Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, once said:
“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success
is knowing how to get along with people.”
It would seem a very obvious statement, wouldn’t it? Yet, it is not at all easy to achieve. But, getting along with people is the most crucial skill that every organisation is looking for in its employees.
Every day in our workplaces our relationships are challenged by people who see things differently to the way we see them. They come from such diverse backgrounds, different from us in gender, age, sexual orientation, race, language, education and physical ability. They have been socialised in very different ways. They have different values. What’s important to them may not be important to us at all. The outcome of all this is that every personal and professional resource we have is stretched as we endeavour to build meaningful and constructive relationships with these people.
And let’s not forget outside of work – our partners, children, family, relatives, next door neighbours and the members of the clubs and associations we belong to. That’s another challenge!
In these times we also have significant breakdowns in global relationships as countries, religious groups and disaffected people everywhere push their own agendas and fight for their voices to be heard. Every day, we see on our televisions, the struggle of people and nations to get along with other people.
How To Win Friends and Influence People.
Some things have an eternal meaning, and we need to be reminded of them over and over so we don’t forget to keep them as a high priority. Roosevelt made this comment above more than 100 years ago, yet it is still as relevant today as it was back then.
81 years ago in 1936, a book was written by Dale Carnegie called “How To Win Friends and Influence People”. It was so popular that in 1981 it was revised and it has been reprinted over and over again and is still a best seller. It brings the same message that Roosevelt brings. There is a growing awareness that we need to develop what are now called soft skills – people skills – that they are essential to our success.
There is no doubt that those who have learned how to win friends and influence people, who are skilled at getting along with people, achieve whatever success they desire. We call them “people persons”. They are skilled at building relationships with people who can help them develop their careers and grow their businesses. They draw people to them, especially other successful people, because they want to be around them. They have people wanting to work in collaboration with them because they are easy to work with. They are usually positive and constructive people because they manage relationships so well and don’t get caught up in personality issues with others.
What is Our Greatest Challenge to Getting Along With People?
Think of someone you are finding it difficult to get along with at work. Now stop and ask yourself: What is it about that person that makes this relationship difficult?
Or another question: What do I feel when I am around that person?
Many people will say they feel threatened in some way. This is obvious when that person is someone who who bullies, victimises or discriminates against us but I want to leave those people alone here and focus more on the people who are just plain difficult or different. What is it about them that threatens us?
- It may be that we feel inadequate in their presence.
- We may feel our professional competence is challenged.
- We may feel a failure before them.
- We can feel affronted by their ego or arrogance.
- We can see them as a rival or a competitor.
- They just confront the values that we see as important.
- Maybe they are overpowering.
When something or someone threatens us we resort to the primal human reaction. We fight or we go into flight.
We fight back by becoming angry and defending ourselves verbally or by aggressive actions. We personalise our attack in order to make them small so we can be big – another primal reaction. This is not very helpful, however, because it escalates the fight. It’s not really a way to win friends and influence.
Alternatively we take flight. We literally run away. We hide and keep out of their way. We avoid them. We go the long way round so we don’t run into them. Sometimes we even leave the organisation to get away from them or we seek a change of job in another department within our organisation.
The fight/flight response is written into our DNA. It was a very primal response built into our ancestors, a survival instinct, as they sought to protect themselves from very real threats to their physical safety from wild animals, fires and floods. In spite of all our learning and development, in spite of centuries of human development, many of us still use these very same primal responses our ancestors used to survive a confrontation with a grizzly bear to manage social threats like those posed by the personalities and attitudes of other people.
They may provide an answer to the threat in the short term, but long term they do very little for us. We need to be drawing on all the insights we now have access to about human behaviour. There are much more helpful and meaningful ways to manage difficult or threatening relationships than primal lizard-brain responses. We need to be learning and developing skills that help us build meaningful relationships with people. A skill like emotional intelligence, for example. We need to practise, practise and practise until we feel able to relate with all kinds of people from diverse backgrounds and feel empowered by the way we do it.
If we can’t do that ourselves then we need to find mentors and coaches who will work with us to learn these all important soft skills , because they are essential to our success and to living meaningful and purposeful personal and professional lives.