Have you ever met a smart person who has terrible interpersonal skills? They seem to miss social cues and do not understand the basics of interpersonal communication. It’s not that they are not clever, but there are multiple intelligences that make up a person’s whole intelligence.
When we understand this, we are more willing and able to embrace our strengths and see opportunities for growth.
Many, many years ago, I worked with someone who was smart but terrible with people. (Ouch, did I just say that out loud?) However, he was completely misunderstood. People called him boring, socially awkward, politically incorrect and, in some cases, just plain weird. His approach to relationships was always secondary to the money and metrics of the business, and it ended up biting him on the bum several times. People started to doubt his intentions; they felt he lacked care towards them in his conversations and, as a result, people avoided him at all costs.
The impact on him was less obvious. I recall speaking with him, on several occasions, about his disillusionment towards people. He had little intolerance for investing in relationships; he felt such relationships were useless to him—even below him. However, I think he was lonely sitting there at the top of the corporate tree with very few quality relationships in his professional world.
Emotional labour: it’s a matter of nature AND nurture
I first read about emotional labour in one of Seth Godin’s blogs.
It means that at times we need to put in the effort, deliberate effort, to do what it takes to be our best professional selves, even when we don’t feel like it. Let’s be honest, dealing with people—even when it is for personal reasons—can stink like effort. It can be hard work, and when our tank is empty, we don’t always feel motivated to put in the extra effort and try to ‘relate’ to others. It’s like turning up to a networking event on a week night: you’re already mentally exhausted yet you have to dig deep to find the energy to shake several hands, introduce yourself, talk about what you do and show genuine interest in what they do. This practice of emotional labour develops interpersonal skills and, ultimately, leads to your growth.
We are all in the business of relationships, and it is one of the areas in my life that matters most to me—both personal and professional. I think being intentional with human-to-human interactions is something that comes naturally to me and yet, I have also set up systems and processes to help me nurture relationships when life is busy and chaotic.
It is a case of nature AND nurture, not one OR the other.
Nature: some of you have the innate potential and the strength in sensing what people need. This allows you to communicate in a way where people feel understood and valued.
Nurture: some of you practice the skills required and put in the effort needed to invest in developing and maintaining quality relationships.
The nurturing is not fake, disingenuous or forced. I prefer to look at it like a practice (applying effort). The practice I refer to is a combination of self-awareness and intention one brings to conversations, which results in being more attentive and present in that moment.
Bring your whole self to human interactions
When we are having a conversation with a customer or colleague, we would like to feel unique, understood, validated, accepted and/or valued by the person with whom we are interacting
To have these small moments of impact, we need to be aware of our heads, hearts and habits. It’s not just a case of what we think, feel or do but rather how all three elements work together to make up who we are (as whole beings) in that moment.
The goal for more intentional interactions is to be aware of your thoughts: what you think; be aware of who you are being: what you feel; and know that head and heart will drive your actions: what you do.
I think that in most human-to-human interactions, there is a beginning, a middle and an end that is similar to how we tell or hear a story: the conversation has a certain rhythm and pattern. In a service scenario, that might look like the greeting, the transaction and the farewell.
In Figure 1.0 below, I have listed nine tactics that assist intentional conversations. Each intention has a guiding question that you will ask yourself silently in order to connect more deeply with the other individual. The order of the guiding questions follows the pattern for each phase of a service scenario. The aim is to keep you alert, present and attentive to the other person.
These questions, however, are appropriate to any working relationship, formal or informal meeting, sales conversation, customer service environment, networking event or casual BBQ where you want to improve your interpersonal skills and have a quality interaction.
Even Google Home and Amazon Alexa require these elements of interpersonal skills when interacting with them. I personally do not have these devices in my home; however, recently my partner and I stayed at a hotel which had an Alexa in the room. It was fascinating how she did not respond to us unless we gave her complete questions and were clear in what we were communicating.
We learnt that she does not respond to transactional, throw-away comments. I happened to walk in on my partner shouting at Alexa and she plain ignored hm. It was funny to watch and yet it reminded me that even robots want a bit of heart from people when they are dishing out commands.
If our intention is pure and our words match our intention, our relationships will soar.
‘Love Being in Service’