Recently, Maureen came to me because she doesn’t like talking with people. She also happens to be a psychologist! She’s happy to give clients her attention and skill for the fifty minutes she’s being paid; however, outside that time, she’s simply not interested. Maureen wants to learn how to engage in “small talk” since she suspects then her clients might like her more. In the last two months, three clients have accused her of being rude — and said so on Yelp.
For over twenty years I’ve had the privilege of coaching hundreds of men and women from their teens through their seventies. I’ve worked with people from an array of countries and a broad swath of industries. I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot. Maureen, though, now ranks in my top ten list of “stand-out” clients!
But she’s not alone. I estimate that a full 50% of my clients don’t like and don’t have time for chitchat. This past week I worked with a guy in his early twenties, a musician, who told me that he only enjoys “deep conversations” and doesn’t see the point of small talk. He’s having a hard time attracting clients (weddings are his main gig) and wonders if he needs to work on his people skills. Do ya think?!
I know I’ve had an impact on many people’s personal and professional lives. I also know that there are probably just as many people I haven’t been able to help as there are whom I have. Through it all, I’ve always grappled with the question: Why are some people able to acquire a large repertoire of interpersonal skills and others are not?
I wrestle with this question in part out of curiosity, in part out of pride (why can’t I “fix” everyone?) and in large part because I’m genuinely baffled. What is the difference between people who are successful in relationships and people who are at best stilted and at worst alienating in their relationships?
I’ve come to believe the difference is whether a person is interested in and likes people or is disinterested, both emotionally and intellectually, from people.
I’m amazed at how many people I encounter who are just not curious about people. They’re not interested in other people’s stories, in what makes them tick, or in how they share similar fates.
If you don’t like people you’re not going to know how to communicate in ways that help people understand what you think and need. Skill is only rooted in interest.
Of course, the next question: Is it possible to teach someone how to be interested in people? I’ll have to get back to you on that….
Please send your communication questions to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org