What If You’re Not That Interested in People?
post # 256 — December 7, 2006 — a Managing post
In yesterday’s blogpost on leadership the central points, which all the subsequent commenters seemed to endorse vigorously, were that the key to being an effective manager was to be interested in people, and… and… and… (drumroll, please) you can’t fake that stuff! It’s either genuine or you’re not going to be an effective manager.
In my experience, there’s too little reflection and examination on the consequences of those points, and too much glib advice (including by me) that you “should” get interested in people.
I think that misses the whole point about not being able to fake it. People array along a continuous spectrum of how genuinely interested they are in other people, and how comfortable they are in relating to other people on an intimate one-to-one (“drop the mask, be human”) basis. Given different underlying characters and personality tyupes, maybe we need to stop pretending that everyone CAN become ‘interested in other people.’ If you really can’t fake it, then what use is the advice that you should “get interested?”
Very frequently when I am doing a seminar or consulting about effective management, people look at the list of what effective managers do and they say things like “That’s not too hard – why doesn’t everyone do that?” And the answer is that it’s not too hard if you are genuinely interested in other people. But it is my experience that, in real life, only a minority really are. That’s not a moral failing, or a lack of skills – it’s about relatively fixed personality traits, in my view.
For example, some people have high social needs – they revel in being part of a lively, active circle. Others, just aren’t wired that way. They’d prefer to cuddle up with a good book rather than go to the bar or the pub with the ‘gang.’ Some people REALLY enjoy listening to the details of other people’s lives. Others, meaning no disrespect, just don’t want or need to know.
So, here’s the point for discussion. If you can’t fake a sincere interest in people, what’s the point of advising people to do it? Should we shut down all the management training programs or restrict them only for people who first pass an attitude test?