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WE ARE ALL in the people business because we deal with other people all the time. But do you sometimes reach out to others only to find your efforts misunderstood or rejected? Do you wish your relationships with people close to you were more harmonious and fulfilling? PeopleSmart is a practical guide for anyone who asks these questions, which means most of us at some time or other. It reveals a powerful plan for making your relationships more productive and rewarding-whether they are with a supervisor and coworkers or a spouse, relatives, and friends-by developing your interpersonal intelligence.

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12 Chapters

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What Does It Mean to Be People Smart?


Check off the “people” activities below that apply to you:

Chances are you checked several of these items. It used to be said that some of us were in the business of working with people and some of us were in the business of working with facts, figures, and machinery. This distinction was probably never accurate, but its inaccuracy is now beyond dispute: Good people skills are a must for any job, including technical ones. Our lives at home also demand superior people skills as we try to juggle new roles and new living conditions. The people business is no longer the domain of the few. It includes you and everyone you know.2

The twenty-first century will feature a rapidly changing and highly interrelated world. You will probably accomplish very little on your own, but with other people you may be able to accomplish a lot. Increasingly, success will depend on being people smart.

Ask the person on the street what it means to be people smart, and you may get an answer such as, “Oh, that’s a person who is really a smooth operator… a person who knows how to get others to join his side.” A second person might answer, “someone who is personable, friendly, fun to be with.” While few people would complain about having those two attributes, they represent a very limited view of what it means to be gifted with people. Being people smart is a multifaceted intelligence, not limited to your political skills or your social graces but including a wide range of interpersonal abilities. Being people smart means that you are good at eight skills:


Becoming People Smart


While some kinds of abilities remain stable or even decline as you age, your ability to be people smart can grow continuously. That’s the good news. The bad news is, it won’t be easy. We adults are often not open to change. If you don’t believe this, try this simple experiment:

Fold your arms without thinking. Now, fold them the opposite way so that you switch which arm is on top. Feel awkward? You bet. Well, stay that way for a minute. Now, cross your legs without thinking about it. Yep, the upper part of your body is still uncomfortable but your lower part is nice and comfortable. Now cross your legs the opposite way. Your whole body is now out of your comfort zone. Now go back to the way you normally fold your arms and cross your legs. Feel better? That’s the real you. It’s comfortable to do things in familiar ways.

For better or worse, we have gotten used not only to folding our arms and crossing our legs in certain ways, but to relating to other people in certain ways. And it will be uncomfortable to change.


How People Smart Are You?


Intelligence tests yield an intelligence quotient or IQ. You may have some idea of your IQ, but do you know your people smart quotient or PQ?

We have devised a rating scale called the PeopleSmart Scale to give you an estimate of your PQ. Just like an IQ scale, it is designed so that the average score is 100. Because it is a rating scale, however, your answers will be subjective. Therefore, the more honest you are when you rate yourself, the more accurate your PQ score will be. Also, your standard of comparison may be different from other readers; use people you know as your benchmark. Finally, you might find it difficult to make an overall judgment of yourself at all times and with all people. For example, your PQ at work may be higher than your PQ at home. As you take the test, consider choosing one or two of the following as your frame of reference:

Chapter 3: Table 1

You would then ask yourself how effective you are in your relationships with whomever you choose. Better yet, invite some of these people to give you their views about your PeopleSmart skills. You can ask them to rate you on the PeopleSmart Scale. Or you can ask them to look over the content of each skill and discuss how they perceive your interpersonal effectiveness in each area. Whatever approach you use, you will find that focusing on a particular relationship is the best way to take stock of your PeopleSmart skills. And now, for the rating scale!13


People Smart Skill 1


You can see a lot, just by listening.


The existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, observed that hell is other people! We agree in one sense. If understanding others were an easy proposition, people wouldn’t have so many idiomatic expressions to express its difficulty:20

Despite the challenge, trying to understand others is the cornerstone of interpersonal intelligence. When you don’t understand other people, you can’t influence, collaborate, or resolve conflicts with them. On the other hand, when you do understand how others think, feel, and perceive—when you can see through their eyes—all kinds of connection are possible:

Consider the case of a busy patent attorney we’ll call Larry. He’s not a bad guy, but sometimes he’s a bad listener and doesn’t tune in to others well. Larry puts in long hours and is usually drained when he finally gets home at the end of the day. A typical evening conversation between Larry and his wife, Laura, goes something like this:

Compare Larry to Pete. Pete is a doctor who conveys to his patients that they are the only important people in his life at the moment he is seeing them, even though he’s got a packed waiting room. How does he do it? For starters, his staff is instructed not to interrupt patient visits except when there is an emergency. He listens to them as they tell their problems in detail and uses paraphrasing to show that he understands. Dr. Pete used to think that as soon as he heard enough to make a diagnosis it was expedient to interrupt the patient and make his recommendations. However, he has learned over the years that cutting people off too soon often leads to a misdiagnosis. He’s also noticed that when patients feel listened to, they are more informative.22


PeopleSmart Skill 2


Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood.


