7 Ways To Master People Skills

Have you ever wondered how some people connect to others instantly in a corporate environment while others struggle to make their presence felt?  A lot of this has to do with people skills.

Business Dictionary defines People Skills as –

‘A set of skills enabling a person to get along with others, to communicate ideas effectively, to resolve conflicts, and to achieve personal or business goals. ’

People are the single most important asset in the Information Technology (IT) industry.  Clients are billed based on the number of hours worked or milestones achieved. Milestones, in turn, are based on the person months effort for that particular milestone. Basically, everything that is done in this industry stems from people.

Let’s say, you are a programmer working on an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation for a client. You could be working in a technical role making customizations to the ERP package in one small area. There would be several programmers working in the same area. All of them will be dependent on the Business Analyst to tell them what the client is looking for in terms of features and functionality. They would also be dependent on each other’s work to ensure that the overall package delivers what the client wants.

Let’s take it to the next level. Since there would be a large team working, each team member would have a defined role. In addition, the programmers would be working under the supervision of their module leader while overall they would be under the supervision of the Project leader, responsible for delivering the entire project.

In a situation like this, the ability to get along with other people, relate to them and manage work that has dependencies on others, calls for people skills.  The better your people skills are, the more effective you will be as a leader.

So how do you improve your people skills from a professional standpoint?

1. Take An Active Interest In People

If you want to improve your swimming skills you have to get into water and practice swimming more often.  Improving your people skills is no different. You need to take every available opportunity to interact with people.

Very often I have seen people, particularly in technical roles, not availing opportunities fully to interact with other people outside their team or circle.  Avoiding interaction with people is a tendency that can grow on you to a point that you don’t want to speak up in meetings or voice your opinion at all.

As time passes by and you rise within the organisation hierarchy you can be severely handicapped by your inability to interact with people and get things done. The fact is, sooner or later you will be in a people management position and then things could start to get difficult.

Remember, the better you understand people, the easier it will be to manage them. And, managing people well is a key element of effective leadership!

2. Get To Know People Outside Your Immediate Group

One of my colleagues in TCS had amazing skills in building relationships. He took the trouble to build deep relationships with a whole lot of people and clients in particular. Once, the financial year-end, March 31st was approaching and a large payment was stuck with one of the clients.  The client was not signing off on a deliverable that had been submitted but was under review.  Without sign-off, the payment could not be released.  We were falling short of our targets and it was imperative that this amount be collected.

When everything else failed and the client refused to release the payment, my colleague was sent to meet the client. He got the payment released simply on the basis of the trust he had built with the client after assuring the client that changes, if any, emerging from the deliverable review would be made by the company.

If you communicate with people purely at a professional level you could miss out on deepening your relationship. Take some effort in getting to know other people you come in contact outside your immediate group on a personal level. Get to know the person, his or her interests, what their family is like, things that they value, their accomplishments outside of work and you will create much deeper relationships.

People who are successful know the value of relationships and tend to go out of their way to build relationships.

3. Learn To Deal With Criticism Constructively

Some years ago, I was managing a consultancy project. The project required visits to client sites pan-India. Accordingly, inputs from team members who had visited different client sites had to be collated together to come up with the real situation on the ground and from there on formulate our recommendations.

One of my team members, who had been entrusted with visiting the regional office in the north, came back after the visit with information so scanty that I began to wonder if he had even visited the client site.  When I pointed out that the information that he had collected was inadequate, his response was that we should not have taken the consultancy assignment in the first place as it was very difficult.

This discussion happened during a team meeting when I was going over team members’ outputs. When the other members heard this statement they were visibly upset with this person as the information gaps in his work was holding up everyone’s output.

The point is by getting defensive and trying to justify your position, you could alienate other people and weaken your own position.

If you are a person who flares up immediately when you are criticised, regardless of whether it was your fault or not, then you have some work to do.  There will always be times when you fall short in your work, either because your work was not up to the mark or because you were hampered by dependencies on other people or because you took on too much work at one time.

