. Commit to saying hello to one stranger each day for a week. I know you might say, “Whoa, wait a minute. Is this safe?” As with anything, use your best judgement and approach every encounter with safety in mind. When you feel comfortable with the “Hello” step, find someone to start a conversation with. An easy method is to identify something you have in common on the surface, perhaps a common sports team based on something they are wearing. Allow the conversation to flow naturally and don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable in the beginning.
At the heart of being a good people person is a strong belief that people matter. Improving relationships requires an investment in others and a willingness to serve. Servant leaders are mindful of relationships and they seek to build relationships through meaningful interactions. They seek to serve those in their organizations and they recognize that the higher they advance within an organization, the more important their soft skills become. In fact, successful leaders developed relational skills because of their desire to improve the lives of others.
Malcolm A. Hankins is a public servant, non-profit chair and keynote speaker. His focus is on ministry, leadership effectiveness, employee relations and community engagement.