10 ways to improve your people skills and raise your emotional intelligence

Business is a team sport — but a rough one like rugby.  Companies and people can get hurt badly because more than ever before it’s a winner-take-all contest. It’s a game played under pressure – losing is not fun and winning solves everything. So, it’s no wonder bosses are looking for real team players.

We look for people who remain calm and effective under pressure, who empathize with clients and team members in pursuit of the best possible results. The gifted individuals we’re looking for act with grace in stressful situations, listen well, communicate well, admit mistakes and learn from them, respond well to criticism and show high self and situational awareness. With these skills, you can be counted on to build productive relationships founded on trust and respect.

These are essentially ‘people skills’, though employers also call them ‘emotional intelligence’. When you lack these skills, you have a “personality issue”. But as any parent can tell you, we aren’t born with people skills.

I think I have good people skillsGood people skills are unnatural. If Johnny the two-year-old wants to play with his brother’s toy, he just grabs it away. His four-year-old brother pushes Johnny down on the ground and takes it back. It’s no wonder that personality issues are the number one reason why VP’s don’t become CEOs and why otherwise good employees lose their jobs in a recession. 

Little kids don’t like to share and they don’t like to consider anyone’s feelings but their own. Unsurprisingly, many adults still feel that way. Here’s a typical comment from someone advised to network and brush up on his so-called “soft skills”:

“I am a worker and a human being, not a circus act. If you want someone who will get the job done correctly and on time, every time, then I’m your man. If you want someone to read your mind, entertain you, or cater to your every whim, then you need a palm reader, a clown, or a dog. I’m none of those. Sorry.”

Ok, understood. But get used to sitting on the sidelines in bad times and watching your colleagues be promoted above you during good times. Your attitude makes you like a very specific tool, say a snowblower. I only need you when the snow is too heavy for a snow shovel. The rest of the time you sit in the garage rusting away.

Back to Johnny and his “personality issues”. If he’s lucky enough to receive good parenting, has good genes and enjoys the right social and educational opportunities, the little wild animal will be tamed and his resulting “emotional intelligence” will make him a productive member of society and valuable team member.

If his people skills are really top-notch, he will be perpetually in-demand and never need to prepare a formal resume. Until of course the day comes when he rises to the level in an organization where his strengths and weaknesses are at an equilibrium in relationship to his responsibilities… that’s called the Peter principle, and we’ll save that for another lesson.

If the stars did not align for you the way they did for Johnny, you will have a few more rough edges to polish. The good news is that the hiring managers searching for ‘emotional intelligence’ are wrong – it’s not an intelligence, they are just skills that you can learn and practice.

If you don’t want your boss to see a snowblower when he looks at you, if you want him to see someone really special in front of him, follow these steps in order:

  1. Connect with people – read How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
  2. Learn good listening skills – read Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids; Practical Ways to Create a Calm and Happy Home by Naomi Drew (chapter 6).
  3. Close your e-mails wellhand write them and do it warmly when appropriate.
  4. Learn pacing in conversation – this is a sales and NLP technique for developing rapport.
  5. Study and use body language – body language is almost always more truthful than speech.
  6. Learn to recognize and manage stress – learning your own stress signals and techniques will help you help others.  Read Stop Worrying & Start Living by Dale Carnegie.
  7. Manage your energy – read The Power of Full Engagement; Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
  8. Study animal training and use it on people – read Don’t Shoot the Dog; The New Art of Teaching and Training
    by Karen Pryor.
  9. Use humornothing works quite as well. Read Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times
    by Donald Phillips.
  10. Be kind to yourself – it’s hard to empathize and connect with others if you can’t do those things with yourself. First, treat yourself kindly.

When you’ve learned these skills, you’ll be of much greater value to your boss and you’ll enjoy your work and your relationships with coworkers more. Last but not least, your family and personal relationships will benefit immeasurably.

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67 comments…

  • avatar

    Hope Kunis March 11, 2014, 1:59 am

    This guide was helpful, informative, and included great further reading for developing “people skills.”

