People Skills

Terry was interviewed for a book with Stephen Covey and Brian Tracy titled "Mission Possible". Terry's interview and subsequent chapter was focused on developing professional people skills and increasing your business communication expertise in order to increase your business and professional success. This chapter included discussion on the following topics - you may read the chapter below in its entirety or click on any of the following links that go directly to that topic:

 Perception is Reality

      Your job is not only to communicate properly, but it’s to make sure that what you are communicating is received and perceived the way that you meant it to be received and perceived.

      As an example, one time when the phone rang, I asked my wife of twenty-two years, Judy, in what I believe to be a very loving voice “please answer the phone.”  As I’m waiting for her very angelic voice to come back to me saying she’s going to pick up the phone, she snaps “quit yelling at me.”  Well, obviously she didn’t receive what I communicated to her the way that I meant it to be received and perceived.

As this example shows, it’s not just the words. It’s the facial expressions, the tone of voice, the body language, it’s all of these added to the words that make successful communication.  You can say “I am not upset” in a very calm voice or you can say “I am not upset!” in a very harsh tone and that phrase has a completely different meaning even though you used the same words. Therefore, in order to effectively communicate, you need to make sure whenever you communicate—whether it’s in verbal or written form—that what you say is received and perceived the way you meant it to be received and perceived.

      When you are speaking to someone in person they are going to see your facial expressions, your body language and posture, hear your tone of voice, and notice the speed and the volume of your voice; which is all in addition to the words you speak. It has been proven that there is a lot more communicated through these other non-verbal communication channels than through the actual words used.

      However, now that much of today’s communication is done through e-mail, where literally all that is communicated is the written word, I tell people to keep in mind that their e-mails are going to be perceived in the worst possible light.  Therefore, be very careful what you write in an email because your receiver is not going to get the tone of voice or your facial expression or anything else except your words.

      I suggest that whenever you have a critical topic or something that might have a chance of getting someone upset, it is much better to pick up the phone than to use an e-mail. On the phone you can add empathy and a lot more communication modes to soften your words than can be done through an e-mail. Of course, there are always emoticons ;-).

Why a very technical engineer realized that communication skills were important in the business world.

      Early on in my career when I was a hard driving engineering manager who was good with the calculator and the computer, but had no people skills, no empathy, and no communication skills, I came across a book by Dale Carnegie titled “How To Win Friends and Influence People.”  As I was reading this book, I came across a chapter on smiling and I remember reading that chapter which encouraged you to “just” smile, and it alone would increase your effectiveness in working with other people.

      Well, the next day I conducted a smiling test, so I walked around work all day with a smile on my face, and it amazed me the number of people that came up to me and said what’s different about you?  I was astounded that smiling made such a difference, and that so many people saw something totally different in me just because I smiled. This made me realize that if one small change like smiling could do so much to increase my effectiveness dealing and communicating with people, then I needed to look into what else I could learn that could increase my communication and people skills.

      Additionally, when I finished my MBA, I was contacted by two engineering firms that wanted me become a Vice President, where my main job would be to bring in additional engineering jobs to the firm.  In the engineering world there are design engineers that do the actual calculations and engineering design work, and there are sales engineers that actually bring in the work.

      I found that some of the design engineers often had a low opinion of the sales engineers.  However, when times got tough and there weren’t enough engineering jobs, the executives of the firm didn’t lay off the sales engineers first; instead they laid off the design engineers first.  This was because it doesn’t matter how good you are at engineering if there are no engineering jobs to do.  At that point, I realized that to move forward in my engineering career, I needed to work on my sales skills, which meant that I needed to work on my communication skills.  This brought me to the realization that in the world that of business—in whatever industry you are in—if someone doesn’t bring in the business, you don’t have a business, or at least you won’t have one for long.

Lack of communication skills can set you back in your career.

    Early in my engineering career, I had just completed my MBA, I had experience in public speaking and marketing, as well as several different types of engineering through a company rotation program.  I was pleased with my wide diversity of engineering and business skills.

