SALT LAKE CITY — I've been working as a people skills expert for 20 years, teaching individuals and organizations to understand human behavior and get along with others. Throughout that time, I've discovered 10 basic people skills that I consider to be the skills every human being could work on to help create healthy relationships.
As you read through these 10 people skills, assess yourself and see where you might need some work.
1. Ability to put yourself in another person's shoes
This is the skill of empathy, which is a skill you can become better at. Recent studies have shown that at least 10% of our capacity for empathy is inherited through our genes; the rest is all about intention and practice. Last week's LIFEadvice article includes many ways to improve your empathy and teach it to your kids.
2. Ability to accept others who are different from you
We all have a tendency to react in judgment when we meet someone who is different from us. We sometimes assume if two things are different, one must be better and one must be worse. This human tendency encourages us to see others as less than us so we can feel better.
You can change this tendency by choosing to see all humans as having the same, infinite value that never changes. Then when you meet someone who is different, you can practice allowing them to be different and still have the same value.
Understand that the world needs all kinds of people, with different views and different ways of functioning in the world. You can choose tolerance, acceptance, allowing and respecting them instead of judging them. It is a wonderful skill that will improve with practice.
3. Ability to stay open, flexible and change your mind or plans
It can be a real problem in your relationships at home and work if you are too controlling, opinionated, inflexible or sure you are right all the time. Watch for needing to make others wrong for you to feel safe in the world and how this negatively affects your connection with others. It is a good practice to stay open and always assume that you might be wrong about everything you know.
Question what you are told and assume there might be things you don't know or another perspective you haven't considered. Be willing to change plans and let go of your expectations, too. Expectations about how things should be can make you too rigid and difficult to work with.
Practice trusting that however things turn out, that must be perfect for some reason and roll with changes in plans without feeling mistreated or taken from. Recognize that you feel loss when things don't go the way you wanted; but if you trust it's perfect then, there is no loss.
4. Ability to know your own worth in any situation
Knowing your own worth in any situation means you don't let situations or other people diminish your value. You can gain this skill by practicing knowing that your intrinsic value can't change and is the same as every other human being's, no matter what happens or what anyone thinks.
You can be bulletproof from low self-esteem issues by just choosing to believe your value can't change. Every time you make a mistake or feel judged or criticized, keep telling yourself "that doesn't change my value." As you practice this, you will find you can walk into any situation and feel safe because your sense of safety comes from inside of you.
5. Ability to regulate your own inner state — from unsafe to safe
Every minute of the day, you are in one of two states: feeling safe, where you are capable of showing up for others, or feeling unsafe, where you feel "not good enough" or not secure and aren't capable of focusing on others. You can and must monitor your inner state and pay attention to where you are. If you start behaving badly or feel un-balanced, you are probably in a fear (unsafe) state.
It is your No. 1 job in life to be responsible for yourself and your behavior. You can choose to make yourself feel safe by choosing to believe your value can't change and that your journey is the perfect classroom for you. Trust the universe is a wise teacher who knows what it's doing, and trust that it only brings situations into your life that will bless you and grow you. This means you have the ability to make yourself feel safe in any moment. Your sense of security in the world can come from you, and it will also make you more capable of giving to others.
6. Ability to understand what's really happening when others are upset
When people are upset, they often channel their anger toward a person — but the angry emotion is not usually about that person. People with good social skills understand this and can see that these people are just scared. It's fear of failure and loss that upsets people, and their upset is always about their own safety.
Most bad behavior is really a request for love or attention. Humans need some validation or reassurance that they are safe and loved. Bad behavior in another person often doesn't make us want to validate or love them, but it is what they need. This is, again, a skill that you get better at with practice.
7. Ability to have a difficult conversation the right way
We all need to know the right way to have a touchy conversation so that both parties feel heard, honored and respected at the end. This means seeing the other person as the same as yourself, setting your feelings aside upfront, asking questions and listening to the other person, then asking permission to speak your feelings and share your view. This process is easy, but remembering to practice it in every conversation is hard.
You might need to have a reminder on your phone to remind you to listen before you talk and to validate other people's right to their opinions. I've written numerous articles on this topic in the past.
8. Ability to listen and validate another person
You need to have some conversations with the people in your life in which all you do is ask questions, listen and honor and respect the other person's right to their feelings. I see this as its own skill because it truly is a specific skill inside of the conversations mentioned above.
Listening is easy for some people who don't like to talk anyway, but for some of us this is really hard and requires diligent intention and practice. You must consciously decide at the beginning of a conversation that you are committed to making the other person feel heard, understood and valued, and that you will listen more than you talk.
The most powerful way to give this to another person is to simply ask lots of questions and listen with the intent to understand them, rather than trying to figure out what you want to say next. Being a master listener is one of the greatest people skills you can develop.
9. Ability to enforce your own and honor others' boundaries
This skill is really about seeing your own value as equal to that of other people. This means your needs are equally important as theirs. It also means honoring your right to have boundaries to protect yourself and make sure your needs are met.
Some of us feel selfish if we make our needs important, but it's not. Putting one's needs first can actually be wise and healthy.
We must also watch for other people enforcing their boundaries and honor their right to make themselves important too.
10. Ability to make hard decisions from a place of love, not fear
Many of us fear making decisions because we fear mistakes and/or missing out on any options. Your ability to listen to your own intuition and know what choice is right for you is a critical life skill you can, again, practice and get better at.
A technique I teach my coaching clients is to write down all of your options. Then, write down a fear-motivated reason to do each option and a love-motivated reason to do each option. This will double your options. The next step is to cross out all the fear-motivated reasons/options and make a choice from the love-motivated ones.
Sit with that choice and feel what your intuition has to say about it. Does it feel right to you? Does it still bother you and make you feel discontented? You are entitled to know the right path on your perfect classroom journey. You have an inner GPS to guide you. If you haven't tuned into yours yet, you just need to start practicing listening and feeling your way through some choices. All the answers you need are inside you.
Working on these skills will help you become you someone who is easy to get along with, resolve conflicts, negotiate and make plans with. You will be more likely to make friends easily and feel happier because you will feel safer and more secure and have more to give others.
You can do this.