Working PeopleSmart: 6 Strategies for Success

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Bringing out the best in others is good business. When we bring both respect and interpersonal savvy to our work relationships, we do more than make people feel good. We enhance personal and organizational performance. And as the workplace grows more complex and competitive, managing our work relationships becomes even more essential and difficult. Now more than ever we need to work people smart. Working PeopleSmart describes the six core strategies used by people-smart individuals and shows how to apply them in the toughest workplace situations. Individuals who are people smart know how to open others up rather than make them defensive or resistant. They have a knack for diffusing tension rather than creating it. They set a good example through their own behavior on the job and can inspire and influence others with less developed skills. Working PeopleSmart can serve as your virtual coach to guide you through difficult work relationships skillfully. How do you deal with a critical colleague? Make your boss listen to you? React to an offensive joke? Get the resources you need? The authors look at over 50 real-life situations and offer people-smart prescriptions for handling them effectively. They provide coaching tips for each scenario and describe exactly what a people-smart response sounds like. As two psychologists with both organizational and clinical expertise, coauthors Mel Silberman and Freda Hansburg are highly qualified to deliver the message that we can emerge from even the toughest interpersonal moments on the job with dignity and grace. Where other books rely on typologies that categorize people according to their interpersonal styles and then offer advice on how to deal with each type, the strategies described in Working PeopleSmart are straightforward and universal. They can be used immediately to deal with any type of person or any situation, no matter how difficult or sensitive.

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Strategy 1: Be Curious Rather than Furious

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We all know people who challenge our ability to work peoplesmart. Do any of these “challengers” sound familiar to you?

Among customers, you might find “Carol Complainer”: “Is this the best you can do?”

Or “Harvey Hierarchy”: “What’s the name of your supervisor?”

Among co-workers, you might find “Needy Nan”: “Can you help me out?” “Want to hear about my weekend?” Or “Superior Stan”: “Mistakes? I never make any… unlike you!”

Among direct reports, you might find “Late Nate”: “No, it was yesterday that the bus was late. Today, I had to take my son to the dentist.” Or “Pathetic Patty”: “I can’t do this! You’ll have to show me how.”

Finally, your boss might be like “Ted Tyrant”: “I’d rather be right than loved!”

Or “Carla Cryptic”: “I don’t have time to go over this. Just figure it out yourself.”

When people at work engage in such unpleasant behavior, it’s only human to be annoyed or even furious. Typically, we might cope by doing any or all of the following:

As much as any of these challenging people at work may frustrate us, the people-smart thing to do is get curious as to why they act the way they do rather than merely get upset about what they do. This involves trying to develop an “empathetic understanding” of a person who is puzzling. What is it like to be in this person’s shoes?

 

Strategy 2: Include the Listener Rather than Talk at Him or Her

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How often do you see a job listing that says, “The candidate must be an effective communicator”? What does it really mean to be an “effective communicator”? Must you have a gift with words? That would be nice, but the bottom line of effective communication is the ability to be understood.

Getting your message out so that it is understandable may seem simple enough, but the fact is that nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood. Our average daily vocabulary includes some 800 words—but those words have 14,000 different meanings! Here are just a few examples of how words can be confusing:

The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

He could lead if he would get the lead out.

The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

After a number of injections, my jaw got number.

To make matters even more complicated, meaning is often contextual and idiosyncratic. For instance, if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? And why is it that when the stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible?

 

Strategy 3: Speak Up (with Tact) Rather than Suffer in Silence

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Many organizations are not places where you can speak freely.

There are several reasons for this. Consider the following:

What happens when you and others in your organization fail to speak up? You suffer in silence, and others are not privy to your feelings and needs. You seethe inside and feel less positive about your job. Others are denied your input. You lose and they lose.

Of course, you don’t need to express everything that’s on your mind. The key consideration is how important the matter is to your ability to serve the organization effectively. You are not very helpful to the common cause if you

How, then, do you go about the sensitive task of speaking up so that you and others benefit? The first challenge is to communicate honestly without being hurtful or putting others on the defensive. Here are some suggestions. 71

Make “I” statements when you want to share your feelings or views. If what you mean is “I don’t think we are getting at the core problem of why sales are down,” don’t say, “Don’t you think there are other factors at work here?” If you are not sure you have been understood, don’t say, “Do you understand?” Say instead, “Am I making sense?”

