Practical tips for you and your fellow employees

May 12, 2005
Russ Kratowicz has searched the Web so you don't have to and he's found numerous resources that'll help your fellow employees.

Techno-geeks and their cousins, suave and debonair engineers, tend to prefer a predictable, deterministic world in which action A always leads to response B, input C always turns into output D. That’s one of the benefits of having the skills needed to interpret and control Mother Nature. Yes, we might have intimate knowledge of how the hardware and software functions, but it’s equally important to understand the workings of that “wetware” residing just above everyone’s shoulders. Come along, join me for another dive into the morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free Web resources designed to help you turn your colleagues into better human beings. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

All sorts of advice
Research for this column turned up a resource with plenty of relevant advice for use in the business arena courtesy of Doug Staneart from The Leaders Institute in Fort Worth, Texas. Staneart’s Web site, www.leadersinstitute.com/resource/, has tips for successful presentations, meetings, solving problems and enhancing the creativity your subordinates should be exhibiting. The links to these resources are on the left side of the page.

Practical tips
The trouble with many Web sites that offer tips about improving people skills is what might normally be considered good advice is buried under a big load of incomprehensible psychobabble. Engineers don’t work that way. So, it was a pleasure to stumble upon “Build your people skills” by Garrett Coan, the director of the Centre for Creative Counseling in Tenafly, N.J., who came up with plain and simple tips you can use every day. His article lists six broad guidelines to help with people skills, but he doesn’t stop there. For each guideline, he details specific things to do when interacting with your colleagues and family. These simple measures are presented in short, jargon-free declarative sentences that even an editor can comprehend. Use your mouse skills to engage http://ezinearticles.com/?Build-Your-People-Skills&id=9420 for something worth reading.

Eleven factors
When he worked at a previous job, Jack D. Deal, from Deal Consulting in Santa Cruz, Calif., noticed that social workers and counselors with innately good people skills were able to form a solid impression of someone’s personality after spending only a few minutes talking to them. Thinking this was an important ability that he should try to develop in himself, Deal started watching people more closely in his travels. His objective was to try to read a person without talking to him, basing his opinion strictly on mannerisms and other outward indicators. Not being one to hide his hard-won research, Deal posted “People Skills” at www.dealconsulting.com/personaldev/people.html. This article lists the 11 traits shared by people who are blessed with a lot of people skills.

Too explicit
Here we are at magazine central, trying to identify provocative Web material that contributes to the enhancement of your people skills. Then, we uncover an article that claims to tell you, dear reader, how to do that without having to expend any effort. It’s downright un-American, I tell you. But, I digress. If you point mousie due north to Montreal-based www.askmen.com/money/career/28_career.html, as soon as it crosses the border, it’ll stumble upon “10 Ways to Improve Your People Skills” by Armando Gomez, an article on the Web site owned by AskMen.com Solutions Canada. Describing the piece for you would take all the fun out of it.

Shed the angries
Doo-doo happens -- things go wrong, people make mistakes and unexpected outcomes occur, sometimes with alarming regularity. The occurrence of such soul-trying events is when good people skills are most in need of being displayed. That assumes, of course, that you can get past the initial blast of anger that’s hardwired into your human nature. No doubt, you’ve seen some of the displays of anger that Joan Lloyd so graphically details through vignettes in her article, “Managers must manage stress and anger,” posted at www.work911.com/cgi-bin/links/jump.cgi?ID=2457. If anyone you know shows reactions as scary as these, they should learn a bit about anger management. A good place to start is with the Public Affairs Office of the American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C., which posts “Controlling Anger -- Before It Controls You” at www.apa.org/pubinfo/anger.html.

When confronted with angry outbursts, a rational person would do well to simply walk away and keep out-of-control people out of range. After all, who needs another headache, especially when it rightfully belongs to someone else? Such escape is more problematic if the angry person is a supervisor or coworker. In that case, the rational person heeds the advice about responding that is found in “Coping with Your Coworkers or Boss,” an article from The Anger Institute, posted at www.angermgmt.com/angertoolkit.html.