      A new position became available and I was on the list to be interviewed. It was a marketing job within the engineering department, and I was very excited because I was the only person up for that promotion that had the type of experience I felt the position required.  However, they hired the wrong person; at least in my opinion they hired the wrong person.  They hired a gentleman who had experience in only one engineering area, and it was one of the most technical engineering jobs in that company. He didn’t have the diversity of skills that I had. At the time I wondered why they promoted him and not me.

      What I realized later was that the two individuals performing the interviews were very, very analytical.  They were the kind of people that only spoke when it was necessary, and they were very quiet and reserved.  I on the other hand was not quiet or reserved.  Not only had I learned to smile, but after I finished my MBA, I had done a lot of public speaking, and was a very verbal and aggressive person.

      Unfortunately, at this time I still had not learned much about people skills, and as a result I did not adapt to their personality styles.  I did not relate to them and therefore I did not get the promotion.   At the time I did not know that I needed to relate to them, I just came in communicating. I didn’t know to make sure that what I was communicating was being received or perceived the way I wanted it to be.  On the other hand, the gentleman that got hired was very much like the two individuals that interviewed us. There is an old saying “people hire people that they like” which translates to “people hire people that are most like them. “ And that is when I realized that I needed to learn more about people skills, more about personality styles, and basically I needed to learn how to communicate better so that I could relate to personality styles that were not just like mine.

 People like to work with and buy from people most like them.

      If you look at your typical High school you will find many cliques of people who have gravitated to form groups of others most like them; for example there are the jocks, the plastics, the swimmers, the band, the choir, the chess club, the nerds, the social elite, the partiers etc.    This is true in high school and life in general; you’ll always gravitate to the people who are most like you (if given the choice) because they make you feel most comfortable.  This shows why people like to work with friends, and buy from friends, and be in business with friends. 

      This became very clear to me one day when I was down in Fort Lauderdale , Florida in a very nice restaurant in an upscale hotel right on the beach.  There were four people sitting about ten feet away from me and they were talking rather loudly. One was the owner of a yacht company, and one was probably his business manager, and then there were two sales people, and I remember the owner specifically saying something along the lines of “I want to work with Dave because I like him.”  It did not matter to this owner if there were people out there in Dave’s profession that were better than Dave because the owner liked Dave.  And I would bet that Dave was a lot like this owner in personality style, or at least he was able to “act” like his personality style was the same as the owner—a concept called mirroring.

The different ways that a person can make another person feel comfortable, most like them, develop rapport, build trust, and essentially become a friend.

         The most important thing is to understand different personality styles.  This means that you must first understand that you have a particular personality style, and that other people have different personality styles than you.  Then you must relate to those other personality styles by using what I call mirroring.  You must also listen and understand the other person, have empathy for them, try to understand their point of view, learn about them, and make them feel better about themselves when you are with them.  These are a few of the top areas that will help you develop rapport, build trust, and essentially become a friend with the people that you want to do business with.

Why it so important to understand different personality styles.

      Well there’s basically four different types of social or personality styles, and yes there could be many more, but I’m going to consolidate them into four basic types of personality styles; the driver, the expressive, the analytical and the amiable.

      A driver is a person who is very high energy, has a high information need, and has a low relationship need, which means they don’t have a lot of need for strong personal relationships.  They tend to be very forceful and sometimes make people feel uncomfortable because they are so strong and in their face.        Then there’s the expressive personality who has high energy and a high relationship need.  They like to be around people, they like to have fun, and they develop a lot of friendships.  However, they have a low information need, which means they don’t care about the details like a driver does.

      Then there’s what I call the analytical.  The analytical is low energy, has a low relationship need, but has a high information need.  They like the details; they are what you think a typical engineer would be like.

      Then there’s the amiable who is low energy, has a low information need, but they also have a high relationship need.  They like to help people, encourage people, and it is very important to for them to be liked by people.  They are also typically the support person in a relationship. 

