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Take a Chance: Increase Your People Skills

Top achievers understand that staying put can be risky and so they take decisive action



In her classic book, Lions Don’t Need to Roar, Deborah Benton observes that while it’s essential to be competent in one’s position, inspire confidence in others, and act accordingly in business situations, most people don’t make it to the top, or anywhere near there.

Benton says top influencers “are not magical, blessed, or dramatically different from you or me. They simply have skills and outlooks that the rest of us don’t have, but can get,” such as taking calculated risks and enhancing their “people” skills.

Calculate Your Risk

Top achievers understand that staying put can be risky and so they take decisive action. In their book, Surfacing the Edge of Chaos, authors Richard Pascale, Mark Milleman, and Linda Gioja argue that “equilibrium is a precursor to death.”

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The people who rise to the top have the guts to take calculated risks – realizing that the experience will be invaluable – and make that phone call that others would rather avoid. For example, Benton knows of executive managers who have called individuals months after they were fired from their firm to “see how they were doing.”

One company executive remarked that when he evaluated a job candidate, he would get leery if the candidate appeared to be too good. “If I see no failures, I assume he’s had it too easy.” Could this mean that, on the path to accomplishing a lot, now and then you’re going to have some failures? The notion of taking calculated risks runs deep among those who eventually get to the top.

People Are the Key

A popular stereotype holds that top sellers tend to be nose to the grindstone types. However, Benton finds the situation to be the opposite. The highly accomplished laugh and smile often, are fond of telling stories as long as they convey a point, and know how and when to physically touch others. They’re also well-skilled in the ability to ask for favors and they fully realize how important that makes others feel.

Regardless of how high-tech society becomes, people make deals, make products, and provide services. Pacesetters learn the essential elements about interacting with people that many others never do. High achievers in larger organizations learn to “read” others in great detail and to recognize the importance of paying attention to others’ needs.

By “observing aggressively” anyone can learn to read people, and by reading people, work better with them. Meeting those needs enables successful people to negotiate deals skillfully, manage employees responsibly with the least amount of stress and resistance, gain information, or enlist people to support their cause. The characteristic required in this process is that of “aggressive observation.”

Aggressive observation, a phrase coined decades ago by the late Mark McCormack, author of Staying Street Smart in the Internet Age, holds that what you observe about a person is more revealing than what you hear or read. When two people meet, aggressive observation requires that a person take action, carefully listening to the content of the conversation and watching for signals in body language.

One of the widely observed traits that high achievers possess is resilience. Resilience entails adopting behaviors to meet challenges, but it is more than simply enduring a challenging situation or overcoming an ordeal. It means having the ability to come back even stronger than before. Getting big things done or even winning a long-term personal struggle, requires resilience which is demonstrated through patience, alertness, and steadfastness. These behaviors set the stage for adaptation and action.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®


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Smart Move in a Rough Economy: Help Your Boss to Shine

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives



Making your boss look good can only reflect favorably on you. Both your boss and his or her supervisors will appreciate this.

The best way to make your boss look good is to handle your work efficiently and thoroughly. If your boss is fair, he or she will give you credit for the work, increasing your chances of promotion.

If your boss is not doing his or her share of the work, leaning on you unfairly without giving you the credit, it’s still likely that you’ll be promoted when your boss is promoted. That person knows you’ve been doing more than your share, and he or she won’t be able to take a new position without your help.

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Becoming a Mentor to Others

Maybe you’re only 27 years old, or perhaps you’ve only been with your present firm for a year and a half. Yet, with your previous experience and achievements, you may already be in a position to serve as a mentor to junior members of your organization. This can be accomplished on an informal, ad hoc basis, and you can literally choose the amount of energy you’re willing to commit. Helping junior members always looks good to those above you, especially at performance review time.

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives. This three-way strategy includes reviewing your job description, deciding precisely what your department’s goals are, and determining your company’s objectives:

Your Job Description

First, knowing your job description and honoring it, or amending it if necessary, protect you from any misunderstandings. It will also give you an idea of the part you play in the total picture of the organization, an important factor in your work satisfaction and chance of promotion.

Your job description ideally contains all the important activities of your position, the knowledge you need to have or acquire to perform those activities, and some sense of your overall role. If your job description does not adequately detail the information you need to know and the responsibilities you have, now is the time to change it.

Company Goals

Second, learn and understand the goals of your part of the company. By whatever method your organization is broken into groups — department, division, project team — your group has objectives.

Goals are important to guide actions as well as to mark milestones. Knowing your group’s goals will help you to set priorities for your own work and make wise decisions concerning how jobs can best be done.

What is the Mission?

Finally, be aware of your organization’s mission. Any organization, from the smallest business to the multibillion-dollar corporation, has a mission. If you don’t already know it, find out. Your organization’s brochure, annual report, promotional literature, or employee handbook will have the mission spelled out.

The mission will unify and give meaning to all the division or department goals. Although conflicts among divisions will occur because of the nature of different responsibilities, a solid base can be produced when all employees realize the overall mission of the organization.

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Lessons of the 2020s: Unanticipated Events Happen

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being as well as on our time



By now, nearly everyone has mentally marked the first few years of this decade as strange and, for those on the right, entirely upsetting. While we can’t guard against the unknown, or anticipate radical moves emanating from Washington DC, we can seek to do our best with what we have and what we know.

Each day when you compose your to-do list and begin proceeding merrily down it, do you take into account what is likely to occur in the course of a day? No matter how well we organize our lists and how productive we are in handling the products and tasks unexpected obligations, interruptions, and other developments arise that are going to throw us off.

How do you react when you are humming along, and all of a sudden, you get an assignment from out of left field? Perhaps your boss has asked you to jump on something immediately. Maybe a client calls. Maybe something gets returned to you that you thought was complete.

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To Be Flustered No More

If you are like most professionals, you immediately will become flustered. The intrusion on your time and your progress means that you are not going to accomplish all that you set out to before the end of the day. Is there a way to proceed and still feel good about all that you accomplish?

I believe there is, and it involves first making a miniature, supplemental to-do list that accurately encapsulates the new task that you need to handle. Why create this supplemental to-do list? It gives you focus and direction, reduces anxiety, and increases the probability that you will remain buoyant at the time of its completion and be able to turn back to what you were doing before the task was assigned.

If you don’t compose such a list, and simply plow headlong into the unexpected challenge that has come your way, you might not proceed effectively, and you might never get back to the to-do list on which you were working.

Anticipating the Unexpected

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent more than intrusions on our time; they represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being. Some people are naturally good at handling unexpected situations. Most of us, however, are not wired like this. Interruptions and intrusions on our workday take us off the path that we wanted to follow, and tend to be at least momentarily upsetting.

So… when executing the items on your to-do list, proceed ‘knowing’ that there will be an interruption of some sort. You don’t know when it is coming or how large it will be, but it will pull you off course. The key question for you is: can you develop the capacity to maintain balance and equanimity in the face of such disruptions?

The good news is that you can, and it all starts with acknowledging that the situation is likely to happen, devising a supplemental checklist to handle the new task, and as deftly as possible, returning to what you were doing.

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