5 Principles You Must Follow To Have Awesome People Skills
Quite frankly, the topics we learn in school are often… pointless.
We learn things like cursive writing; the level of annual rainfall in Brazil; how to drop an egg from a three-story building without it cracking. But, how often would we actually apply this knowledge?
What formal education neglects to teach us are practical people skills even though we all deal with people every day.
In their 2016 study, Wonderlic outlines how 93% of employers consider soft skills to be either “essential” or “very important” in a work environment.
The importance of strong interpersonal skills transcends the professional sphere. According to Eurostat, social cohesion and social support are some of the most important components of your quality of life.
It’s clear that the ability to communicate and interact with others is, perhaps, one of the most important skills you can develop in your life.
Watch out, because there is a lot of noise out there. There are many suggestions that won’t benefit you or aren’t applicable to your situation.
In this article, we hope to give you timeless and universal people principles that can be applied in almost any situation. We offer practical action steps that you can start using today to level up those people chops.
Here are 5 fundamental principles to follow to improve your people skills:
Table Of Contents
1. Have Genuine Care For Others
Back in high school, I remember feeling isolated in my club soccer team. I had just made it to the elite team but I didn’t feel like I was worthy of being on that level. I also had few friends on the squad which added to the feeling of isolation.
My coach changed that perspective.
He was a popular and outgoing college soccer player that our team loved.
After each soccer match, it was customary for us to go up to our coach and shake his hand as he congratulated us on a good game.
In a particular match, I had fallen and scraped my hand and there were traces of blood on my hands.
Before I shook my coach’s hand, I told him I’d best not do so since my hand was bleeding.
In a caring tone, and with full respect, he said, “I’m not too worried about it” and shook my hand anyway.
He had left an impression on me with that simple act. That act of care.
That coach had only been with our team for one season, but to this day, I still have a high view of him.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” - Henry David Thoreau
There’s no shortage of techniques related to people skills available to you and undoubtedly, those tactics will help you in certain situations.
But to have sincere and sustained relationships, it takes a genuine care for others.
Interpersonal skills are the branches, and genuine care for others is the root of the tree.
I know people with sharp social tact, but I wouldn’t always choose to spend time with them.
Sure, they can pick up on social cues and play ball socially; but would that person act in my best interest? Probably not.
As charismatic and fun as these people are, they’re missing a core component to their people skills: actually giving a f*ck about their fellow human beings.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve met some people with weird quirks. I’d even venture to say that they are socially awkward, yet I don’t mind being around them because they enjoy being around me!
It’s similar to the reason why people love dogs so much. Consider this:
After a long and stressful day, you come home and your dog comes running to you, jumping at your feet; eager to lick your face.
Wouldn't your bad day turn right around?
This would give even the toughest man a soft heart and I don’t blame him! I mean, it’s hard not to love your pup especially when their excitement and love is so real and authentic.
The difference is in the intention. The underlying intent of care!
Practice taking a moment to put yourself in people’s shoes. You’d be surprised how often even the best of us tend to ignore this and jump straight to judgement.
2. Recognize Different Personalities
Every single person has their own quirks, motivations, fears, and tendencies. Understanding and recognizing their uniqueness helps you relate to others better.
While each individual is unique, there are mental filters you can use to help connect you with different people.
In her book Your Personality Tree, Florence Littauer uses the 4 Temperaments as a framework:
A sanguine’s spirit animal is the seal.
Ever know someone who has never met a stranger? That person’s probably a Sanguine!
Outgoing, charismatic, and dynamic are just a few traits Sanguines possess. Thanks to their sociable attitudes, Sanguines have a rare ability to become best friends with everyone they meet.
Sanguines are motivated by fun and also have no issue with being in the spotlight which explains why they’re usually the life of the party.
Adventure is not only a serendipity, but a life mission for a Sanguine. So much so they actually fear living a mundane and ordinary life.
Since Sanguines are attracted to all the razzle-dazzles of life, they have a tendency to be easily distracted. Like squirrels, they cannot resist shiny objects and need to put in a bit more effort than others to stay on task.