    I feel that as far as my people skills go, I am great at interacting with others one-on-one or in small groups. However, when dealing with large groups at one time on the job, I find it easily overwhelming and my inner patience goes down quickly. This was really highlighted even at my first job, which was at an ice-cream shop. When I would have one customer or a small family, I would feel very comfortable and able to use good humor and listening skills. However, when a huge group of customers would come into the shop, I would feel stressed and unable to concentrate on one thing at a time. That was a huge hindrance to me and I had to work through that issue in order to really enjoy my job.

    Since then, I have learned to keep my stress to a minimum by mentally taking tasks one step at a time. This has made me a better employee because I have more patience, more energy, and a bigger smile on-the-job. My developed people skills have become a great asset to me as a now nursing assistant. Great article! Thank you!

    Reply
  • avatar

    jleeblogger February 26, 2014, 5:19 am

    I think that Shannon may be correct in arguing that one needs good people skills in order to not merely survive but THRIVE in this tough economy. In particular, one cannot stress enough the importance of networking with others and being a good listener.

    Myself being someone who is socially awkward, good people skills do not come naturally for me. I’ve burned many bridges in the past and know what it is like to be rebuffed by colleagues and potential employers. It is something that I am still working on and would like to grow in.

    Nonetheless, perhaps because of the scope and the topic of this blog article, there is something that Shannon does not mention. That is, no matter how great your people skills may be–especially if you are in sales and stock trading–if you lack professional competence in your area of expertise, you will not get very far in your career ladder. After all, how can an employer trust an employee who is unfamiliar with his/her tasks or skills needed to perform them?

    In short, even though I am not downplaying the importance of good people skills, in the end, one’s professional competence and knowledge ALONG WITH people skills are the traits that will truly set one apart.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Emily Beudoin November 27, 2013, 7:33 pm

    Looking at the ten skills needed. I find it ironic that it seems those are the particular areas I have been asking my boss about. How do you stay so calm, and listen. How do you make light of the situations without blowing up. How do you manage your time with your emotions. This will definitely be information that I find to be more than beneficial. Seeing as I recently became promoted into Management at the restaurant that I have been employed by for five years now, I find myself struggling in these areas day to day. However I believe I can take this guide and make my work shifts a bit more beneficial.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Taylor September 18, 2013, 1:43 am

    People skills can make or break a person, and they are very hard to learn if they do not come naturally. I am a natural introvert, so it is very hard for me to make an impression on people in the work place. I used to count on my hard work to speak for itself, but in the social based world that we live in, that just wasn’t enough. Some of the tips listed in the article above are similar to what I taught myself, such as:

    Learn good listening skills
    Study and use body language
    Manage your energy
    Use humor
    Be kind to yourself

    These are effective ways of becoming more personable and finding social interaction less stressful. At first it may feel a little bit forced, but after a while it becomes natural. People just want to be heard and recognized, and they do not want to spend their time with someone that is uncomfortable to talk to. I had to be confident in myself before I could interact with others.

    I found these skills helping me the most in job interviews (and what could be more important than your first impression with a future employer?) It is just a matter of taking your strengths and amplifying them so others see them as well. People like people who like themselves!

    Reply
  • avatar

    Samantha Salazar June 25, 2013, 9:18 pm

    I definitely agree that a great way to receive a job is to have great people skills. I have never really had any work experience before because I find it hard to communicate with employers. My “people skills” aren’t that great. I tend to remain introverted and reserved, but after reading this article, I agree that the only way to have a good chance at getting a job and starting a career is to be open and use body language to communicate with employers, as well as learning good listening skills. It’s hard to listen to an employer when you are trying to impress them with your skills, but the best way to learn is to listen. Taking constructive criticism is also important and this article has helped me to understand even more the importance of having good people skills.