      To show you the importance of matching these personality styles, let’s put two of the most diverse ones together.  Let’s say you take a driver and put him together with an amiable who is 100% opposite.  The driver is a high energy person, and the amiable is a low energy person.  The driver has a low relationship need; and the amiable has a high relationship need.  The driver has a high information need; and the amiable has a low information need.  Now if you put these two very different people together in a conversation and neither one of them is trying to relate to the other person’s personality style;  the driver is going to think that the amiable is a wimp, and why doesn’t he get a little backbone and boost his energy level?  While the amiable is going to think the driver is jerk, that he should back off and get out of his face, and that he should mellow out.

      Now let’s take the two other opposite personality styles, the expressive and analytical, and put them in a conversation where neither of them is trying to relate to the other person’s personality style.  You got the expressive who is a high energy person, and the analytical who is a low energy person.  The expressive has a high relationship need, likes to be around people; and the analytical has a low relationship need, doesn’t like to be around people in general.  The expressive has a low information need; and they are not into the details, while the analytical has a high information needs and wants all the details.  When you put these two people together in a conversation where neither one is trying to relate to the other person, the expressive is going to think the analytical should wake up, because he is way too low key; he is going to think that the analytical should not worry about the details, instead he should have more fun. On the other hand, the analytical is going to think that the expressive should calm down and take way more interest in the details.  He is going to tell the expressive that life in not a party and that he needs to take it more seriously.

      From these examples you can see that if you only relate to other people with your personality style and you don’t try to relate to people with the three other personality styles, you are not going to not be near as effective in communicating with other people.  Because in general, in the business world 25% of the people are drivers, 25% are expressives, 25% are analyticals, and 25% are amiables.  Therefore if you decide that you are only going to apply your own personality style in your dealings with other people, then you are basically not going to relate to and not have effective communication with 75% of the people you meet in business.

      However, if you want to relate to and have effective communication with the other 75% of the people you do business with, then the most important thing you can do to increase the effectiveness of your communications with other people is to become what I call a chameleon; which is a type of lizard that changes its color in order to adapt to its environment.   Well, in the same way, you want to become a chameleon, and be that kind of person that learns to adapt and relate to personality styles that are different from your own.  This will give you a major advantage in the business world.

What is mirroring and why is it so important.

     There are several different ways to mirror someone, but basically mirroring is when communicating or talking to someone you try to act like them.  This is another way of getting them to feel more comfortable about being around you.       For instance, in the area of talking, there is how fast or slow you talk and there is how loud or soft you talk.  For instance, you are talking to a very slow and soft talker, and you are a very fast and loud talker.  If you don’t mirror the way they talk, they are going to feel uncomfortable with your loud and fast talking, and as a result, you are not going to relate to that person as well as if you did mirror their talking.  Then because they feel less comfortable in talking with you, your effectiveness with them decreases.  In the same way, if you are very slow and soft talking person, and you are talking to a fast and loud talking person; then they are going to wish you had a little more energy and spoke louder and faster.  As a result you and the other person will not relate well to each other. 

      Therefore, if you are a loud and fast talker and you are talking with someone who is a soft and slow speaking person, you might want to lower both your speed and your volume so you can relate more to them.  Conversely, if you are a slow and soft talker that is speaking with a loud and fast talker, then you might want to increase both your speed and volume of your talking.

      The second area of mirroring I would like to cover is body posture.  For instance, do you stand straight up or do you slouch?  Some people stand very rigid, and some people slouch when they stand.  If you are talking with someone who is slouching and you normally stand rigid, then relax your body posture a little.  On the other hand, if you are talking to someone who is standing very rigid and you are slouching, then you might want to stand straighter.  By mirroring the body posture of the person you are talking to, you make them feel more comfortable with you.

      When you are sitting at a table with someone and they lean forward as they are talking, but you are leaning back; then you will want to lean forward other wise they might think that you don’t want to be near them.  On the other hand, if the person you are talking to is leaning back and you are leaning forward towards them, they are going to feel uncomfortable and think that you are crowding their space.  I teach people that if the person they are talking to leans back, then you lean back, however, if they lean forward, then you lean forward.  It sounds kind of mechanical, but it’s amazing how it makes such a big difference in the communication process because they feel more comfortable being around you because they feel you are more like them. 