The manager says to the assistant: “I’m looking at our unpaid bills. Would you check on the number for Acme?” The assistant replies, “We owe them $200.” “No!” replied the manager. “What’s their phone number?!”52

Have you recently said something to another person that was absolutely clear to you, but a mystery to the listener? It happens to all of us. We sometimes assume people can read our minds. We simply don’t appreciate that the approximately 800 words we use in daily conversation have, in total, about 14,000 meanings! Every time we use a word, we run the risk that the listener will misinterpret what we say.

Good communicators don’t force others to be mind readers. They express themselves clearly and colorfully and make a point succinctly. People with poor communication skills are hard to listen to and understand:

A truly terrible communicator who stands out in memory (let’s call her Marcia) infuriated the members of a work team over a period of months with her endless, meandering, circumstantial speech. Marcia never came to the point. People aged visibly waiting for Marcia to finish a sentence. By the time Marcia did finish a sentence, they had forgotten what her original point was. Marcia was self-absorbed, oblivious to the effect she had on other team members. On one occasion, after a lengthy monologue about how overworked she was, Marcia wondered aloud whether she ought to just take a sabbatical and go to an island for some rest. When team members expressed concern, Marcia went right on talking, explaining that she couldn’t go now because she had library books due.


PeopleSmart Skill 3


Since people cannot read minds, you must tell them what you want.


You can’t be all things to all people. If you try, you’ll wind up disappointing them. That’s because others will come to expect too much from you, and you’re bound to fail from time to time.72

We all have limits, even those among us who are “superhuman.” And that is healthy. There are some things you shouldn’t do for others, either because they need to do it for themselves or because it will rob you of your ability to care for yourself and for those who really need your help.

Besides having healthy limits, you also need to speak up so others know what they are. Holding back what you need from others only leads to frustration. Once that happens, you may become angry at others and lose the calm and confidence you need to be at your best:

Don is a people pleaser. He doesn’t like disapproval and organizes his day around doing what will be popular with others. At work, Don lives by the motto, “You won’t rock the boat if you follow the waves.” He watches for clues and listens for statements about what others want and makes sure he’s on the popular side. Being agreeable and willing to comply, he stays afloat but goes largely unnoticed when new opportunities arise. If you asked Don if his needs were being met, he would probably say they were. Resentment builds up slowly in him, but it begins to surface with sarcasm and erupts on occasion with uncontrollable anger.


PeopleSmart Skill 4


Flatter me, and I may not believe you.

Criticize me and I may not like you.

Ignore me and I may not forgive you.

Encourage me and I will not forget you.


Do you remember the fairy tale about the emperor’s new clothes? Convinced by conniving tailors that he was clad in magnificent cloth of an extraordinarily light weave, the arrogant emperor unwittingly paraded naked through the streets of his kingdom. Daunted by his authority, none of his subjects dared speak up, until a small boy blurted out, “But he has no clothes on!” 96

Like the emperor, all of us can learn from the feedback of others. However, the prospect of hearing honest feedback from others can arouse powerful, sometimes conflicting feelings for many of us. We like to think we know ourselves, and most of us do in many important respects. We know our likes and dislikes, our feelings and beliefs, what makes us laugh and cry. But others have a vantage point we can never hold. They are our mirrors. If we hide from or deny their perspectives, we miss out on vital information.


PeopleSmart Skill 5


Power lasts ten years; influence not more than a hundred.


Dale Carnegie captured the wishes of millions of people when he entitled his best-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. We don’t just want to have friends and loved ones; from time to time, we want to be an influence in their lives.120

Influencing others has to do with getting them to be receptive to your views, advice and recommendations. It is not about getting them to admit you are right or forcing them to do as you wish. You can’t make someone see the world as you see it, but you can sometimes open their minds to new attitudes and effective courses of action.

Unfortunately, many people are intent on making people over in their own image. Typically they get nowhere:

Maureen is one of the brightest people we’ve ever met. And one of the best read and best informed as well. She can be interesting to listen to—until the point when she wants you to agree with her. If you see things differently, she barrels ahead, stating with complete certainty how right she is. She does provide facts and figures to support what she’s saying, but if you still have misgivings, her posture is that “you simply don’t understand.” Maureen also has little patience when others express views that she disagrees with. You seldom get the impression that she considers what you think or feel. The net result is that she rarely influences the views of others. She may be admired for her brilliance, but people keep her at arm’s length. Sensing the rejection of others, Maureen retreats until the next time she is intent on changing people’s minds. Her efforts are always short-lived and unsuccessful.


