People Skills

I’ve always been rather proud of not having any ‘people skills’.  Of not being able to ‘talk to people’, smooth things over, talk them out of their way of seeing things, talk them over to my way, persuade, influence, manipulate, control.  No wonder supervisors, salespeople, and customer relations people need good people skills.  And no wonder I resent them: I’ve always been the subordinate, the consumer, the customer – I’m the one the people skills are used on.

Of course, subordinates are expected to have good people skills too, but what’s meant then is the ability to get along, follow, fold, obey.  And, well, as I said, I’m not very good at that.

But no, no, I’m told, you’ve got it all wrong.  People skills are communication skills.  Hm.  And what might skilful communication be?  Putting your message in words the other person will most likely understand, instead of in words that most easily come to mind?  That’s okay.  That’s just courtesy.  But choosing your language, your vocabulary and sentence structure, to increase the likelihood not of understanding, but of agreement – that’s manipulation.  (And if you abandon the meaning in order to get that agreement, that’s just plain lying.)

There’s a difference in intent.  And loading your language shows that you don’t respect the other person’s rationality.   (Nor do you respect your own – if your reasons were good, you wouldn’t have to resort to manipulation.)  Such wilful discouragement of dissent also slows little respect for their autonomy.  (What exactly are you afraid of?).

But no, again, it seems I’ve got it wrong: communication skills just refer to the ability to listen to what the other person is saying, and the ability to express yourself clearly.  Still thinking about control, and insecurity, it occurs to me that men must’ve introduced the term.  Because women grow up with those people skills.  It’s such a no big deal, we don’t have to name it.  And if we did, we’d call it maturity, and self-knowledge.



    • Peter Wicks on May 1, 2013 at 10:37 am
    • Reply

    While I dare say it WAS men that introduced the term, I dispute the notion that women have better listening skills than men. Admittedly I haven’t done a statistical survey, but I certainly know men with good listening skills, and women with terrible listening skills. If they are correlated with gender at all, O reckon the correlation must be pretty weak.

    Re disrespect for other people’s rationality (and our own) personally I consider it unwise to view people (including ourselves) as more rational than we are. But that doesn’t mean we need to set out to deceive or manipulate it. What can help, I think, is to be clear about why we are expressing a point of view, and be quite up front about it.

    For example, in the case of this comment I’m basically expressing my point of view because I feel like it, without any particular intention in mind. I’m certainly not trying to manipulate people. But suppose I was, for example, trying to convince Peg to see things a bit less through the prism of why-men-are-beastly and why-women-are-better than men (while similarly claiming, somewhat inconsistently, that we need to get away from this gender duality in any case). Then I would need to be clear about WHY I wanted to do this, and be up front about it. As it is, I reckon I’ve probably got better things to do – although obviously it’s no coincidence that this sprang to mind as a possible motivation for commenting, beyond boredom relief (and perhaps building my reputation as a good debater, or some such).

    • Xiao Mao on May 19, 2013 at 11:12 pm
    • Reply

    Wow, Peter. Nice mansplaination there. Is bloviating on and on something of a hobby for you? How about you go “relieve your boredom” somewhere else? Asshole.

    Thanks for proving, yet again, that men are self-important shitbags. 😀

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