Using excellent people skills is the best way to influence the members of your team, your boss and all your co-workers. These skills consistently account for achieving the best possible outcome in every management action and interaction.

Coaching you to treat your people well by using these skills is one of the dominant themes woven throughout this site.

Here is a list of the nine people skills that executive coaches consistently encourage their clients to develop:

  • Understanding how people communicate
  • Expressing your thoughts and feelings clearly
  • Speaking up when your needs are not being met
  • Asking for feedback and giving quality feedback in return
  • Influencing how others think and act
  • Bringing conflicts to the surface and getting them resolved
  • Collaborating with others
  • Shifting gears when relationships are unproductive
  • Clearly define working relationships

These people skills need to be developed and/or refined as a package! Overlooking or avoiding one or two because they’re outside your comfort zone can make a huge difference in how credible and influential you will be.

1. Understand How People Communicate

Your job, as a woman manager or team leader, is to be able to communicate with everyone, by mirroring their verbal communication style, the pace of their speech and their intonations (unless they are offensive). This is a people skills imperative.

We’ve already discussed the difference between men’s and women’s communication styles in the context of gender differences. We will also discuss business communication in the context of how non-verbal communication impacts business outcomes. Both these discussions are specific to certain situations and circumstances.

Verbal communication style basics are an essential people skill because they cross all situations and circumstances.

2. Express Your Thoughts and Feelings Clearly

We are bombarded with information all through the workday, but our brains can only absorb so much usable information at a given time. To effectively express your thoughts and feelings to someone else isn’t always easy when you have to compete with the barrage of “noise”. That's why this is part of the essential people skills list.

You can’t read the minds of people around you, so don’t expect them to intuitively know what you are thinking or feeling either. This applies to your team members and your boss.

If you are angry or frustrated, take a few minutes to cool down then find a quiet place to communicate with the person who is the source of your anger or frustration. Let them know not only how you think and feel but why you think and feel the way you do. In all your relationships, personal as well as professional, this is an essential people skill.

Discussing feelings won’t be confrontational if you depersonalize it – talk about the issue, not the person. Avoid using “you”, “you are” – anything that smacks of finger pointing. Remember to use appropriate body language and observe the other person’s body language.

3. Speak Up When Your Needs are Not Being Met

This communication will probably be with your boss. (S/he supposedly has developed great people skills already.) Check the top two levels in Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. Chances are the need you have that is not being met is related to one of the things this list.

    Acceptance of fact

Depersonalize this discussion again. Address the issue. Don’t place blame. Be sure you resolve the issue or it will keep popping up again until you do. Be willing to accept the fact that an unrealistic expectation on your part might be part of the problem. This should be part of your people skills portfolio all by itself.

4. Ask for Feedback From Others and Give Quality Feedback in Return

Your organization may have a formal performance appraisal process in place that managers are required to follow. But “review time” can be a tense and nerve-wracking time for everyone involved because that’s usually when money and promotions are discussed - requiring your very best people skills. So don’t let that become the only time you provide performance feedback to your team members.

Remember Ken Blanchard’s classic The One-Minute Manager®? It’s the best advice on giving feedback I ever followed – with the side benefit that is enjoyable. Here’s a quick review in case you haven’t read it recently.

One-minute goal-settings

  • Keep them simple
  • Make sure you both agree on them
  • Have your team members summarize agreed-upon goals in writing on no more than one page
  • Focus on the 20% of activities that will lead to 80% of the gains (The Pareto Principle)
  • Don’t make the process of managing too many goals overwhelming – no more than 3 – 6 at a time

One-minute praisings

  • Pay close attention to team members starting up front
  • Monitor their activity, looking for things done right that you can praise
  • Praise in person, specifically pointing out what was done well
  • Be consistent – even if you’re having a tough day or week, praise the positive

One-minute reprimands

  • Don’t let mistakes pile up!
  • Immediately correct mistakes – don’t wait until review time to bombard someone
  • Be consistent
  • Be specific – agree on the facts
  • Be clear about how you feel about poor behavior
  • Don’t attack the person – address the behavior, not the individual
  • After communicating dissatisfaction with behavior, praise the individual
  • Establish the fact that you are sharing your disappointment because you respect them and expect so much from them

Also, Toastmasters International teaches a useful, informal feedback technique: CRC - or “Commend, Recommend, Commend”. I would add, just be sure what you say is sincere or the person you are talking to will see right through it!

If your boss doesn’t provide you with regular feedback, ask for it! Suggest a brief sit-down on a regular basis to be sure everything is on track, ask if there is anything you should be doing that you are not doing, if there is anything you should be doing differently, etc. Be sure you know where you stand and document each discussion in your personal file. Take care of yourself. You should benefit from your great people skills along with everyone else.

5. Influence How Others Think and Act

“The idea is to inform people into ‘yes’ (influence them) rather than coerce or deceive them” (exert power). Of all your people skills this one will work to your advantage most frequently.

