January 22 – People Skills

“Eighty-five percent of the reason you get a job, keep that job, and move ahead in that job has to do with your people skills and people knowledge.” (Cavett Robert)

Some say that 83% of all statistics are made up, so I don’t know whether this one is accurate or not. But I agree that a lot of success in my job depends on my people skills.

There have been times in my career when I was the person at the table who had the most knowledge about the subject at hand. Either through experience or extensive study, I had the reserve power of knowing the facts and figures of the discussion. In a completely objective world, that should have been enough for my opinions and thoughts on how to proceed to carry the day. I was, after all, objectively right. But, all too often that wasn’t the outcome because I ignored the basis of this quote’s suspicious statistic.

The times when I failed to be persuasive, it wasn’t necessarily because I had the wrong facts, or had the wrong examples. It was, more often than not, because I ignored the fact that there were people at the table who had differing opinions and beliefs about the subject. They all had their own filters shaped by their own facts and experiences. In their minds they had the objectively correct answer.  In short, I failed at the people skills side of the equation. And in my most humble state, I have to admit that very often, they were right.

A friend of mine sometimes says that you have a choice in many situations between being right, or being liked. Sometimes, when delivering bad news, I have to be more on the “right” side of the equation. I have to be able to hold up the mirror and show how things really are. But most of the time, and even when I have to deliver bad news, I still have to come back to the “liked” side of the equation. If I don’t, I risk having the message get lost in the person’s feelings about me, and not about the situation at hand.

Overall, I think I have painfully learned the lesson of this quote. To me, the lesson of this quote is that it is far more important in my career to know how to get along with people, than it is to have technical knowledge, or particular facts about a situation. That isn’t to say that technical knowledge and facts aren’t important, because they are. What it does say is that everyone comes to the table with them. Having technical skill and knowledge is the cost of entry just to get in the door at work. After that, my success is determined much more by my ability to get along with others.

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1 Response to January 22 – People Skills

  1. Susan Dooley says:

    Great post Bob, and I agree wholeheartedly. After being in the professional world for over twenty years now, I continue to be amazed how many people lack the self-awareness to understand how their words, actions, & attitudes affect others.

    I will introduce one thought:I try to honor the maxim: “Would you rather be right or would you rather be KIND?” The difference between “liked” and “kind,” in my mind, is that one is inherently self-focused (liked) and the other is inherently other focused (kind). Being ‘right’ is a self, orientation, and so is being ‘liked.’ Being kind however, requires us to set aside our ego – as hard as that is at times – and focus on the other person…even when their actions/behaviors differ from our own and feel wrong. Another might call it exercising grace.

    A favorite passage of mine from HTWFIP that keeps me in check:
    “Here lies the body of William Jay, who died maintaining his right of way. He was was right – dead right – as he sped along, but he’s just as dead as if he was wrong.”

    Great dialogue Bob – thanks for sharing.


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