In my experience, the most important factor in gaining influence and achieving success is developing people skills. Yet, nowhere in the formal education system — from kindergarten through college — are people skills taught, even though nearly all of us use our people skills every day.
I recently spoke to a group of students and joked that the most valuable skill I’d learned in college was how to interact and network with other people though social events that my university had hosted. More than anything I learned from reading textbooks, I gained people skills through organizations and activities.
No matter what technological trends take over, people and how you work with them will always matter most. Still, knowing this, it’s surprising to me how many people lack the skills necessary to bring opportunity to themselves and their companies.
I recently interviewed Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local and The New York Times bestselling author of “The Art of People: 11 Simple People Skills That Will Get You Everything You Want,” to learn more about how we as people and as business leaders can build better relationships, connect more deeply with others, and improve our people skills.
Kerpen shared with me a few of his book’s 53 tips to build people skills — tips that you might not have thought of before. Here’s what he shared:
1. Understand someone better than you do your friends in just three minutes.
The key is to ask great questions that people are excited to answer and then listen attentively. Instead of making small talk, ask deeper questions when you first meet someone, like “What is the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?” or “If you had enough money to retire, what would you be doing today?” This gets people to quickly open up.
2. Wear orange shoes.
At a crowded entrepreneurship conference, an investor sought by everyone walked up to Kerpen because of the bright orange shoes he was wearing and ended up investing more than $500,000 in his company. Sure, the investor didn’t invest because of the shoes themselves, but those shoes attracted him to Kerpen and helped get the relationship started. Kerpen now has 33 pairs of orange shoes and wears one each day. You don’t need to commit to orange shoes, of course, but think about what signature accessory you can wear each day to stand out wherever you go.
3. Always accept the glass of water.
When someone comes over to your house, you offer them a drink, and if they refuse, you may feel like a lesser host. So why do that to someone at their office? Instead, take the water, coffee, or soda they offer you, put the person you’re meeting with at ease, and get comfortable yourself.
4. Make sure who you are online is who you are in real life.
Many people are still guarded about their online lives and social media. But the truth is that the more you can embrace your authentic, even vulnerable, self online, the better. Authenticity breeds trust, and trust breeds business — both offline and online.
5. Don’t sell it — tell the story.
The secret to persuading people is to tell an effective story with an engaging introduction and a compelling narrative. When you captivate your audience with a story, you can inspire a vested interest in the outcome that you want.
6. Go beyond the humblebrag.
Promote others unsolicited, and share their accomplishments across your social media streams. You’ll find that, in exchange, others will be much more receptive when you share what you have to offer.
7. Mirror neurons, and maximize how a good mood goes a long way.
We all have mirror neurons that cause us to take on the attitude of the person talking to us. When you’re in a bad mood, it’s actually contagious — but when you’re full of enthusiasm and optimism, that’s contagious, too. When people feel enthusiastic and optimistic during and after a conversation with you, they associate those positive feelings with you. You made them feel good, and they’ll remember it, which can help you stay top of mind and build better relationships.
8. If you’re there to help, you’re there to win.
No one really likes conflict, but when you work with people, it’s a natural part of the process sometimes. When you enter a conflict, position yourself as someone there to help both parties rather than take sides. You’ll gain everyone’s respect and make it much easier to resolve the conflict to your liking.
9. Be unoriginal. (You can quote Dave Kerpen himself on this.)
You don’t have to use your own words to inspire people. Chances are good that someone’s likely said what you want to say better than you can, anyway. Liberally quote famous leaders, both online and offline.
10. Buy a bonsai.
After meeting someone important to you, leave an impression by sending a handwritten thank-you note and a small gift. What do you get the person who has everything? Try a bonsai — it’s exotic, small, inexpensive, and easy to grow.
As leaders, we should strive to always improve our skills and continuously grade ourselves on how well we practice what we should be. After Kerpen shared this list with me, I graded myself by double-checking how and when I practiced these tips — and I realized I was failing at several of them, even though I agree that they’re important.
For example, I can be really great at sending handwritten notes (though my handwriting resembles a second-grader’s), but I noticed that I’d recently fallen short in this simple practice and hadn’t written a note by hand in a while.
It’s important to read through lists like this to figure out what you agree with and what makes sense for you; reflect on what your people skills are and how you can improve them. To help myself do this, I took the “Art of People” quiz that complements Kerpen’s book to assess my skills. It was really interesting to find out what my particular strengths were and then compare them to these tips to see where I stood. I challenge each of you to do the same.
John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that specializes in expertise extraction and knowledge management that is used to fuel marketing efforts.
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