We look for people who remain calm and effective under pressure, who empathize with clients and team members in pursuit of the best possible results. The gifted individuals we’re looking for act with grace in stressful situations, listen well, communicate well, admit mistakes and learn from them, respond well to criticism and show high self and situational awareness. With these skills, you can be counted on to build productive relationships founded on trust and respect.
These are essentially ‘people skills’, though employers also call them ’emotional intelligence’. When you lack these skills, you have a “personality issue”. But as any parent can tell you, we aren’t born with people skills.
Good people skills are unnatural. If Johnny the two-year-old wants to play with his brother’s toy, he just grabs it away. His four-year-old brother pushes Johnny down on the ground and takes it back. It’s no wonder that personality issues are the number one reason why VP’s don’t become CEOs and why otherwise good employees lose their jobs in a recession.
Little kids don’t like to share and they don’t like to consider anyone’s feelings but their own. Unsurprisingly, many adults still feel that way. Here’s a typical comment from someone advised to network and brush up on his so-called “soft skills”:
“I am a worker and a human being, not a circus act. If you want someone who will get the job done correctly and on time, every time, then I’m your man. If you want someone to read your mind, entertain you, or cater to your every whim, then you need a palm reader, a clown, or a dog. I’m none of those. Sorry.”
Ok, understood. But get used to sitting on the sidelines in bad times and watching your colleagues be promoted above you during good times. Your attitude makes you like a very specific tool, say a snowblower. I only need you when the snow is too heavy for a snow shovel. The rest of the time you sit in the garage rusting away.
Back to Johnny and his “personality issues”. If he’s lucky enough to receive good parenting, has good genes and enjoys the right social and educational opportunities, the little wild animal will be tamed and his resulting “emotional intelligence” will make him a productive member of society and valuable team member.
If his people skills are really top-notch, he will be perpetually in-demand and never need to prepare a formal resume. Until of course the day comes when he rises to the level in an organization where his strengths and weaknesses are at an equilibrium in relationship to his responsibilities… that’s called the Peter principle, and we’ll save that for another lesson.
If the stars did not align for you the way they did for Johnny, you will have a few more rough edges to polish. The good news is that the hiring managers searching for ’emotional intelligence’ are wrong – it’s not an intelligence, they are just skills that you can learn and practice.
If you don’t want your boss to see a snowblower when he looks at you, if you want him to see someone really special in front of him, follow these steps in order:
- Connect with people – read How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
- Learn good listening skills – read Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids; Practical Ways to Create a Calm and Happy Home by Naomi Drew (chapter 6).
- Close your e-mails well – hand write them and do it warmly when appropriate.
- Learn pacing in conversation – this is a sales and NLP technique for developing rapport.
- Study and use body language – body language is almost always more truthful than speech.
- Learn to recognize and manage stress – learning your own stress signals and techniques will help you help others. Read Stop Worrying & Start Living by Dale Carnegie.
- Manage your energy – read The Power of Full Engagement; Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
- Study animal training and use it on people – read Don’t Shoot the Dog; The New Art of Teaching and Training
by Karen Pryor.
- Use humor – nothing works quite as well. Read Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times
by Donald Phillips.
- Be kind to yourself – it’s hard to empathize and connect with others if you can’t do those things with yourself. First, treat yourself kindly.
When you’ve learned these skills, you’ll be of much greater value to your boss and you’ll enjoy your work and your relationships with coworkers more. Last but not least, your family and personal relationships will benefit immeasurably.
For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.
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