I refer you to Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion that move people to say “yes”. Why? Because the art of persuading creates “influence” which has a much longer professional lifespan than “power”. Power can be here today and gone tomorrow, frequently leaving a whole new set of problems in its wake.

What are the principles of persuasion?

  • Authority: People will defer to experts. If an ad says “four out of five doctors recommend this product”, they are relying on the authority of medical professionals to influence consumers.

  • Consistency: People will uphold their stated commitments. After signing a petition in support of a social cause they feel obligated to back up a public statement.

  • Liking: People like those who like them. Finding common interests and offering praise are two ways to foster liking.

  • Reciprocity: People will repay in kind. People feel obligated to reciprocate when they receive a gift or favor, even if it was unsolicited.

  • Scarcity: People want things (tangible and intangible) that are rare or scarce. Look at all the ads that say “limited time only” or “while supplies last”.

  • Social Proof: People follow the lead of their peers. For example, a door-to-door charity campaign was found to be more successful when prospective donors were shown a list of neighbors who had already contributed.

Cialdini learned that the key to influencing how people respond is not as much in the request itself as the way the request is made – you have to sell it! But remember that ethics are paramount!

Adapt the examples given in each of the six principles to your own industry, profession, job and circumstances

6. Bring Conflict to the Surface and Get it Resolved

A formal negotiating or arbitration process, I’ve found, tends to involve people who have little understanding of how and why the conflict occurred in the first place, have no vested interest in finding a lasting resolution so the conflict can not only continue but ultimately spin out of control.

As part of your people skills agenda, it’s your job as a manager or team leader to make your own decision about how you deal with conflict. Getting it done, putting it behind you and moving forward is the ultimate goal of conflict resolution. You know the people involved and the organizational ramifications of a particular conflict, so use your own judgment about the best way to proceed, incorporating Robin’s seven suggestions.

7. Collaborate with Others

The quickest way to bury yourself in a mountain of work is to try doing everything yourself – as in micromanaging. Bad idea! Your team will think you don’t trust them to do their jobs and you’ll be facing a major case of burnout!

Collaboration is defined as “working jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor”. Sounds like a pretty good idea when you consider the alternatives:

  • Avoiding – solves nothing
  • Accommodating – avoids confrontation but probably won’t solve a problem
  • Compromising – the easiest solution, but not necessarily a win/win
  • Competing – leaves the other person’s needs unmet

Collaboration is the maximum, sustainable solution when you are facing a problem, dealing with conflict or any major challenge! If you are not a natural collaborater, this is a "must add" to your people skills list.

8. Shift Gears When Relationships are Unproductive

Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Damaging, or even just unproductive, relationships really can drive you nuts!

Sometimes you need to walk away – acknowledge that you‘ve done everything you can do to make a relationship work, but it just wasn’t enough. As the boss, sometimes you need to jettison unhealthy cargo – a team member whose attitude is bringing everyone else down, even after you’ve counseled him or her of the consequences of continued negative behavior. Sometimes you need to take drastic steps to regain balance and momentum if your relationship with your boss becomes unsupportive, or even hostile.

Sometimes an increase your level of assertiveness will resolve relationship issues, but when that doesn’t work, you have some hard decisions to make and you are the only person who can make them. There’s no magic bullet to fix broken work relationships. It’s something you have to deal with using effective people skills.

9. Clearly Define Working Relationships

As a boss, one advantage to having friendships with your employees is that you already have strong, positive relationships with them. You know what motivates them because you know their interests, their families and their goals in life. They are likely to work longer hours for you because you’re their friend.

But you are a manager now and you need to be careful to distinctly define the boundaries between you and your friends on the team. Here are a few pointers.

  • Clarify your relationship. Be clear about what your goals are, how your team members are to help you accomplish them and what they can expect from you. By communicating these things clearly, you minimize the risk that a team member will misinterpret your friendship and behave in an unprofessional manner.

  • Don’t play favorites. Or even do anything that might be construed as favoritism. If you favor certain team members because they are good friends, other team members will quickly start to distrust you. Step back and be sure that the way you treat your friends correlates more to what they do than how you feel about them.

  • Keep it confidential. No matter how close you are to any of your team members, resist the temptation to give them the “inside scoop”. Confidential information (salaries, hiring and firing decisions, quarterly earnings, etc.) must never be shared. Color your credibility totally gone!

  • Face the firing line. Sometimes a friend and team member isn’t performing up to par. You need to be able to take a cold, hard look at the fact that this person’s behavior is impacting morale, schedules, customer service, time spent fixing mistakes – in short, the company’s bottom line. In a case like this, you are the boss first and a friend second.

Early in your role as a manager it will be tempting to rely on your friendships from your previous position. Finely tuned people skills require that you find a few degrees of separation.

Why Great People Skills are Essential for
Woman in Management

The whole point in having superior people skills is knowing or finding out how to bring out the best in your team members in every situation.