An attraction to all shiny things also makes it more likely for Sanguines to be forgetful. They’ll lose their wallet, keys, and minds.
For Sanguines, becoming fast friends with someone is a much easier game to play than remembering their name!
A Choleric’s spirit animal is the lion.
Cholerics are the “Get Shit Done” people.
They’re classic A-type personalities. They are bottom line people. They are not averse to conflict. They are natural born leaders.
Cholerics have an inner burn for achievement. Their life focus is to blow past their goals and beat out the competition.
Like Sanguines, Cholerics have no issue with being in the spotlight; but not for the same reasons. They are high achievers and are proud to showcase their leadership prowess and accomplishments.
Of course, Cholerics are not without weaknesses.
These lions often rub people the wrong way and appear to lack empathy. If they want something done right, they’re naturally inclined to do it themselves.
Being right 90% of the time means they can be stubborn in their ways in the other 10%.
It takes more effort for Cholerics to play ball with others. They would benefit from adopting a mindset that teamwork makes the dream work and understanding that while they might go fast by themselves, they can go far with others.
A Melancholic’s spirit animal is the beaver.
A Melancholy seeks perfection.
Melancholies are detail-oriented, organized and structured in their thinking. They are the personality that can actually put on a resume:
Proficient at Microsoft Excel
and mean it.
If you find yourself often in deep thought, you could well be a melancholy.
Given that they are often deep in thought, Melancholies are usually thoughtful and considerate people.
They have a strong desire to exhaust all options before moving forward with a decision because in life they want nothing more than to have their ducks in a row and stars aligned.
They make sure to cross the T’s and dot the I’s and will not rest until it has been done. This makes Melancholies prone to analysis paralysis.
Since Melancholies value perfection so highly, they tend to become depressed; stuck in the limbo of an imperfect world. This concept can sometimes be overly difficult for a Melancholy to handle.
A Phlegmatic’s spirit animal is a golden retriever.
Phlegmatics strive for peace and harmony.
They are cool, calm, and collected. Phlegmatics are great team players and are very likeable people.
In stark difference to Cholerics, they naturally have high empathy.
They are diplomatic and kind; and they can be observant and rational.
Contentment with their lives can sometimes promote laziness in Phlegmatics. They are not the type to challenge the status quo and may even be opposed to it.
In some occasions, they can be one of the hardest working and strong-willed people when they are motivated by understanding why; by understanding the purpose behind their actions.
Being highly motivated by peacekeeping indicates that Phlegmatics are often opposed to conflict, even when necessary. Phlegmatics have a tendency to bottle up their frustrations. Imagine their anger as water being poured into a bucket. Often, Phlegmatics will stay mum until the bucket is overflowed. Only then will they release their true emotions which is not always healthy.
The 4 Temperaments is just one personality framework you can use, but it’s definitely not gospel.
There are other effective personality structures you can refer to. Some other frameworks include (but are not limited to): DiSC, Enneagram, and the popular Myers-Briggs Personality Test.
The key is finding a framework that works for you.
Regardless of which framework you prefer, it’s important that you have a reference point to people’s life perspectives, strengths and weaknesses, and preferences.
3. Go Above And Beyond Expectations
At my last corporate job, I made an effort to make an impression with people.
I worked in a sales environment where turnover was the norm. The nature of many sales roles is that the employment market is fickle. Some sales reps feel as though they can jump ship anytime, anywhere. At one point, people were dropping like flies! Within the span of a year, we went from over 50 sales reps to under 20.
You can imagine, with that level of churn, not every person that stepped away from the company left with grace.
Everyone has heard of ghosting, but have you ever heard of ghosting in the workplace? There were people who had quit without saying a word; they would literally pull a no show and not return any calls.
On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve witnessed people cuss out their managers before leaving.
And if that doesn't sound off putting enough for you, we even had one guy steal a few laptops before he left.
It was a dog and pony show; but within the midst of chaos, the employees that treated others with respect really stood out.
Before I left my role, I had handwritten multiple notes to all the managers and bought them chocolates. You might call me a brown noser, but what could I really gain if I was leaving? If I really wanted a good referral I would’ve just given a gift to my immediate supervisor. Goodwill was my intention.
