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Productivity Superstar: Can People Skills Shore Up Your Productivity?

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Creative Workgroup in a MeetingEditor’s note: With this post, we welcome Karen Leland, our new Productivity Superstar columnist, to the WebWorkerDaily team. Karen is the bestselling author of six books, including the recent “Time Management In An Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day,” and is the co-founder of Sterling Marketing Group. To find out more about Karen go to

Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my professional life have been personal ones. There have been times when I’ve jumped the gun and made an incorrect assumption about a person or situation, sent the occasional indelicate email written in haste, or gone into a meeting in a grumpy mood. It’s not a pretty story, but one that needs to be told.

“When we are upset, we’re stupid,” says Randy Martin, a long-time executive coach. “So as a general rule, it’s never a good idea to communicate by phone, email or in person when angry or frustrated.” No kidding.

But despite my occasional bad behavior (and let’s tell the truth — who among us has not fallen off the courteous co-worker wagon from time to time?), I’ve had enough training and practice to know how to recover when I slip and fall on the road to interpersonal excellence.

As a consultant, I’ve seen my share of bad bosses throwing hissy fits, co-workers engaged in desk rage and customers going crazy — usually in the name of “getting the job done.” But does this justification really hold up? Not according to recent research.

In one August 2009 study, Wayne Hochwarter of the Florida State University College of Business asked more than 1,200 employees to provide opinions regarding the narcissistic tendencies of their immediate supervisor. Of those, 31 percent reported that their boss is prone to exaggerating his or her accomplishments to look good in front of others; 27 percent reported that their boss brags to others to get praise; 24 percent reported that their boss was self-centered; and 20 percent reported that their boss will do a favor only if guaranteed one in return.

“Having a narcissistic boss creates a toxic environment for virtually everyone who must come in contact with this individual,” Hochwarter said. “The team perspective ceases to exist, and the work environment becomes increasingly stressful. Productivity typically plummets as well.”

And the negative impact of poor people skills is not just reserved for those in charge. One survey of 1,500 workers by Christine Pearson at UNC-Chapel Hill found that 12 percent of staff surveyed had quit a job at some point to avoid nasty people at work and 45 percent were thinking about doing so. Moreover, more than half of those interviewed reported losing time at work worrying about other people’s rude behavior toward them.

So if all these anti-people attitudes and actions have a negative impact on productivity, does it stand to reason that having good people skills can make you more productive? The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

As part of the research for the second edition of his upcoming book, “250 Best-Paying Jobs,” Laurence Shatkin identified the skills associated with occupations with higher income. They included:

  • Active Listening: The ability to listen to what other people are saying and asking questions as appropriate.
  • Persuasion: The ability to enlist others to see and approach things differently.
  • Negotiation: The ability to bring others together to try and reconcile differences.
  • Teaching: The ability to impart to others how to do something.
  • Social Perceptiveness: Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react the way they do.

These are people skills, one and all. But beyond the benefits of bringing home the bigger bucks, Ben Leichtling, PhD and author of “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” says that good personal skills have the power to make your job easier as well.

“Having the support of other good people you work with is part of what makes us productive,” says Leichtling. “In fact, the Department of Labor Statistics estimates that workers and managers spend half to two-thirds of their time dealing with people problems. The bottom line is that good people skills reduce the people crap you have to deal with,” he says.

An aptitude for working with others is so important that the month of September has officially been declared International People Skills Month. So make a commitment to hone your people skills and play nice with the other kids in the company or customer sandbox. You may just find that it makes you not only popular, but more productive.

Has improving your people skills aided your productivity?

3 Responses to “Productivity Superstar: Can People Skills Shore Up Your Productivity?”

  1. I think some of these things can be overcome by the ‘problem’ people taking a bit of responsibility for their behaviour.

    I’m a terrible co-worker.

    I’m very good in discussions, meetings, and face-to-face or confrontational situations in general; I have no problem wth people disagreeing with my ideas or methodology, but when someone challenges my experience or previously proven knowledge in a particular field I can get quite acerbic. Also, when faced with overwhelming stupidity or unfounded recalcitrance (especially in authority figures) I can get very loud and bad tempered. I also swear – a lot.

    This is one of the reasons I prefer to work from home – it stops me upsetting the office!

    Other than that, I’m a really nice guy and a very hard worker… ;)

  2. Good info! Sometimes the most important people skill is the ability to appropriately confront difficult coworkers about their behavior. Some of that lost time spent worrying about the rude behavior of coworkers could be regained by learning the art of confrontation. My experience has been that some of the most difficult colleagues are those who are clueless–they lack the self-awareness to see how they come across, and so people make excuses for them and try to put up with them.

    Unfortunately, I’m not very good at confrontation myself, which is why I jumped at the chance to switch offices to get away from a complaining, interfering–but clueless–coworker. I’m *much* happier now, but I wish I had known how to address the behavior years ago instead of quietly steaming.