How to be an effective people person

Having a facility with people depends upon range of factors, from how you use your physical presence to how engaged you are, writes Matt Packer

One of the potential snags with an article entitled ‘How to be an effective people person’ is that it risks putting people on the spot.

We all like to think that we get on pretty well with other people, because most of us have intricate webs of relationships covering our family members and friends, and most of us are on decent terms with our desk buddies.

So, when a piece like this comes along, readers could be forgiven for bristling. “You mean, I’m not already a people person?” may be one reaction. “Do you think I sit at the bottom of my garden eating worms?” may be another. “What am I, some sort of raving sociopath?” could be an extreme example.

But hold on a moment. Because within our set of pre-existing people skills lies a bunch of muscles that, if we could just tune them a little more finely, would enable us to be more effective professionals – ensuring that we will be more trusted… and more highly regarded as authorities in our field.

Whether you are a team leader or team member, these tips will help you optimise the most winning aspects of your usual, charming self…

1. Be visible and accessible

One of the most interesting business articles of 2018 was Bloomberg’s penetrating profile of Evan Spiegel – founder of Snapchat parent company Snap Inc.

As the piece explains, Spiegel recently hired top management coach Stephen Miles to help him get to the bottom of things that weren’t working at his firm – for example, departments were operating in strict silos, flow of information was poor and there were no regular companywide staff meetings.

Miles traced the issues all the way back to Spiegel’s innate shyness, which had exerted a powerful, shaping effect upon the entire company. Spiegel admitted to Bloomberg that he often felt “uncomfortable or intimidated speaking to large groups”.

Encouraged by Miles to come out of his shell and adopt the principles of ‘Management by Wandering Around’, Spiegel immediately saw improvements.

He explained: “I remember growing up I was taught to be small, be a turtle. I remember thinking, Why would I go around the company and just chat with people? Like that would be so awkward. Now I go walk around the office and get a ton of emails like, ‘Oh, my God, that was awesome you came by.’”

Spiegel’s coaching triggered a sweeping culture change at Snap Inc, which now has a far more collaborative atmosphere. Whether you are a leadership figure or an employee, avoiding the limelight could actually impede the processes around you.

2. Be expressive

Almost seven years ago, the none-more-motivational TED organisation published a talk given by renowned social psychologist Amy Cuddy on the subject of body language. The clip has since become legendary, chalking up an incredible 50.4 million views since it emerged and becoming the second most popular video in TED history.

In the clip, Cuddy says that striking a confident pose or two, even (or perhaps especially) if we don’t feel confident within ourselves, can work from the outside in to improve our self-esteem – and, in turn, hone our powers of persuasion as we interact with others.

Last year, Cuddy provided an update on her power-pose insights in an interview with Forbes.

“When an individual has power,” she said, “they take up more space. If you adopt these postures you are more likely to feel confident and see the world in a way that is filled with opportunities rather than challenges. If someone is seen as confident, then they are also seen as competent.” [Emphasis added.]

However, Cuddy warned, as people develop their body language, they must be able to distinguish between confidence and arrogance. “Confidence is a tool,” she noted. “Arrogance is a weapon. Confidence invites people in and arrogance pushes people away.”

She explained: “People use arrogance as a wall to prevent others from challenging them. And it does prevent people from challenging them – but not because people think they are smart. It is because people don’t want to be around them.”

3. Be engaged

The benefits of nurturing high levels of staff engagement, whereby employees are enmeshed with the fibre of their organisations, were set out in recent research from Ashridge at Hult International Business School.

Published in November last year, Shades of Grey: an Exploratory Study of Engagement in Work Teams pointed out that companies with strong engagement experience 40% lower staff turnover than those with weaker levels. Plus, firms with top-quartile engagement scores achieve 12% higher customer advocacy than those in the bottom quartile – and double the annual profits.

Ashridge researchers describe engagement as “an active state that is related to productivity and innovation, where employees choose to ‘go the extra mile’ because they want to – not because they are asked”.

After studying 28 work teams across seven sectors, the researchers concluded: “High levels of trust exist within engaged teams, with all members relying on one another to achieve their goals. A collectivist language pervades, with use of ‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘I’ and ‘my’.”

Members of engaged teams also “talked about how they all support one another and rely on each other, have diverse skill sets, communicate well and take shared responsibility for performance”.

4. Be willing to compromise

The modern business environment is a sprawling network of alliances and partnerships, and is growing more and more complex by the day.

So those who have the people skills required to maintain fruitful collaborations between different businesses will have a decisive edge.

In its October 2018 report Building Collaborative Capacity, the Institute of Leadership & Management highlighted “many challenges and barriers” to effective collaboration. “One such,” it noted, “is the risk of collaborative inertia, where the project or programme of work fails to move forward due to difficulties within the partnership.”

With that in mind, it advised: “Being flexible and able to compromise can overcome many of the challenges that arise through cultural differences that have potential to disrupt the relationship.”

The report warned that the specific, organisational objectives of each partner in a collaborative setup “will rarely map neatly onto partnership objectives”.

As such, it added: “Partners need to be adaptive, flexible, able to compromise and articulate what success looks like as collaborations flex and develop.”

5. Be authentic

These days, having great people skills is as much of an asset for our digital interactions as it is for our personal ones.

How we conduct ourselves online, especially when we are doing business, makes a significant contribution to the cachet behind our ‘personal brands’: the images of ourselves that we leave in the minds of those with whom we communicate.

In a Forbes piece of April last year, specialist brand-story coach Celinne Da Costa advised: “The way you show up online is crucial for success, including how intentional you are with your content, how genuinely you’re expressing yourself, and whether you are leveraging your story to provide value to others.”

She noted: “In today’s hyper-connected world, people crave authenticity from the people and brands they buy from.”

So, how does one go about bottling the essence of who one is, in order to inform and drive authentic online communications?

Responding to Da Costa’s piece in a blog, Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The most important step for anyone to take here is to compile your own mission statement. This should consist of two or three sentences that you are going to remember – and there are several toolkits available online that will help you get there.

“That mission statement should encapsulate i) who you are, ii) what you believe in, and iii) what you’ve decided is your purpose in life. Then, when you are trying to a) plan a presentation, b) respond to something on social media or c) put a blog together, you will be able to judge instantly whether what you’re imagining is aligned with your core self.”

About the author

Matt Packer is a freelance business, finance and leadership journalist

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