Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared for the January 3, 2001 edition of U.S.
1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Developing People Smarts
Got a personal workplace problem? A co-worker you
can’t get along with? A mean boss? A recalcitrant employee? The
solution is to head to the bookstore and read the titles on the
shelves. Surely one of those tomes will speak to your need.
That works if you have just one personality problem, and if you know
what it is. But what if you can’t quite put your finger on your
It may sound simplistic, but Mel Silberman, who has a home-based
consulting business in Princeton entitled Active Training, has written
a self-help book that answers your need. "PeopleSmart: Developing
Your Interpersonal Intelligence," is co-written with Freda
published by Berrett-Koehler of San Francisco, and sells for $16.95.
It boasts enthusiastic reviews from such gurus as Stephen Covey and
Ken Blanchard and can be accompanied by an $800 training video and
by $8 handbooks, one for each PeopleSmart skill.
"It used to be said that some of us were in the business of
with people, and some of us were in the business of working with
figures, and machinery," writes Silberman. In addition to his
psychology consulting practice (609-924-8157; fax, 609-924-4250,
he is professor and coordinator of the adult and organizational
program at Temple University. "The distinction was probably never
accurate, but now its inaccuracy is beyond dispute. It’s not only
smart to be people smart, it’s critical."
Silberman starts with a self-evaluation quiz. Take it to find out
how well you do in eight different areas of interacting with people.
Silberman labels them "PeopleSmart" skills: understanding
people, expressing yourself clearly, assessing your needs, exchanging
feedback, influencing others, resolving conflict, being a team player,
changing tactics. Here are some excerpts:
"The eight ways to be people smart give you the tools you’ll need
to establish and maintain strong relationships with everyone with
whom you come into contact. They fit together almost like a child’s
building blocks, each one offering a firm foundation for the next.
You’ll come to think of these integrated abilities as keys for
and developing relationships that haven’t always reached the levels
you would like. In short, you will find that it is smart to
become people smart."
Following is an excerpt of what Silberman has to say about the most
complex people skill — how to be flexible:
most conflicts between people (and even nations) persist because each
side is waiting for the other to change. As a result, nothing changes.
The ability to shift gears pays off in a variety of situations. Do
these situations strike a chord with you?
few days of better performance.
change. They begin by Accepting the Challenge: They recognize when
things are not going well in a relationship and seek to improve it.
reality. One way to avoid the truth is to act bewildered or powerless.
Another way is to procrastinate. A third possibility is denial.
are entangled and complicated. Accept that almost all problems are
"between people" rather than "within people" and
the challenge to work on the relationship even if the other party
is slow to do so.
the power of self-fulfilling prophecies. When we expect someone to
be a certain way, that person may very well live up to our
By establishing high but attainable standards for a relationship you
help to move it forward.
emotional closeness . In an enmeshed relationship, people
are deeply entangled with each other. In disengaged
everyone is free to make his or her own decisions and to feel
by bonds of loyalty.
To reduce disengagement: Give support to help the other person get
over a tough hurdle. Communicate more frequently. Encourage the other
person to give you feedback and return the favor. Show interest in
the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Give the other
person information he or she may need, and ask him or her to keep
you in the loop as well.
Also, look for style differences. If you sense
that your preferred style is incompatible at times with the style
of the other person, try to flex your style. Based on model developed
by David Merrill in the 1960s, Robert and Dorothy Grover Bolton
four social styles:
be more flexible, spend less time gathering data, show concern for
people and be more expressive of their feelings.
learning to be more assertive, less sensitive, and more willing to
on being more sensitive to others, using active listening, and
more caution in making decisions.
need to tame their emotions, gear down their energy level, and improve
their organizational skills.
to detect cycles of behavior. People who engage in cyclic
have a familiar script. The way to detect a harmful cycle is to
times when a problem gets resolved in ways that feel emotionally
by acting in novel ways instead of waiting for others to make the
first move. While there is no guarantee that a change in your behavior
will elicit a change in someone else’s behavior, it is certainly worth
you are doing in the relationship doesn’t need changing. This is
hard when you believe your own behavior is positive. Explore what
a change in your behavior will mean to you and the other person. There
is a joke that the only one who likes change is a wet baby.
If you have been unsuccessfully trying to deal with the poor
of an employee by expressing your disappointment, taking a different
approach might create a climate of change:
Requesting. Ask for rather than demand a change.
Backing off. Stop comments about the undesired behavior for
a short time to assess whether you have unwittingly been reinforcing
the negative behavior by giving it attention.
Monitoring. Keep closer than usual tabs on the employee’s
perhaps reminding her or him more frequently what behavior you expect.
Encouraging. Suspend any criticism for awhile and look for an
opportunity to praise.
"Harry was dismayed that his suggestions were rarely taken
by his boss. When he evaluated the situation, he realized that, once
rebuffed, he would lay low for a while, even for weeks, before
new ideas. Harry decided that he should try to give suggestions more
frequently, even if they were rejected. Each time he was rebuffed,
he graciously accepted the rejection with the comment, "Maybe
my next idea will be better." This change in tactics still led
but Harry noticed that each time he made a suggestion, the boss made
more of an effort to explain why it would not work for him. Next,
he noticed that his boss would sometimes act on one of Harry’s
without saying so. Although Harry wanted credit where it was due,
he nonetheless was grateful that he was starting to have an impact
on his boss. It wasn’t until months later that Harry’s boss finally
began thanking Harry for his ideas."
— Barbara Fox
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