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This article was prepared for the January 3, 2001 edition of U.S.

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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:

Shifting gears when necessary is smart. If you think about it,

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?

Your organization is going through a massive change.

Your boss ignores your requests.

An employee returns to his or her errant ways after a

few days of better performance.

A colleague seeks your help so often you can’t get



No one volunteers for jobs that need to be done.

A fellow staff member constantly complains to you about

someone else.

Your boss doesn’t keep you in the information loop.

Your supervisor is not clear about his or her


Team morale is low .

Interpersonally intelligent people utilize three skills to


change. They begin by Accepting the Challenge: They recognize when

things are not going well in a relationship and seek to improve it.

Face reality . It’s painful to come to terms with


reality. One way to avoid the truth is to act bewildered or powerless.

Another way is to procrastinate. A third possibility is denial.

Take responsibility . It’s smart to acknowledge that


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.

Apply high standards . Those who are people smart


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.

To uncover the ruts in a troubled relationship, evaluate

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:

Analytical people focus on facts and logic. They may need to

be more flexible, spend less time gathering data, show concern for

people and be more expressive of their feelings.

Amiable people exude friendliness and empathy. They should


learning to be more assertive, less sensitive, and more willing to

take risks.

Driving people are comfortable taking charge. They could work

on being more sensitive to others, using active listening, and


more caution in making decisions.

Expressive people create excitement and involvement. They may

need to tame their emotions, gear down their energy level, and improve

their organizational skills.

Another way to uncover the ruts in a troubled relationship is

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


And finally, interpersonally intelligent people change the


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

a try.

Test the waters . Challenge your own assumption that what

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.

Assess the benefits . Look for signs that change is


to occur.

Here Silberman offers a summarizing example:

"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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