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Passion, People and Principles

The Mysteries of Dealing With People – A Few Pointers

post # 25 — March 2, 2006 — a Careers post

I am not a natural people person, so I watch out keenly for lessons on how to interact with others. Here’s a few pointers I picked up along the way.

We often think of the distinct topics of dealing with superiors, colleagues, clients and subordinates as separate discussions. But the reality is that it’s all one topic: how to deal with people.

You can use these different perspectives to help you think through difficult situations. If you’re stuck on how to deal with a boss, ask yourself: ‘How would I handle it if I were dealing with a client?’ Similarly, you can get a lot of insight into dealing with your subordinates by pondering the question: ‘If this person were a colleague, what would I do?’

Actually, the principle is broader than that. We all deal with people in our personal lives: parents, siblings, friends and lovers. These relationships are not always harmonious, yet we deal with issues and get on with the relationship. When you’re contemplating what to do in a business relationship, draw upon your experience in your personal relationships. You won’t do the identical thing, but it will help you think it through.

What do we try to be in personal relationships to build bonds? Sympathetic, supportive, nurturing, considerate and kind. Apply that everywhere in all your business relationships. They are the keys, in any relationship, to getting the other person to respond to you and treat you as you want to be treated.

When dealing with a subordinate, a reservations clerk at the airport, your boss, your spouse or anyone else, you are more likely to get cooperation if you control any emotions you are feeling.

A while ago, before I had given up smoking, my wife, Kathy, turned to me and said ‘David, can I get your help?’ Of course, I said yes. She said ‘Well, when we travel, we are usually lucky enough to stay in hotel suites, and your smoking doesn’t bother me. But, occasionally, we are in small hotel rooms, and I find that, then, the smoke makes my eyes itchy. What do you think I should do about that?’

This is, of course, brilliant. She had every right to be angry, but she knew that expressing her anger would reduce the chances of my cooperation, not increase it. She had every right to criticize me, but she knew that if she was explicit in her criticism, I would become defensive and try to justify myself.

She did not approach the problem as a logical, rational one to be ‘solved,’ but an interpersonal, psychological, emotional one. She was less concerned about being right, and more concerned about getting what she wanted.

There’s a simple rule. If you are trying to make a point and do it with emotion, you give the other person the opportunity to deflect the conversation onto your emotions and away from your point. Keep your emotions out of it.

Want to know how to deal with others? As a good first approximation, think of others as like you, not as ‘them’ If you want to influence someone, ask: Would it work on me? Figure out how you like to be dealt with. Draw up your own list of how you expect to be treated. Treat others that way.

Are these old, unoriginal thoughts? Of course, but still worth asking ourselves how well we actually apply them in our lives.


Bill Peper said:

This an important topic, one consciously avoided in most business discussions. However, I do not believe that “keep[ing] the emotions out of our conversations is the appropriate advice or practical.

We create emotions naturally, and others can perceive our emotional state much better than we think.

The dirty secret is that the skill we really need to develop is how to control our emotions so that they serve, rather than prevent, the attainment of our goals. There are no magic pills or short cuts in this area. Maturing in this area requires courage and hard work.

posted on March 2, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Bill, your modification is important. It’s learning to manage, not hide, our emotions that is the key. The ‘emotional intelligence’ writers (Goleman, etc) correctly point out that self-management and emotional self-control is the beginning od emotional intelligence.

And it’s hard, as you say. Most of my ‘failures’ in speaking, consulting and management have come from being over-exuberant, reacting as my feelings dictated, rather than in a thoughtful, self-controlled manner.

Your word, Bill, is critical – maturing, a lifelong agenda for many of us. Like children we need to learn how to socialize our emotions, and make them work for us and for others.

posted on March 2, 2006

Tommy said:

Damn man I just really hate people!! Why do you all have to be so complicated? Im not? I dont think things and not say them having some sort of hidden agenda. I’m nice to evereyone I meet. and fully open myself to people. Its a genuine nice tooo. Not a face i put on. In my experience , people make me just want to stay in my house and not come out cos things go bad when Im out side. I never do anything bad to anyone that is unwarranted. I find that people are more than happy to publicly ridicule me for anything and it ges to the point that they are diong bad things even though they are getting nothing out of it. yet the few people that share my unique traits seem to get on with me like crazy. some time It seems that me and a small percentage of people are on the top of a very large pyrimid…..

posted on May 24, 2008