         Another aspect to consider is eye contact.  Do you look directly into the eyes of the person you are talking to, or do you look away?  Some people look directly right into your eyes and some people look away, and if you are with someone who looks away and you look directly in their eyes then they are going to be uncomfortable.  Additionally, in the same way, if you are with someone who has very direct eye contact, and you keep looking away from their eyes they are not going to trust you.

         Physical contact and proximity is something else to consider.  Some people don’t mind a pat on the back, a hand shake, or an arm around their shoulder; but some people do not want you to touch them at all.  Therefore, you need to understand the physical closeness requirement of people. There’s also each person’s personal bubble, is it large or small?  There are some people who when they are talking they stand right in your face, these people have a very small personal bubble.  However, some people have a very large personal bubble and put a lot of space around them, and these people feel very uncomfortable if you stand too close to them. 

         You must determine how big someone’s personal bubble is so you don’t intrude into their space which will make them feel uncomfortable, and therefore hamper effective communication.  On the other hand, if they have a small bubble and want to come close to you, then let them come closer because that’s the way they will feel most comfortable. 

      Another mirroring area is to determine if they are information people or relationship people?  Do they want just information from you or are they relationship oriented and want to also develop a friendship with you?  If they just want information and you can tell they are closed to building a friendship, just give them the information and don’t try and push the friendship too far, or you may make them feel uncomfortable. 

      Additionally, you want to determine if they are a high energy or low energy person.  If they are a high energy person and you are a low energy person, then increase your energy level to match theirs.  However, if they are a low energy person and you are a high energy person, then lower your energy to match theirs.  Changing your relationship/information needs and energy level to match the person you are talking to will make them feel more comfortable and lead to more effective communication.

Why is listening so important?

      Has someone ever asked you if you could sit down and talk with them regarding some troublesome issue in their life, and you sit down with them for an hour and they do all the talking, you don’t say a word, but at the end of the hour they say that was the best talk they have ever had, and they really appreciated your time.  Now you didn’t do any of the talking, but you did listen, and listening does a couple of things.  First, it increases rapport with people, because if you listen to people, they feel you care about them.  Secondly when you are listening, you are learning, but when you are talking you are not learning anything.  When you listen you are leaning about what the person’s needs, wants, desires, and requirements are.  Therefore to increase the effectiveness of your listening you want to use what I call “active listening”.  When your applying active listening you are making sure that the person you are talking to knows that you are truly listening to them and understanding what they are saying and meaning. You do this by keeping eye contact, by saying “uh huh”, “really”, or “yes I understand that”, or something similar which lets them know you are really listening.  When they finish talking or you think they’ve finished talking to you, make sure they finish their complete thought before you jump in.  Additionally, you should ask them a clarification question about what they just said, which truly proves that you were listening, and it makes sure that you understood them correctly. 

      Also, don’t ever cut someone off when they are talking before they finish their complete thought, because if you do, they are going to think you don’t care about them and that you weren’t listening.  I am sure that many times you have been listening to someone, and you know what they are going to say next, so you jump right into the conversation, cut them off and complete their thought for them; sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly.  But, whether you did complete their thought correctly or incorrectly, it’s amazing how fast cutting someone off shuts them down and ends the conversation on a negative note.  Therefore, when you are talking to someone, first make sure they complete their thoughts before you go into what you are talking about, and in most cases before you start talking, you will want to ask a clarifying question so they really know that you were listening.

      Also, to enhance your conversation and connectedness with the person you are talking to, it is very important to understand their situation, their challenges, their problems, and to be empathetic.  Basically it’s letting people know you understand where they are coming from and you care enough to listen.  Moreover, talk about them, and use their name several times because everyone likes to hear their name and be the topic of conversation.  These techniques will greatly increase your rapport and help you become a more successful communicator. 

