“Strong people skills” shows up on almost every list of the most in-demand skills in today’s workplace, a trend reflected among LAC’s clients as well, confirms Brad Rogers, LibGig Director of Recruiting. “The days of being skilled but socially inept are way behind us,” he pointed out recently. “Almost all of us have relationships that could benefit from improving our people skills, but in our business, it’s a need-to-have rather than a nice-to-have strength.”
How do you know if you have strong people skills? That can be a bit of a challenge, especially given how many different definitions there are of what constitutes these great attributes. But the simplest way to frame your people skills might be to think about how easily you get along with all types of people.
The answer to that question indicates all sorts of things in terms of your potential as an employee, colleague, team member, manager and leader, especially for hiring managers. So clearly, it’s a skill set you want to master as early on in your career as possible and continue to improve as you move into new situations.
Rating your people skills
How to start? The following checklist will help you understand how strong your current set of “people skills” is, and where you might need a bit of work.
- People tell me I’m a good listener
Some key indicators: I don’t interrupt people while they’re speaking; I focus attentively on what the speaker is saying; I wait to ask any questions until they’ve finished their thought and I conversationally mirror back to the speaker my understanding of his or her point.
Need improvement? Find a friend or family member to practice with–they’ll likely be enthusiastic partners!
- I communicate well
Some key indicators: I’m able to share my ideas clearly and concisely, I don’t ramble or get off track when speaking in office conversations but rather get to the point quickly; I’m able to confidently express and then explain my opinion even when it differs from others’ in a meeting or (for those of us who are introverts) I’m comfortable saying “I need to think about it a bit more before giving a definitive response” or something along those lines.
Need improvement? Check out your local Toastmasters group to master techniques that will help you become a more adept, confident communicator.
- I’m known as a great team player and collaborator
Some key indicators: I happily support the other members of my team or department; I assume responsibility not only for my assigned work but also the overall success of the initiative or project; I am comfortable collaborating with those in other departments and with other areas of expertise than mine or my department’s; I share information easily with colleagues and I enjoy supporting and celebrating their successes.
Need improvement? A large part of being a good team player is simply attitude: you need to feel positive about helping others and the purpose of your work together. If you’re unable to do so, then you might want to explore those negative feelings in a bit more depth to understand what underlies them. But if it’s just a matter of collaborative work being an unfamiliar model for you, consider reading some of the best books on the topic, for example, Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues (Jossey-Bass, 2016), Chapman and White’s The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People (Northfield Publishing, 2012) or Goleman’s Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (Bantam, 2006), among others.
- I have a good level of self-awareness
Some key indicators: I am aware of how my words and actions may come across to others I interact with, so choose my words carefully in order to avoid harm; I am able to identify, accept, and try to improve my weaknesses; I have a healthy sense of my own worth but am not self-impressed; I am able to accept constructive criticism without becoming defensive and I’m able to recognize, take responsibility for, but not be derailed by my mistakes.
Need improvement? There’s a great Harvard Business Review article from 2005, “5 Ways to Become More Self-Aware” by Anthony K. Tjan, that recommends several strategies including two that I think are particularly valuable. One, ask trusted friends for feedback on any areas of your interpersonal skills that could be improved (they may have good examples!), and two, get regular feedback at work. The article provides a deeper dive on these and three other recommendations, but the key is to seek out input from those who know you well, especially in a work setting.
- I’m able to control my emotions in difficult situations
Some key indicators: I don’t get angry when someone disagrees with me, nor do I take it as a personal attack; I can remain calm when others around me are getting angry or anxious; I don’t let fear keep me from (appropriately) expressing my ideas in contentious situations and I don’t lose confidence when a decision I’ve made doesn’t work out (but instead learn from the outcomes to improve my abilities).
Need improvement? If so, don’t feel bad–this is a tough one for everybody! But learning how to master when and how you express your emotions is a critical workplace strength if you want to be known as a reliable contributor. Although there are literally thousands of books, YouTube videos, weekend workshops, podcasts and more dealing with this universal human quest, the beginning of mastering your emotions is to be able to identify them, identify their triggers and then practice distancing yourself from the emotion when it’s triggered. That’s a major oversimplification of the challenge, but the task at hand is to start exploring the topic in the way that works best for you (meditation seems to work for many) and then practice, practice, practice.
- I feel empathy for others
Some key indicators: I can recognize and understand others’ emotions and respond supportively as appropriate; I read peoples’ emotions well and can “put myself in their shoes” while at the same time, I am also able to establish and respect appropriate interpersonal boundaries.
Need improvement? Practice trying to see things from the other person’s perspective, based on their experiences and life circumstances. Look for the “why” behind people’s words, attitudes and actions to get a clearer understanding of who they are and how to most effectively support, encourage and motivate them. As with so many people skills, practice, practice, practice–your colleagues, friends, and family will appreciate the effort.
These are generally the primary attributes that people have in mind when referring to people skills, (although there are always more ways to be good at getting along with people). This list will provide you with a good starting point from which to evaluate your own skills.
Now be ready to tell your stories
In addition to mastering these strengths, however, you also want to develop the ability to describe times when you’ve successfully used your super-skills.
Were you able to draw out a new, high level of performance from a previous underperformer because your ability to understand her fear of failure was holding her back? Did you find a way to help a disparate group of cross-departmental players finally start sharing information and achieve the group’s goals? Were you the one who put together a change-management plan that clearly communicated goals, challenges and benefits, a plan that resulted in department-wide buy-in?
Keep track of these accomplishments. They’re exactly the sorts of situations you want to talk about in an interview situation. That way, when a hiring manager asks you why you think you have solid people skills, you’ll be able to provide terrific examples for times you’ve used your super-skills for good.