PeopleSmart Skill 6


As long as you keep a person down,

some part of you has to be down there to hold him down,

so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might.


If we invited you to free associate to the word conflict, would you think of war, destruction, divorce, turmoil? Probably many people would. Even as we write this, the effects of conflict cast shadows on the world: children murdered, people hated because they are different, nations torn apart over ethnic and racial feuding. It is hardly surprising that many wish that life could be entirely free of conflict.144

Of course, this is impossible. As long as there are differences among people, there will be conflicts and competing interests. This is not entirely bad: Out of conflicts have come our most enduring institutions, governments, and religions. Nations have all been forged out of the struggle to express our needs, resolve our disputes, and accept our differences. Like sun and rain or day and night, conflict is part of the rhythm of life. Our challenge is to master it and grow through it.


PeopleSmart Skill 7


Ask not what your teammates can do for you.

Ask what you can do for your teammates.


Are you involved in some kind of teamwork at work, with the family, or with a community, civic, or religious group? If you are, you surely have found out that being a member of a team really tests you because you have less personal control over the outcome than in a one-to-one relationship. It’s often frustrating since you have fewer opportunities to get your point across and persuade others when participation has to be shared among many. On the other hand, being part of a team effort, even with its frustrations, can often be exciting and productive.176

Think about it: When you work with one other person, there is only one relationship; when you work with three people, there are six relationships:

Just imagine how many relationships exist in a group of six people. Several hundred!

As a team player, one works hard to advance the group’s goals. This can be a daunting challenge for those of us who were raised in a culture that values individual rather than group effort. It involves an attitude shift in which we must transcend our egos and desire to advance our own agenda in favor of giving our ideas readily to the group.


PeopleSmart Skill 8


If you never budge, don’t expect a push.


It’s often good advice to be yourself. If you are in your fifties, you would not pass as a cool teenager in the company of adolescents. If you are a formal person, you would probably look and feel ridiculous being flamboyant. It’s hard to pretend to be the kind of person you aren’t, and it’s often counterproductive. You lose your genuineness and dampen the many strengths you’ve taken a lifetime to develop. You also confuse other people who know you for who you are and are disconcerted when you behave differently.202

Nevertheless, high PQ people know that there are times when it’s necessary to shift gears. They don’t change with the winds like most politicians but they appreciate that when things are stuck, behaving in new ways can get things moving again. The Bible provides interesting cases in point:

The Biblical Jacob represents an intriguing example of someone with many personal strengths who had difficulty shifting gears. The younger twin brother of Esau, Jacob pretended, at his mother’s urging, to be Esau so that his nearly blind father, Isaac, would bestow upon him the blessing of inheritance. If he had not done so, Esau, the firstborn but of questionable character, would have succeeded Isaac. At the same time, Jacob’s deceit created a nearly fatal estrangement from his brother Esau. To his credit, Jacob did well with his responsibility. He spiritually wrestled with the angel of God and survived. He became a vital link in the transmission of the Biblical covenant between God and the Israelites. Through his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and his concubines, he had twelve sons who became the heads of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. However, his own life was marked by anguish and pain, especially over the apparent death of his favorite son, Joseph, who, in fact, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. The tragedy occurred because Jacob did not learn from his own childhood experience of sibling rivalry and gave his favorite son a “coat of many colors” and a special place in his heart.203


Putting It All Together


In the Introduction to this book, we promised a four-step development plan to promote significant change in your PQ. After reading page after page of advice, checklists, and exercises, however, you may feel a bit overwhelmed. We’d like to put the whole back together again by giving you a short review of the book and some action plans to build PeopleSmart skills into your life. Here is a concise summary of the eight skills. Look over the list. If you want to clarify any items, go back to the appropriate chapter.

When they are confused by people’s attitudes and behavior, high PQ people:

Listen and Observe by:

Clarify Meaning by:

Interpret Behavior by: 226

2. Expressing Yourself Clearly

When they want to be understood, high PQ people:

Get the message across by:

Talk straight by:

Include the listener by:

3. Asserting Your Needs

When they need to set limits or advocate for themselves, high PQ people:

Are decisive by:

Remain calm and confident by: 227

Are persistent by:

4. Exchanging Feedback

When they want the perspectives of others or believe others can benefit from hearing theirs, high PQ people:



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