Learn about the person you are communicating with.

      You want to learn about the person you are communicating with so you can understand where they are coming from and so you can better meet their needs in doing business with them.  It is always good to learn about their business, their family, their hobbies, their interests, where are they from, what their goals and aspirations are, and what you can do to help them become more successful, if possible?  Be genuinely interested in them, show them that you care.  Like I stated earlier, this builds rapport and builds a strong relationship with them, but it also gives you the information you need so you can become a trusted advisor.  When you become a trusted advisor rather than another vendor or associate, they are not only working with you in order to conduct business, but they trust you and believe in you.  Additionally, because you are a trusted advisor your client knows you are there to help them succeed; and that’s the strongest, most long-term business relationship you can attain.

When it is appropriate to talk about yourself and to what extent.

      There is an old saying that you have probably heard many times before; “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.  It is very important to know when it is appropriate for you to talk about yourself; and this is usually when they ask to know more about you;  most of the time this happens after they’ve already told you about themselves and they expect you to open up a little about yourself.  If you share about yourself at this time their trust in you will increase.  However, for this to work correctly you must first learn about them and wait for them to be intrigued about you.  Then once they are intrigued about you, then it is appropriate to share more about yourself.  However, always remember most people only care about themselves and not about you; so share about yourself sparingly.  But, when both you and the person you are communicating with have both shared information about yourselves with each other, then trust and additional rapport is built between both of you. 

Be where they are at!

      You should always start a conversation (whenever possible) by using examples within your conversation that relate to things in the other person’s life.  You should work to find common ground and common interests between the two of you.  To do this use examples from their industry, and what you have learned about their hobbies, about their families.  Use analogies in business that you know have to do with their particular type of industry as you explain things.  Be interested in what they are interested in, and if you have actual examples of areas where you have commonalities, such as I have four kids and they have three kids, I’ve been a soccer coach and a baseball coach and they’ve been a soccer coach and a baseball coach, then bring up these examples in your conversation.  Additionally, if they went to the same college as you did, or they have the same type of background as you do, or you have gone on the same vacations as they have; also share these commonalities.  By bringing up these commonalties you can relate to them directly because you have had the same or similar experiences as they have.

      I remember I was talking with a doctor “on business” who lived in Pasadena , California .   Well it turned out that I’d gotten married just a couple of miles south of her home on the same street as she lived on, and I had the reception for my wedding just a couple of blocks from her home at a small estate that was adjacent to a house that was used for a popular TV show several years ago.  Well this doctor got really excited because we had so many things in common.  So we spent a few minutes just talking about our commonalties, and afterwards it was very easy to do business with her because of the common ground we had between us. 

Always keep asking yourself the question “am I connecting”.

If you are sitting down with someone going through a sales presentation and you can see that your prospects eyes are wandering, and you can tell they are not tracking with you, then you are not connecting.  Unfortunately many people, when they are not connecting with their audience in a presentation, keep moving in the same direction even after they have lost their audience’s attention.  The point here is, if you are not connecting with someone when you are communicating with them, you are not going to be successful in that business transaction because your communication was not effective with that person.  You have to do something that brings their mind them back to you, bring their eyes back to you, and gets their interest back on what you are talking about.  Therefore, remember when you are working with someone and there is any communication involved, if you are not connecting with them, stop doing what you are doing and try something else in order to get them reconnected with you.

Make people feel better about themselves when they are communicating with you?

      I’ll give you two examples, I had a gentleman that I knew back in high school who I used to work out with and do a lot of road racing (touring) on bicycles with.  He was also the guy who used to use me as the brunt of his jokes, put me down, used sarcasm, used to punch me in the arm a lot, and he just used to make me feel very small.  Now, I don’t know why I hung around this guy, but I did for quite a while, and I remember as I grew older and got away from him I couldn’t stand to think about him, much less be around him; because whenever I was around him or even thought about him, I felt worse about myself.