I remember visiting the office months later. My previous director bumped into me and asked if I wanted to be hired again (it was a 6 figure role btw)! I had to turn her down to pursue other avenues, but the moral of the story is: going above and beyond makes the difference.
Practice reflecting on how you can exceed expectations in your relationships and social interactions.
Here are some simple ways you can stand out:
Write down a person’s interests after chatting and bring it up next time you chat in conversation
Give them a sentimental gift (doesn’t have to be expensive, just meaningful)
Write handwritten letters
Find opportunities often to give sincere compliments
Remember a person’s name after you’ve just met them (I'm looking at you, Sanguines!)
These are just a few examples you can implement in your life. The key to this principle is to adopt the mindset of going above and beyond and to consistently practice thinking of ways that you can exceed people’s expectations.
4. SEEK SOCIAL ROLE MODELS
Are there any celebs you like to follow?
I’m particularly fond of Will Smith, Ryan Reynolds, and Steve Carrell.
Stamp their names on a show or movie and I’m almost guaranteed to watch it.
Will Smith is larger than life. He has an infectiously positive and optimistic attitude everywhere he goes. If there is anyone who can brighten up a room, it’s Will. He is hilarious, fun and kind.
Ryan Reynolds is also HILARIOUS, but in a slightly different way than Will Smith. He is known for his cleverness and wit. He has almost no filter but somehow gets away with it due to his charm.
Steve Carrell is friendly and approachable. You watch Steve Carrell during an interview and he gives off the vibe of the combination between a loving dad and a fun uncle. He is easy to talk to and has a heart of gold.
All three of them have charisma oozing out of them and they are loved by almost everyone.
They each have very distinct personalities and are exceptional with people in their own ways.
We can improve ourselves by picking up the positive traits that our role models have. By analyzing people with social mastery, we can reverse engineer their social interactions and adopt their interpersonal competencies.
Keep in mind, we don't want to lose ourselves in effort to be someone else. You can only be a second rate someone else. To be a first class, you have to be yourself!
Highlight ONE clear strong trait from someone who has good people skills. Try to mirror that quality in your own social interactions.
For example, if I admire Will Smith’s infectiously positive attitude; I can adopt a similar life perspective, allowing me to be more positive!
5. If You Want To Have Good People Skills, Be A Person
Growing up, I didn’t feel like I was much of a people person. I had friends that were great with people which gave me the desire to be better with people but I just wasn’t sure how to get there.
At that time, I was young and impressionable. I spent a good portion of time reading books and watching videos trying to strengthen my interpersonal skills as much as as I could.
As you can probably guess, I took a lot of these techniques at face value. While some of these techniques definitely helped, I found that the techniques were sometimes rigid. On top of that, the tactics didn’t work in every scenario.
This one time, I had learned from an audiobook that you can memorize a string of questions for your arsenal.
“So what do you do for work?”
“How did you get into that field?”
“Are you liking that line of work?”
Could this interrogation style questioning spark a conversation? Sure.
Will the conversation be organic? Nope.
I realized then and there, I wasn’t being authentic.
So I decided to put the techniques on the back burner.
Instead of regurgitating a question I memorized, I just went with the flow.
If it was a cold day, I would make a comment about it. “Wow, today is frosty huh?”
The responses were surprising to me. “YEAH, I had to wear 3 layers today!”
The lesson I learned is this:
IF YOU WANT PEOPLE SKILLS, BE A PERSON.
Authenticity is a paradox in some ways. By trying hard to be genuine, you can end up putting on a façade. But, if you yourself are comfortable in a social setting, other people will be comfortable too.
I’m not saying that there is no value in learning specific techniques related to social skills. Like any other art, craft or sport, people skills can be developed. However, if you hold tactics over principles, you will have trouble being good with people in the long run.
Knowing these people principles can direct you in the right trajectory to improve your people skills. However, all the knowledge in the world is fruitless without this one trait: the burning desire to enhance your people skills.
I encourage you all to always hold the art and practice of social skills to high esteem. I encourage you to commit yourself to continuously develop your social prowess so that you can live your best life.