People skills are simply how you communicate with people, whether they be friends, family, work colleagues, clients etc. Before we move on to explaining the different areas of people skills, let us remind you of one point: they are vital for long-term success and happiness in both personal, career and business life. It is usually those people who have excellent communication skills who have more fulfilling relationships and rise to the top of their chosen fields.
For many people, communication is a “natural” process, which shouldn’t be difficult. However, the truth is that we unconsciously model our communicating style on different people as we grow up, and unless those people were excellent communicators, we can usually improve on our communicating behaviour. Communication can easily lead to misunderstanding. Two people can go away from a conversation with different ideas about what was said (or meant) or people can get into conflict without realising how it happened.
So what are the different aspects of dealing with people?
Firstly, there is a big difference between simply talking and communicating. Often, those who talk just want to download their thoughts or feelings with little regard as to whether they are being understood. We probably all know those people who 'talk at us' and don't seem to listen to what we have to say. How does that make you feel around that person? Probably not very good and perhaps a little frustrated right? Good communicators take responsibility to understand others and to be understood themselves.
That brings us onto our next area - appropriateness of communication. They way you communicate with a child, we be different to the way you speak with a partner and the way you communicate with a friend will be different to the way you speak with a manager. This really comes down to being aware of the situation and the context of your exchange with the person. Good communicators are very aware of the situation and modify their behaviour and communication style accordingly.
Next area is the use of words. Words can conjure up different images and can mean different things to different people. For example, the word 'sales' can mean pushy and aggressive selling tactics to one person. To another person it might simply mean purchasing something, which they need or want. To yet another person it might mean products and/or services at special discounts. Having a good vocabulary is one thing, but using the right words in the right situations with people is another. Talking slang to your mates down the pub is OK, but talking like that to a potential business client isn't.
Next area of communication is body language. There is far more to communication than simply the words we use. According to Allan Pease in his book 'Questions Are The Answers' the impact your message has on listeners is as follows:
Words: 7 - 10% of total impact
Vocal: 20 - 30% of total impact
Body language: 60 - 80% of total impact
This may or may not surprise you, but most communication is body language. The way someone moves, sits, gestures, the movement of their facial features. And whether you're aware of it or not, you are constantly picking up these unconscious signals and giving out unconscious signals every time you communicate with someone. Tell someone you think they're great through gritted teeth and you will know the power of body language!
Next important people skill is questioning and listening. How on earth can you understand where someone is coming from and where they want to go (metaphorically as well as literally) unless you ask them good questions and carefully listen to what they tell you - both verbally and non-verbally? Asking good questions is usually as simple as caring enough about what the other person wants. Good listening is down to concentrating on what the other person is really saying, rather than what you want or thinking of what you want to say next. Good questioning and listening skills will do more than almost anything else to getting people to like being around you and if it's in a business context, to do business with you.
The next area of people skills is assertiveness or, the right use of assertiveness. We probably all know those people who are 'really nice' but they tend to try and please everybody and struggle saying "no" perhaps for fear of letting people down - constantly needing other people's approval. These people often complain of being 'walked over' or taken advantage of by others. While being concerned for and wanting to help others is a positive quality, being assertive is also important. It's being assertive but not aggressive or rude that is the skill.
The final people skill we shall look at is giving and receiving criticism or praise. The vast majority of people will work hard to avoid criticism and sometimes harder to receive praise. This is the pain and pleasure principle - people like to the seek pleasure of praise and endeavour to avoid the pain of criticism, especially if the praise or criticism is in front of peers. It's often those teams or organisations who use praise and criticism skillfully (or fear of) that get the most out of their people. According to Dale Carnegie in his book 'Hoe To Win Friends & Influence People' the things people want the most include:
1. Health and the preservation of life
4. Money and the things money will buy
5. Life in the hereafter
6. Sexual gratification
7. The well being of offspring
8. A feeling of importance
Almost all these wants are usually gratified - all except one. The longing that is almost as deep and imperious as the need for food or sleep. Psychologist Sigmund Freud called it 'the desire to be great'. Philosopher and psychologist John Dewey called it 'the desire to be important'. If you can make people feel special, great or important you will have them on your side for a long time. Most great works of literature, science or art have sprung from the desire to be great.
Paul Flintoft is the marketing executive for the www.self-improvement-centre.co.uk (Self Improvement Centre), who provide business and personal development resources to help small and growing businesses start, manage and expand their business. The site contains books, audio programmes, library services, articles, coaching, free downloads and access to hundreds of useful resources. Paul is also one of the top distributors for UK based network marketing company www.kleeneze-information.co.uk (Kleeneze).