      In life you will find that there are people you don’t want to be around and people who repel you.  Usually those are the same people that make you feel worse about yourself because they bring you down and get you depressed.  People don’t want to be around people like that, instead they want to be around people that make them feel good about themselves, that encourage them, and that are positive, happy, and fun.  You find yourself attracted to these types of people because they make you feel better about yourself.

      On there other hand, there was a gentleman named Michael that I knew back when I was in my first year in college. This was a year in which I did not do well scholastically.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get the hang of college.  So the summer between my freshman and sophomore year I worked on the grave yard shift at a grocery store where I was stocking shelves all night long with Michael.  At the time Michael was working on his Masters degree in microbiology and every night I would want to be around him when I was stocking shelves because he made me feel better about myself.

      During that summer I was intrigued with what he shared about what he was learning and about learning in general; and most importantly, he encouraged me that college could be fun, interesting, and that I could do well at it.

      As a result of the summer talking with Michael, when I went back to college in the fall I got serious about studying and actually got straight A’s for my last three years in all of my major classes.  I believe this happened to a large degree because Michael encouraged me and got me to believe that I could do well in college if I worked hard at it.  As a result, to this day, if I could be around Michael I would because he made me feel better about myself and got me to believe that I could do much more than I thought I could.  The moral of this story is people like to be around people that make them feel better about themselves, and in the world of business communication, if people like to be around you, you will do better in business.

      Additionally, here are some practical ways to make people feel better about themselves.  When you are talking to someone compliment them when appropriate, don’t be gushy, but find areas that you can truly and genuinely compliment them about something they have done or are doing.  Also, never use sarcasm or tell jokes at the other person’s expense because even though they may laugh at your joke, sarcasm and jokes about other people leaves a bitter after taste and leaves the person you are communicating with feeling worse about them selves.  Your jokes about them and your sarcasm may seem funny at the time, but they are not good for the communication process.

      Be a fun and happy person to be around.  People enjoy working and being around other people that are happy and fun to be with.  When you call someone and they hear your voice on the phone, you want them to be happy to hear from you.  Therefore, always (in person or on the phone) make sure your voice is upbeat, excited, and happy; because this will make other people want to be around you.  Moreover, be their biggest cheerleader; encourage them, tell them what a great job they did wherever appropriate.  Let them know that you are there to help them succeed in life.  Make sure they see you as a supporter and a giver and not a taker.  They work all day with uninspired and unenergetic people that make them feel worse about themselves, therefore make sure they feel your positive energy when they talk with you and that whenever they spend time with you they feel better about themselves.

A great story that will emphasize the importance of effective communications.

      I remember hearing a story years ago about this gentleman who worked for a company that really liked him, and he did a good job for them, and as a result he was very secure in his job.  Then one day he had a tooth ache and he went to his manager and asked if he could take a long lunch and go to the dentist to get his tooth fixed.  The manager approved it, so during his lunch break he drove to the dentist office and found that the parking lot was full and that the spaces in front of the dentist office on the street were also filled; therefore the only place where he could park was in some empty parking spaces that were in front of the apartment building next to the dentist office.  After he parked his car he started walking towards the dentist office.  Then while he was walking in front of the apartment building one of his co-workers happened to be driving by and stopped his car and yelled out jokingly “going to see your girlfriend?”  Well this employee took it as joke and in the same joking manner he yelled back “oh yea, right, sure” and kept on walking towards the dentist office.

      The next week he was laid off from work, without any reason, and he was very surprised because everything seemed to be going so well with the company.  Several years later he bumped into his former boss from that company, they had a good talk, but at the end of the talk he asked his former boss “why did you guys let me go when everything seemed to be going so well with the job?”  His former boss then told him it was because of the day that he asked to go to the dentist at lunch break, but instead he went to see his girlfriend.  Do you think going to see his girlfriend was what he meant to communicate to his co-worker when he was walking to the dentist office in front of that apartment building?  Not at all, but that was what was communicated.  He did not make sure that what he communicated was received and perceived the way he meant it to be by the receiver, and as a result he lost a good job.