Developing People Skills

CommunicationOne of the single most important things you can do from a personal development standpoint is learning how to relate to other people.  It’s crucial for you to understand how you present yourself to other people, so that you can make a good first impression.  And, I don’t say this from a “selfish”, “what can they do for me?” position; it’s very hard to obtain someone’s permission to assist them if they don’t think highly of you.  And, after all, that’s what we’re talking about here.  Not how much others can help you, but how much you can help other people.  

For many people, relating to others comes naturally.  Those of you who are extroverts love, love, LOVE interacting with new people and making friends.  For those of us who aren’t extroverts, however, it’s not so easy.  It’s not that we don’t want to meet new people, but for whatever reason (we’re shy, we don’t know how to open a conversation, or we don’t naturally pay attention to others around us) we need to work at meeting new folks.  Thankfully, good people skills are just that: skills.  They can be developed just like any other ability.  And, even though they may never come naturally, they’ll certainly come easier to us with time.

Basic human relations comes down to one thing: taking an interest in others and finding out where your interests and experiences intersect with them.  Take some time to think back to how you met one of your friends.  Maybe you sat next to each other in a class in college, or you shared a cubicle together at the office.  Perhaps you played on a city league softball team together, or you took an art class at the local community college.  The point is, that person who is now your friend used to just be someone that you shared a situation with.  Maybe the situation was good, maybe it was bad, but you had it in common.  The way you first started talking was probably something to do with your shared experiences.  As you talked more, you learned more about that person and found out other areas that you had in common.  For example, maybe you mentioned one time you collected comic books and, lo and behold, your cubicle-mate did, too.  As time goes along, and more topics come up, you find that you share more and more things in common.  These commonalities are the stuff friendships are made of.

In instances such as these, where two or more people are thrust together over a long period of time, these times of sharing insights together have a way of happening organically.  But, what about times at a party where you’re surrounded by people you don’t know, and really don’t have anything forcing you to share your interests?  This is where a little trick I’ve often used comes in to play; it may help you, too, if you find yourself having difficulty thinking of ways to start a conversation.  It’s an acronym: F.O.R.M. The “F” stands for Family, “O” for Occupation, “R” for Recreation, and the “M” for Message.

The first three topics are probing questions that you can use to find out more about a person.  Most everyone likes to talk about their family, occupations can provide lots of things to discuss, and I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t enjoy talking about what they like to do in their free time.  All of these conversation starters can provide nuggets of information to you, allowing you to perhaps see areas that the two of you may have in common, or it can provide you with a topic that you’d like to find out more about.  Follow that path as far as it leads.

Once you’ve gone through the first three letters, do a quick evaluation.  If you’ve found some things in common with this person, keep talking about them.  As long as it’s an enjoyable situation, keep going.  However, if you’ve got to run, or you’re just not clicking with someone, drop the message and move on.  The message can be anything from, “Hey, I see someone else I need to go talk to.  It was nice to meet you.” (for people you probably won’t talk to again) to “Hey, it was great talking with you about x, I’d like to do it again some time.  Do you have a card, or some other way I can get in touch with you?”.  It’s that simple to make a connection.  All you have to do now is follow up.

When you do follow up with these new folks that you’re meeting, and even with some of your friends that you’ve had for a while, you should always be looking for ways you can help other people achieve what they’re trying to do.  It could be something as obvious as a person looking for a job, and your company happens to have an opening that would require his or her skillset.  Or, it could be just inviting them and their family over for dinner, or recommending a book that you’ve recently read that you think they would enjoy.  Always be thinking about how you can help the other person.  Build up a positive rapport with them and do all you can to help them out.  It’s just the right thing to do.

Finally, practice.  This “starting conversations” thing won’t come naturally to you if you’re not used to it.  But, if you do it enough, you’ll build a habit of talking to people, learning about them, and making new friends and associates.  In time, it’ll become easy.  Start F.O.R.M.ing people in the checkout line at the grocery store.  It’s low risk, because if you meet someone who’s not that friendly, you don’t have to be around them for a long time.  Just make a concerted effort to be a friendly person, and you’ll attract people to you.

photo courtesy: scottywaddy930

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