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How to Raise The Bar On Your People Skills

-Try not to criticize, condemn or complain.

(reprinted from Authentic Success newsletter)

Outstanding leadership is about getting other people to want to do what you want them to do. Failed leadership is forcing people to do what you want, which only works temporarily and superficially. Eventually, people will reject being forced, coerced or manipulated.

To lead others for the long haul, you must build confidence and create enthusiasm for how your ideas help them. Effective leadership is about excellent human relations. Even though there is much research-backed information about the value of emotional intelligence in leadership today, one book lays bare the basic principles of positive human interaction like none other.

Time-tested wisdom.

How To Win Friends And Influence People, authored by Dale Carnegie and published in 1937, offers the fundamental techniques in successfully handling people. Chapter one reveals its most basic principle: don’t criticize, condemn or complain. At first, the book can come across as folksy and outdated compared to modern-day leadership and management publications.

It isn’t.

Carnegie’s wisdom was born of a desire to have more finesse and understanding to get along with people in business and social contexts. He believed that effectively dealing with people is the biggest hurdle we face in the workplace and with our customers. Research and investigation at that time (1930’s) from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Carnegie Institute of Technology revealed that in technical industries such as engineering, 15% of financial success was due to technical knowledge and 85% was to do human knowledge, your personality and ability to lead people.

Fast forward more than eighty years.

In a 2019 article on SHRM.org (Society Human Resource Management), David Lammert, a 17-year veteran of security industry recruiting, is quoted as saying, “Hard skills will get you the interview—soft skills will get you the job.” He says that soft skills determine how well you perform on the job and how long you keep it.

Recruiter Rebecca Bayne, president of Bayne Consulting & Search adds, “We have all seen situations where the decision to hire – when two or more candidates present the same level of hard skills’ strength – is made with soft skills as the differentiator.”

Soft skills are key to success with people.

Today, soft skills are classified mainly as a mixture of personality traits, behaviors, and social attitudes that allow people to communicate, collaborate and manage conflict effectively. Or as Carnegie called it, human knowledge.

What do soft skills have to do with succeeding in competitive global industries and local main street businesses? Everything. Think about what we have learned from the pandemic. In order for people to thrive during uncertainty and change, we need to help them get what they need, so in return, we can get what we need from them.

Carnegie’s reasoning for not criticizing, condemning and complaining is that it almost always ends in futility. The person we criticize, condemn and complain about will usually justify themselves in self-preservation. Then in reaction, they will do the same to us. Typically nothing gets resolved successfully. No matter how much a rebuke is justified, people on the receiving end will interpret it the following ways:

When criticized, people assume we want perfection or for them to live up to an impossible standard.

When condemned, people assume we want to demonstrate our power, control or virtue.

When complained about, people assume we want to vent or let off steam at their expense.

So what do we do in this area of human relations? How do we find a way to make the necessary corrections for the good of the organization, business or situation without jeopardizing the relationship?

Soft skills are about consideration of the other. When all of our thoughts, words, and actions are intended to help the other as well as make the necessary correction, we create win-win conversations. Our communication focuses on helping others so they can help us. To do this, we must first understand what they need or want within the context of the situation.

For example, someone is consistently late in meeting their deadlines. This behavior frustrates you because it upsets the workflow and stalls projects. You call the person and let them know that you can’t tolerate this behavior anymore and that they must step it up and start meeting their deadlines. They agree.

The intention here is to get what you need with no thought of what the other person needs.

A week later, the person misses another deadline. This time, you call with a different tactic. You ask what interfered with their ability to make the deadline. You ask them what needed to happen or be different for them to turn the work in on time. You talk it through and brainstorm on corrective strategies.

The intention here is to get what you need by helping the other person get what they need.

Intention matters.

See the difference? As a leader or anyone dealing and depending on other people to help them get things done, it comes down to this: your intention counts and is transparent in the way you communicate.

Addressing the behavior of late deadlines can be done with the intent to criticize, condemn or complain or the intent to help, understand and collaborate. It’s essential that we be honest about our intentions with others without judging ourselves.

The seductive nature of criticizing, condemning and complaining is that it feels good at the moment to focus on getting what we need. However, when the focus is only one way, it damages relationships. In my experience, it can also increase stress, short circuit actual problem solving and drain intelligent thought.

When we need to take corrective action, we can learn to be more purposeful in our approach. We want to ensure we are not criticizing, condemning and complaining as a temporary self-soothing device. Before we speak up, we can check to ensure our intention is productive and considers everyone’s needs in finding the solution.  

In his book, Carnegie describes 16th U.S.president Abraham Lincoln who led the nation through the American Civil War, as someone with superior people skills or human knowledge. Lincoln understood that when you help others win, you win too. 

When we are tempted to criticize, condemn or complain, we can do what Carnegie notes that 26th U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt did years later when faced with a perplexing problem while in office. We can ask ourselves, “What would an extraordinary leader like Lincoln do if he were in my shoes?”

Work Your Inner Genius.

  1. Think of a time when you reacted to another person or to a circumstance by criticizing, condemning or complaining. What was your intention? 
  2. How productive were the results? How long did they last?
  3. How could you have shifted your intention to helping, understanding and collaborating? How might the results and the relationship be different today if you had?

Thanks for reading!  Til next week, 

Jo-Aynne von Born, Certified Professional Coach
Authenticity instigator. Success accelerator. Creativity engineer. 
Mindset shifter. Trusted partner.  

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