People Skills Win Over Knowledge

People skills are a key ingredient for success.

As a journalist I got to do a lot of really cool things, like ripping a hole in the clouds with the The Blue Angels. It was easy to talk about “tearing across the sky, and painting a beautiful jet trail across the blue.”

It’s a lot harder to talk about a subject or event that is flat out earth-born boring, or intimidating.  Like the time I was asked to a rather posh dinner where the entrée was a scientific discussion of nuclear energy.

My dessert – would be persuading these brilliant men and women to think I was smart enough to understand at least part of what they were talking about.  If they trusted and liked me, my dessert would be full-fat whipped cream on top of chocolate soufflé…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

With a curling iron in one hand and phone in the other I quipped to my mom, “There will be scary-smart people there, all speaking in subparticles.  I don’t speak subparticle.  Smashing atoms is way above my resume level.”

This wise woman came right back with great life and business advice.  “All you have to do is be who you are, smile, listen, be curious, and share your unique stories.”  Mom was right.

No one asked me if I had a PhD or even where I attended college.

Ironically, they were curious about my work. Before long I found myself smack in the middle of several conversations, asking questions that helped me build rapport and trust.  I left with a fist full of business cards, an armload of ideas for reporting on one of the world’s most complicated and controversial subjects, and the satisfaction that my knowledge was far less important than my ability to relate to people and get them to share their expertise with me.

People Skills Trump Knowledge

In these “get a job” “keep my job” tough economic times, being able to communicate with ease, confidence, and clarity is like holding Julia Child’s secret recipe for chocolate soufflé at a cooking contest.

In a recent survey by Accountemps (published in USA Today) People Skills proved to be the deciding factor for landing the job:

CFOs were asked, “If two candidates interviewing for an accounting or finance position had similar skills, which one of the following additional qualifications would you find most valuable?” Their responses:

Personality or people skills 2004: 1%
Personality or people skills 2009: 31%

You may believe that some people are born communicators, gifted with charisma, poise and the ability to charm even the most jaded boss.  In reality, charisma, poise and the ability to charm and communicate clearly, can be developed.

Ronald Reagan was not born talking to a camera or persuading audiences to believe him.  He developed his people skills. We learn while still in diapers, that if we look right in the eyes of our parents, listen and repeat what we hear, and smile a lot, that we will be rewarded with adoration and applause.  It is never too late to become adored, or at least well liked.

Forget rewriting your resume.
Ditch the ubiquitous, and boring power-point ideas.
Develop your people skills.

Smile, be warm, and approachable. Smiles and warmth put the receiver at ease. They disarm and bring a positive feeling to meetings.  Smiles tell our bosses or potential bosses that we are open and easy to be around. Being approachable creates trust and rapport.  It helps build strong relationships with colleagues.

The man who gives little with a smile gives more than the man who gives much with a frown. 
–Jewish Proverb

Listen, really listen and respond.  Listening is a huge compliment to the speaker.  It shows respect.  It says that you are interested in what he or she has to say.  Most important, your response, based on what you just heard, gives you the opportunity to then naturally build your credibility, and create rapport.

Communicate clearly and concisely – using a lot of PhD words will only bring you the label of “professor.”  Clearly and concisely communicating your ideas with common words and clarity gets buy-in and understanding.

Be enthusiastic – if you do not talk enthusiastically about your idea, or field of expertise, you can’t make anyone else love your idea either.

Be curious – what is the company’s vision, what can you do to solve problems and bring new ideas to fruition?  Showing interest in the company’s future sends a message of wanting to grow, lead and understand.

Developing people skills is like putting money in the work-relationships bank. It will pay you enough dividends that you can afford to book a table at your favorite expensive restaurant. Go ahead, order the chocolate soufflé!

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