Whatever be the issue, hear out the other person without interrupting or flaring up and try not to take it personally.  If you respond maturely, you will come across as a dependable person even if you have missed a deadline.

Leaders are adept at learning from criticism and using constructive criticism as a tool to improve performance.

4. Be Able To Put Your Point Across Without Offending Others

When you manage teams and execute projects, there will always be occasions where you have to communicate something unpleasant to someone from your team. If you can do this with tact allowing the other person to save his face, you will command respect. The fact is when you are in a position of authority you can tell people who have fallen short of expectations or not done what they had committed to do, what you think of them.  But, if you do this tactlessly it could fuel resentment and the person who has been admonished could feel like victimised.

Instead, a little sensitivity goes a long way in building and maintaining relationships.

5. Develop An Ability To Have Difficult Conversations

Sometimes you may have to communicate your position to a team member, who you know does not want to hear what you have to say, for the simple reason that it will impact him or her adversely. In such cases what do you do? Do you step back and wait for the situation to resolve itself? Do you take the bull by the horns and deal with it?  Well, this is where the ability to have difficult conversations comes in very handy.

Let’s say you are managing an IT project and you find one team member is neither putting inadequate efforts nor delivering the required output. The annual appraisal is due and you know that despite this behaviour, your team member is expecting a good appraisal and financial benefits to go with it.

What do you do? You have no option but to have an objective conversation with the errant team member on his or her performance vis-à-vis goals and arrive at a suitable rating that should be fair and something that does not leave the team member feeling victimised.  This is where the ability to have difficult conversations really helps.

Companies like IBM, actually encourage you to develop this ability and actually evaluate you on your ability to have difficult conversations.  Leaving emotions out of the discussions, focusing on issues objectively and deciding the course of action based on facts would be a part of this difficult conversation.

One of the persons I worked with in IBM had this sterling quality that she could have a difficult conversation quite objectively and completely keep her personal likes or dislikes out of the reckoning. The net result was that the outcome of her meetings was completely based on facts rather than likes and opinions and people came away from her meetings feeling that they had been dealt with fairly.

6. Develop Motivational Skills

Leadership and motivational skills, go hand in hand. If you are a leader, you will undoubtedly be required to motivate people. The ability to motivate people can be priceless.  Motivation skills also call for people skills as you cannot motivate everyone the same way. You need different approaches for different people.

If you look at any accomplished leader their motivational skills will be first rate. There are two ways to get people to do things. One and the most obvious way is to use your authority to get things done. But, this is not the best way, for it causes resentment. Also, you need to keep a close watch on the person you have ordered, as there is a tendency not to follow the order once you are not around.

The more refined way to get things done is to motivate people to do what you want them to do. But, to motivate people you first need to understand their aspirations and goals to show how doing what you are asking them to do, will help them achieve their goals or whatever they aspire for.

If you don’t understand people it will be very difficult for you to motivate them.

7. Learn To Manage By Objectives

Let’s say you are managing a project and are allocating work to your team. Project Managers (PM) sometimes allocate the best work to people who are close to them and if someone happens to run foul of the PM they could end up with work that no one wants to do.

If you are a good people manager, you wouldn’t do that. You would go by the skill demands of the project and deploy people according to the needs of the project and their ability to perform in that role.

In doing so, you would also increase the chances of the project succeeding and therefore chances of all the team members being benefitted.

When you manage by objectives, you tend to be more objective in your approach and less subjective. Therefore, you give less room for your likes and dislikes to skew your decision making. You also foster team spirit and raise your team’s morale because every team member knows that he or she has an equal chance to perform and succeed in your projects.

Focusing on objectives and issues could increase your people skills in a professional context and make your decisions as a leader, fair and transparent.

Leadership is all about touching lives and getting results. Developing your people skills could make you a truly exceptional leader!




About the Author:

Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience spanning 24 countries.

Srinivasan R

Management Consultant at Independent Consultant