A recent post on John Maxwell’s blog discussed the power of people skills. John’s major point was that often what people call “office politics” is really simple, good old fashioned relationships. So, what is the distinction? Fundamentally, politics is about the gaining and using of power within a group, whereas relationships are about creating bonds with others. Clearly, office politics is a type of relationship, or simply a facet of one, but not all relationships, or at least all interactions in a given work or social setting are political in nature. The fact is that as we build relationships and people get to know, like, and trust one another, they will tend to want to cooperate, which can be interpreted as politics–even when it was not the explicit intent of the parties involved. What is really happening, though, is that the relationship created has helped the parties figure out how to do their work more efficiently and effectively than might have otherwise been possible.
Several people were asking how can one improve their people skills so that they can be more effective? One great way would be to read John’s book on relationships, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, The 5 connecting principles and 5 connecting practices John teaches get right to the heart of building meaningful relationships.
A practical way to apply John’s principles is to learn the fine art of small talk. Actually, small talk isn’t too difficult to master, but it does require work and it feels a little uncomfortable at first, just as with any skill you are in the process of learning.
The simplest way I can think of to begin is to develop and memorize a collection of conversation starting and extending questions. Dale Carnegie says that the subject people are most interested in is themselves, so why not allow people the privilege of talking about themselves and what is important to them?
The easiest place to begin is with the topics of work, family, and leisure. As a business owner or an executive how s/he got started in their profession… what is the most interesting thing they have done in their career… etc. I’m sure you see how this could also work with the other two categories.
The key is to memorize these questions so that you can really listen to what people are saying so that you can meaningfully interact with them. If you are busy trying to figure out your next question instead of listening, people start to wonder if you are playing inquisitor (asking too many questions) or if you are really present, making you come off as phony.
Small talk is a great way find common interests and to create ties that bind, leading to good relationships and help you get clues on how to serve others better.