    Remember, you are not the only one that benefits from having good people skills. The company you work for is also reflected and those around you will learn to adopt these skills as well if they want to remain employed.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Crissel Rodriguez April 22, 2013, 1:37 am

    One of my most fulfilling jobs was a fast-paced stressful environment where my bosses smoked like chimneys. Not many people can adapt to these situations but it certainly helps to have a good and kind demeanor. When it was time for employee evaluations, most of my peers received very low scored on their overall work attitude and relationship with customers and co-workers. When it came time for my evaluation I was surprised to find that my boss had complemented me on my “cool attitude.” She went on to say that in times of stress and deadlines I was always very positive and calm. I never noticed this quality in me, but it goes on to say that our attitudes do reflect in the workplace more than we know and can have an influence in others. This can be go as far as your boss feeling confident about your work and increasing your likability among your co-workers and your manager.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Katie Rose April 15, 2013, 2:17 am

    I can definitely relate to 6. Learn to recognize and manage stress. At my job, I am the equivalent of an office manager. I work directly for the big bosses. For the first year of my position, I continually had problems with stress. I always felt like I had to do everything immediately; it could not wait for the next day. This caused me undue stress. I eventually learned that what I didn’t get done on a particular day would wait until the next day. It still takes me a few minutes to realize that I don’t have to be overly stressed about certain things at work. Most times all it takes to relieve most of the stress is some deep breathing techniques.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Jess Kelley April 7, 2013, 12:32 am

    What I really liked about this was number 8, “Study animal training and use it on people.”
    I am a huge animal lover and one thing I have noticed is sometimes animals can be smarter than humans.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Nikki Carter April 5, 2013, 5:15 pm

    Being a team player is of up most importance. Simply remembering the saying, “There’s no “I” in the word “team”, can go a long way in creating respect among one’s peers. One having the skills of being a “jack of all trades and master of none” ability can also aid in successful outcomes. A key to success is not knowing that no one is or was born perfect, but acknowledging and learning from mistakes, thus creating a rapport among peers. Having these attributes can create a competitive edge in today’s job market.

    Reply
  • avatar

    E L March 30, 2013, 3:23 am

    I totally agree with the steps the author listed. Me, I’m pretty much personality/emotion blind. I’m not saying that I am a mean person; in fact, many people confide their secrets in me, but I’m not the best at guessing someone is hiding something, hates the girl she just acted really friendly to etc. I think what encompasses all of those steps — the underlying philosophy — is that other people are just as important as you are.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Melissa Chan March 11, 2013, 6:20 pm

    Interesting read – I have never before pondered the thought of using animal training on people, as it sounds a bit demeaning. Stepping back though, I can see how some of the body language might relate, and give subtle cues that would allow for us to better gauge our circumstance/environment.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Robin Decker February 27, 2013, 1:30 am

    This article is exactly what I needed to read at this moment. I’ve had many, many jobs and while I’ve never been fired, I know that my emotioanl intelligence was always one reason why I never got along well with my co-workers. It has taken me a long time and many hard looks in the mirror to understand that it’s not “them”, but rather, it’s me! Yikes, who wants to admit that they are emotionally immature, especially at my age. And I won’t list that here.

    I will share one experience that I still remember vividly from years ago. One of my first jobs was as a hostess at a very well known New York restaurant, where many actors, musicians, models, etc. hung out. There was a lot of attitude thrown around on a fairly regular basis, and me being just a hostess..well, let’s just say I didn’t get treated very well. One day a man came in for lunch and sat waiting at a table for some friends. He was extremely rude and arrogant (really, not making this part up) and treated me as if I were kind of a lowly peasant. I was not in the best mood and eventually he got to me and I started yelling at him at the top of my lungs, in the middle of the lunch rush. You’re probably wondering if I got fired. No, believe it or not. I was lucky that the owners were not around and my manager was extremely understanding of my point of view. Thanks, Chris!

    My point is that I lost it in a situation that I should have handled completely differently. I have come a long way from that experience, but after reading this article I know that I still have quite a lot to learn. I appreciate the books listed, especially the one’s on parenting. As a mother of two-year old twins, I want to make better choices for them so that they have all the same advantages as little Johnny might have. Having kids really wakes you up to your own emotional discrepancies, and this article only solidifed it for me. Thank you! Just what I needed.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Tonya Hill December 5, 2012, 4:22 pm

    On many occasions I have been faced with situations that I am unsure how to handle emotionally. The stress of those jobs ultimately drove me to looking for a new job. It’s sad that I felt the need to search for a new job, due to the emotional stress and issues that were brought upon me. I hope to take the advice from this and use it in my new job. I love people, but I don’t deal with confrontation and criticism very well.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Janelle September 7, 2012, 10:32 pm

    I think one of the most important points raised in this article is that of nonverbal communication, here called “body language.” It’s a fantastic thing to point out, but there’s so much more than just body language involved! Nonverbal communication includes everything about your interaction with others that isn’t words themselves. That includes your dress, your posture, your use of space and touch, any scents you wear, the way you organize your office – and it changes based on culture. I definitely recommend doing research into the wide world of nonverbal communication – the things we say with words get thought about, but the things we say without words go directly into the other person’s mental image of us – and can be VERY difficult to change!

