3 tips to become a people expert
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Angry people you can't seem to please. Unhappy clients who tell you on their return about a bad experience on their vacation you could have resolved but can do nothing about now. Wending your way through a bureaucracy to find the right person or the right department to resolve your issue. A bitter co-worker who is infecting the office morale or a dictatorial boss who's making everyone miserable.
With all these problems, where can you turn for the all-purpose panacea?
Well, there isn't one. And the reason is that no matter what problem you're dealing with, it all boils down to people problems. Everyone is made differently. Different backgrounds. Different values. Different personality traits and idiosyncrasies. Different personal issues that color their outlook on life and work.
The differences that make every individual unique is exactly why a one-size-fits-all panacea is impossible.
Instead of pining for a panacea, how about you start improving your people skills? Become a student of human behavior, and you'll be able to spot behaviors that transcend different fields.
An angry customer is an angry customer whether it's a customer of travel services or customer of a fast food outlet. Bully bosses pervade every industry. Passive-aggressive clients aren't unique to any one industry. The commonality is human behavior.
So here are three tips on becoming an expert in human behavior:
1. Make a game of it
Become a perennial people watcher, whether you're sitting on a park bench or waiting in the grocery store checkout line.
How do different people react to waiting, for example? Who's tapping her toes and sighing loudly, and who is using that time to teach her toddler about shopping. Who is talking loudly into his cellphone and holding up the line, oblivious to his surroundings.
What do people's purchases tell you about what drives them and who is in their lives? What motivates these people and how do they affect the people around them?
2. Pay more attention to nonverbal communications
When there's a disconnect between what people say and how they say it, the truth usually lies in their behavior.
Someone tells you he's fine with a smile and cheery voice, and it's believable because the verbal and nonverbal sync up. But if he says, "I'm fine" with a loud edge in his voice and lots of eye-rolling, you don't believe he's fine at all.
Here's a fun game: Get a book of different facial expressions and try to guess what emotion they're conveying. See how accurate you are in "reading" someone's facial expression. See if others agree with your conclusion.
I used to know a man who wondered why people always thought he was angry. It might have had something to do with the fact that he always had his arms tightly crossed over his chest, his brow furrowed and veritable smoke coming out of his ears while he mumbled monosyllabic answers to questions.
When in doubt, ask. "You seem upset. Is something bothering you?" "You look confused; have I jumbled my words?" If there is hesitation in his voice, what does the pause mean? Is he conflicted in how he wants to respond or is he simply searching for the right word?
When I am on a conference call with honeymooners, and I ask if such-and-such is a priority, if one person yells an enthusiastic and immediate "yes" while the other pauses with an "ummm," I know that there's an unspoken disagreement I need to further clarify.
3. Get to the real source of the issue
Don't assume that whatever someone tells you is the problem is really the problem. What they tell you is what they're willing to admit to themselves or what they think is plausible.
I once presented an FIT anniversary vacation to a prospective client that, on the surface, met all her criteria for destination, activities and budget yet was roundly and immediately rejected with no negotiation. The ostensible reason was the price was too high despite my package coming under budget. I later learned she was having marital problems which culminated in divorce. The issue wasn't price at all, but spending an expensive vacation with someone she no longer loved. Pitching a girls' getaway might have been more successful.
Another client told me she hadn't been thrilled with the resort she had gone to; further probing revealed the vacation hadn't lived up to expectations, not because there was something wrong with the resort, but she and her partner had fought most of their vacation. Once that was out in the open, she conceded her disappointment was that the vacation wasn't the intimate experience she had desired and nothing to do with the destination or the resort.
If you can uncover the true issue, you're more likely to successfully resolve it. An indecisive boss, for example, might be an insecure coward inside, afraid to make a wrong decision.
I once was trying to sell a product to a vice president of a company that her mother had founded. I knew the product was perfect for this company, so I couldn't understand her hesitation in purchasing. I finally realized this younger woman was under much pressure to please her mother and prove herself as capable as the company's matriarch in decision-making.
With that understanding, I was able to bluntly reassure her that her decision to buy this product was a smart one that would make her mother proud. She did purchase, and she did get accolades for her savvy. Without that understanding, I could have been endlessly pitching the product's qualities and price without results.
Humans are strange and wonderful creatures, full of idiosyncrasies and contradictions. That's also what makes us so fascinating. Become a people person, and you'll be an expert in any industry you choose.
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