 

Strategy 4: Invite Others to Be Your Mirror Rather than Your Blind Spot

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Consider each of the following hypothetical work situations. Would you want others to tell you if the situation were true of you? Would you be likely to tell someone else if the situation were true of him or her?

Although you probably wouldn’t be happy to learn that any of these scenarios applied to you, if you are like most people, you would be more willing to receive such feedback (assuming it were true) than to volunteer it to someone else. This is the basic feedback dilemma: We all have blind spots and need others to reveal them to us, but others are often reluctant to do so.

Think of all the reasons you might hesitate to tell a colleague (or worse, your boss) that he or she was guilty of any of these faux pas. Maybe you’re not sure the person would appreciate the feedback. Maybe you would be overstepping your bounds, especially if the person is your boss. Maybe he or she would get angry, or even seek reprisal. Maybe you just don’t want the hassle.

Because honest feedback on the job is an important and scarce commodity, people-smart individuals have learned that waiting for it isn’t enough. Instead, they practice the strategy of inviting feedback from a wide circle of people. Even when they disagree with the feedback they receive, people-smart individuals know that they are better off knowing how others see them than guessing.

 

Strategy 5: Be Open to Resistance Rather than Fight It

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For most of us, the idea of being open to resistance is akin to welcoming a head cold. But it is one of life’s paradoxes that the times when we are most eager to push our own causes are the very times when we must be most receptive to counter-arguments. Who ever said life was fair?

To grasp this paradox, consider Newton’s Law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Pushing back is a law of nature. In the martial arts, an expert puts this to his advantage by using an opponent’s own force to topple him. As another analogy, consider what it takes to hold on to a handful of sand: The more tightly you grasp, the faster the sand slips away. Often the best way to counteract resistance is to drop our barriers.

It isn’t unusual to encounter resistance in the work world. It waits for us at the other end of the telephone line when we call a customer. You can spot it in the skeptical expression of your boss as he or she listens to your proposal. It echoes in the “yes, but…” of a direct report facing a tight deadline. In virtually any situation involving conflict or any encounter in which we hope to persuade another, success depends on how adroitly we handle resistance.

 

Strategy 6: Think We, Not Me

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The final strategy that will bring success involves your willingness to be collaborative. In today’s workplace, a vital part of everyone’s job description is to be a team player. The better you are at this “job,” the more valuable you are to your organization.

Even if your current work situation involves mostly independent activity, what you do workwise still affects others and requires some level of concern for their welfare. If your current work situation involves mostly interdependent activity, then your ability to collaborate is essential.

Collaboration does not come easily. There are many circumstances in which you may be unaware of how you affect others. Without this knowledge, you may not even have a sense of what you can do to assist them. And even if you are aware of the kinds of collaboration that would be helpful, you may still be reluctant to extend yourself. Including others can be frustrating, and you may prefer to “do it yourself.” Figuring out what others need can often require guesswork. Your motivation to be a team player may be diminished by feelings of annoyance or anger at the actions of others.

 

Now What?

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At the beginning of this book, we promised to share with you “the know-how you require to sharpen your people edge.” We also urged you to “take these strategies to work with you.”

We hope you are inspired to apply our coaching suggestions back on the job. We recognize, however, that inspiration doesn’t ensure action. So, as your coaches, we would like to end with some final advice and a concrete list of actions you might want to undertake to incorporate the six strategies for success into your job.

Throughout this book, we have highlighted the theme that you can make a difference in your organization if you take the six strategies to heart. You have the opportunity to rise above the business-asusual norms for working with others. Far too often, people in organizations tolerate, in themselves and in others, behaviors that shut down rather than open up communication, create tension rather than defuse it, and leave struggling co-workers to “shape up or ship out.” If you are curious about others, if you include them in conversations, if you are honest about what you feel and want, if you seek their feedback, if you are open to their concerns, and if you are a team player, then you will set an example for others to follow and respond to in kind. As a result, you will enjoy being a vital part of a people-smart organization in which people bring out the best in each other. When that happens, the organization is bound to become more successful as well.

 

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