    Reply
  • avatar

    Joanna Silvestri August 31, 2012, 11:32 pm

    I noticed that these skills help ones emotional intelligence because each one on
    its own are leading factors to success not only personally but also in a
    working or any team-based environment.
    Starting with “Connecting with people” I have
    experienced that the performance of every individual becomes much more
    efficient when people are connected with each other in some way personal. But
    one thing leads to the other, and thus connecting with people leads to being
    able to listen to what they have to say.
    Then, “Learning good listening skills,” not only implicates to be able to hear
    what other are saying but in fact paying attention to them in a way that the
    “listening” becomes a matter of understanding.
    Furthermore, “Closing your e-mails well” is
    another skill that goes back to the efficiency and productivity that relies
    behind effective communication and personal interaction. Indeed, by “warmly” or
    personally closing e-mails, the receiver will perceive a much more personal
    interaction and thus the communication will run smoothly and nicely.
    Additionally, “Learning pacing in
    conversation” results in the idea of achieving goals by the simple act of
    chatting. Thus, practicing this skill can become crucial when a simple
    conversation could determine the future of a project.
    Besides, “Studying body language” during the
    past, I learned that if a person is arm crossed when speaking it might seem
    just like a comfortable position, yet in reality the person is blocking,
    closing, or simply not-opening to what the other is saying. So, a simple clue
    of body language may reveal the attitude of a person.
    Similarly, “Learning to recognize and manage
    stress,” can become very beneficial not only because communication runs
    smoothly and lacking confrontation; but also because every task and duty becomes
    more approachable. In the same way, a person’s energy could be redirected positively.
    Then, “managing ones energy” and directing
    it towards positive outcomes would result in success instead of provoking
    conflicts. But not only one can redirect one’s way of acting.
    “Studying animal training and using it on
    people” is as effective when willing positive outcomes in the work field and
    communication. In fact, is not a matter of treating others as animals but trying
    to work together in a beneficial way to obtain great outcomes for both parts.
    Moreover, “Using humor” is a great skill to
    make everyone’s life a bit happier. However, is not only all about the others
    but also about yourself.
    Therefore, it is as important to “Be kind to
    yourself” as it is to be kind with others, because at the end of the day the
    only thing that will keep is yourself. In if you are lost, everything else is
    lost.

    Reply
  • avatar

    Tara Wilkins August 30, 2012, 10:28 pm

    Having not been one of the fortunate
    few blessed with “emotionally intelligent” role models in my formative years,
    and being of somewhat fiery nature in general, learning effective interpersonal
    skills has been essential to my professional—and personal—development.

    My first jobs, as for many, were in
    customer service. Initially, I did not
    know how to counter and effectively manage the attitudes and behaviors people
    like to project onto “the person behind the counter”, nor was I much of a saleswoman. I was often reprimanded and on one occasion
    let go because I did not always interact with customers appropriately; I did not know how to resolve
    conflict peacefully, and had little control over my body language or emotional expression, and simply did not know how to conduct myself in a way that led to being the sort of employee, or person, I wanted to be. But with
    practice and supportive mentors, I have learned to handle stress, manage
    relationships to my advantage, and in general be a positive and productive part
    of a team. My career as a teacher depends on these skills. I am living testament that this CAN be done…it
    just takes work. This article is
    excellent, take the tips to heart!

    Reply
  • avatar

    Charity Gabrielle Vizcaino August 23, 2012, 10:02 pm

    I never realized how many employees at my previous job didn’t have good listening skills until one day my manager told me. ” You’re my favorite person to work with. You actually do what I tell you to do without complaining.” I was flattered, but a little surprised. Who knew it was so rare to actually listen to your boss!

    Reply

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.

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