Saturday, April 23, 2005

People People

For sometime now I have listened to managers say that they are 'usually' a People Person, but due to the current pressure, climate, insert-excuse-here, that they have been busily focusing on the tasks at hand.

A people person is someone you can instantly recognize. Like a moth, you are drawn towards their light. This people person appears honest, open, humble and surprisingly upbeat. A people person can ask you to do almost anything in such a way that you are only too pleased to be helping such a wonderful individual.

There are however people who 'wish' to be a people person. Yet to them to be that person they have to 'try'. It's a task. This would probably be the list of chores for such a wishful trier:

1. Wake-up, Shower.
2. Coffee.
3. Dress, Go to Work.
4. Check Email.
5. Greet staff.
6. Go to X-meeting.
7. ... and so on.

It's number 5 that's the problem. Greeting someone is a task. A chore. Something they have to do in order to retain their position. In order to afford time for people, they have to schedule it as a task.

A true people person naturally beams in to an office and catches up with everyone. This can be simply a smile and a raising of the eyebrows, so as to say: "Wow! You really do exist, you are there, you are such a wonderful person, I'm so glad to see you, speak to me, engage with me, approach me..." It's not a task, it's a genuine automatic response.

A task for a people person would be to 'ignore' another person. To 'not consider' their point of view. To 'devalue' another person. That would be a task.

When I meet these wishful triers, the task people, I wonder why they believe they are a people person. I wonder why they cower away in their corner offices, cubicles or even behind their computer screens in a wide-open open-planned office.

I got accused once. I was asked why am I always smiling. What was there to be so happy about. The strange thing at that very point in time, was that I had learnt that my company (I was a contractor working at a client site) was going to be laying off staff. I couldn't have been more unhappy or in turmoil than at that moment. And yet, whenever I saw someone I worked with I would naturally smile.

I could have apologized. But instead I said that I always smiled. There was nothing so terrible in life that I couldn't offer a friend a smile.

I escaped the redundancies that time, and the next. But the companies downward spiral did finally catch up to me. And I did leave. The nicest thing about leaving, is knowing that I left my smile with everyone I had worked with.

Don't get me wrong. I don't for one minute think I am the epitome of people people and smiling, or being a people person is not going to get the job done on it's own. The point is, that I can get the job done with a smile. I can get the job done with being the best part of a people person. No matter the task, no matter how I could be bitter, no matter the problems in front of me or my colleagues, I tend to do it with a smile.

There are occasions when smiles are hard. It may take a while. The people closest to me can see it. Yet the people around me can rely on my being approachable, enjoying the challenge, getting in to the task and (eventually) smiling.

The rarity of a pure people person is so that it was only a few months ago I met another true example. I was amazed. I waited to see when they would crack, to prove that a pure people person was fictional (sorry, I'm an analyst, it's my job to be skeptical). To date, they have proven me wrong and that pure people people do exist. Now the challenge is to see how to encourage wishful triers to become people people.

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