The rationale
People with technical education and jobs to match tend to be highly adept at the hard skills of computation, analysis and exploiting the immutable laws that Mother Nature established to keep our world reasonably predictable, if not interesting. Dealing in the realm of objectivity in isolation every day, these people can produce some amazing insights and technical advances. But, that lone-wolf style of earning one’s daily bread is perhaps not the best way to operate these days. Peter Murphy, a motivational consultant in Malaga, Spain, argues this line in his article “12 Reasons Why You Should Never Neglect People Skills.” Murphy doesn’t offer the loner any corrective measures. He just makes the case that it’s in your best interest to follow up on your own after you howl in the general direction of www.frugalmarketing.com/dtb/people-skills.shtml.

Play nice
There’s a limit to what a lone wolf can accomplish in industry. Business as we know it and the higher standard of living we enjoy is something a true lone wolf will never experience. Our advantage derives from effective social interactions in the business arena. Effective implies two-way politeness and other indicators that suggest the participants might be well socialized. The trouble with this idealized state of affairs is in the asymmetric power balance that exists between supervisor and worker. With that said, I guess the next Web citation is aimed at ensuring that supervisors are conscious of the subtleties of how they interact with the grunts and working stiffs that populate the office and plant floor. “Ten people skills for increased productivity,” by Dan Bobinski from Leadership Development Inc., is a list of behavior patterns that should be common sense, but we know how common that commodity really is in the business world. So, chill out and visit www.management-issues.com/display_page.asp?section=bobinski&id=1627.

Being persuasive
We hear business jargon about keeping everyone rowing in the same direction, as if that’s a universally difficult objective. It might be common, but it’s certainly not universal. Consider the origin of the phrase. The coxswain’s function is to steer the scull and provide the cadence that keeps everyone in unison. There’s no persuasion involved in that job because the crew agrees on the objective. The situation is different when you’ve got to change someone’s mind before she starts rowing properly.

As I paddled through the digital morass, an interesting Web site flying the banner of Syque, a knowledge-sharing company in Crowthorne, England, appeared dimly in the fog. David Straker, the company’s principal consultant, developed http://changingminds.org, a link-rich environment dedicated to exploring the many ways we change one another's minds. In its 1,600 pages, the site reveals the disciplines, techniques, principles, explanations and theories involved in getting your crew aligned properly. For example, consider this content sample. Follow the “techniques” link to “body language,” which is the method by which Straker claims 55% of our communication occurs. The links you find there tell you more about the topic than you ever wanted to know. The other topics are just as densely packed.

The language of movement
Having great people skills is much more than simply presenting an attractive front from atop a marble pedestal. You can’t simply proclaim that you have good people skills. If others don’t tell you that you’ve got them, you don’t have them. You’re merely tolerable to have around. The only way to prove you have those skills is by getting down in the muck to interact with people effectively. Successful interactions rely on body language, yours as well as that of the person facing you. Sales professionals, for example, are obsessed with the idea of body language and its related psychology in their efforts to get someone to sign on the proverbial dotted line. They’ve raised the study of how a prospect moves to a high art. You might want to prove your skill at discerning the significance of a particular pose by taking the test you’ll find at www.johnboe.com/people_skills_quiz.html, a site owned by John Boe, a motivational speaker from Monterey, Calif.

Your body speaks
Did you ever wonder about the significance of eye contact, smiles and speaking rapidly? People in sales positions would argue that body language is the closest thing we have to infallible insight into the thoughts of the customer or prospect sitting across the table. Unfortunately, it’s a view that ignores Occam’s razor. Real life simply might not be as complicated as some would have us believe. At least, that’s what Nick Morgan discusses in his article, “When Body Language Lies,” which is found in [i]HBS Working Knowledge,[i] a compendium of business-related resources from Harvard Business School. In it, Morgan offers some garden-variety reasons why he thinks body language might not live up to the claims of its proponents. You’ll need to decide for yourself. Send your mouse to scale the Ivory Tower it will find at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/pubitem.jhtml?id=3123&t=organizations to retrieve this contrarian viewpoint.

Pop quiz
Evaluating someone’s people skills can be such a subjective endeavor. We need some sort of reality check before we begin. After all, if you’re going to improve your people skills, you probably should get a baseline reading. One way you can do that is with the “People Skills Index” by OfficeTeam, a specialized temporary staffing service in Menlo Park, Calif., for administrative professionals. Click your way over to www.officeteam.com/html/downloads/ootf_quiz.pdf for a set of 15 multiple-choice questions and get started with your skill development. The answer key at the end reveals the degree to which your people skills are aligned with whatever is considered normal.

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