This last weekend, I was travelling up to Ontario, Canada, to deliver a speech to a large business group. My wife Amy and I decided to get a rental car in Detroit and drive the rest of the way. As we were crossing the border into Canada, the customs agent asked us the nature of our visit. I replied truthfully that we were going to a business seminar, and as the conversation progressed, I explained that we were not just attending the event.…We were the keynote speakers.
This young lady did not like my answer; in fact, she seemed downright ornery. I can’t imagine being a customs agent is a ‘fun’ job, and perhaps she hadn’t yet listened to a lot of positive attitude CDs that day. But it really seemed she had woken up on the wrong side of the bed that day. She proceeded to ask me what made me qualified to be the speaker and why an American had to give the presentation and not a Canadian! The conversation went downhill from there. She soon demanded written proof that we had been invited to speak in Canada and threatened to send us packing if we didn’t produce some sort of formal invitation. This was a serious problem because I had a thousand people counting on me to arrive and inspire their business teams!
Now, the Tim Marks of the old days would have responded very harshly when backed against the wall like this. The old Tim would have wanted to put her in her place and show her who’s boss. The old Tim would have wanted to prove that she was wrong and I was right. And the old Tim would have won the battle, lost the war, and been sent packing back to Florida! Thank goodness the (somewhat) “new and improved” Tim was at the border that day because I got to practice all the people skills I had ever learned.
First, I got to practice remaining calm. I knew that if I got my knickers in a twist, I would look and sound angry, and that wouldn’t help anything. Second, I realized she had total control over my situation, whether that seemed fair or not. So I let her be the boss. When she said, “Get me some proof,” I said “Yes, ma’am!” I agreed with her that I should have the documentation and that I would get busy finding it. I got on the phone with the office, and after much scrambling around on a Saturday afternoon, the great people at the office were able to produce sufficient documentation to calm her down.
Years ago, I read in an article that 88% of the reason of someone “being invited to leave” (read: getting fired from) his or her job was because of interpersonal problems…and that poor people skills are the root cause of relationship problems. Unfortunately, most of us have not read enough people skills books (or perhaps any!) to have mastered this critical ability. I remember reading Dale Carnegie’s timeless classic How to Win Friends and Influence People—probably the best people skills book ever written. It really impacted me. I remember feeling embarrassed because of my appalling lack of knowledge in this area. I was probably violating every principle in that book weekly, if not daily. I was in a managerial roll at my job as an engineer, and I wasn’t leading people; I was lording over them by intimidating and humiliating them. My nickname around the plant was “The Viking” because someone remarked once that if you needed to find Tim Marks, you just needed to follow the proverbial trail of blood and guts. I was a real jerk to my staff, and I was starting to realize it.
However, I also realized that I wasn’t stuck. I could change. I could make it a priority to become a gentler and kinder person and leader. So I dove into these sort of books and worked very hard over the years to sand off my rough edges. I still need a lot of improvement, but I am a lot better than I used to be! If I can do it, I know you can, too! So, what follows are some fundamental people skills from How to Win Friends and Influence People that, if followed, will help you vastly improve relationships at home, at work, and in your community. Here goes!
1. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. Stay positive and don’t become negative. Most people are too focused on their own problems to care about yours, and grouchy people are actually glad you’ve got problems! Instead of complaining, be the person that finds the good in each situation. It will make you more pleasant to be around.
2. Give honest, sincere appreciation. This is not flattery. The keyword is sincerity. If you’re not being sincere, people will know it. Everyone has SOMETHING they do well! Maybe the other people are a real pain to be around, and maybe they are big complainers. Well, there’s always something positive! For example, thank goodness they are pointing out the negative.…We need a canary in the coal mine! If everyone is positive, we might miss some critical error. Try to find something to appreciate in all of the people that you meet and know. At the very least, even grouchy people are good at converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, and that’s good for the lawn.
3. Arouse in other people an eager want. You want to get people motivated, keep them motivated, and spur them on. You can only bribe, bully, threaten, and push people uphill for so long.…Eventually, if you want to lead people, they have to have a reason WHY they would want to take action. The best leader helps his or her people discover their WHY so they will take action.
4. Become genuinely interested in other people. Don’t just pretend you’re interested. Everybody has something interesting about them. Find out what it is. Maybe they’ve run a marathon to raise money for cancer research. Maybe you walk into their home, and they have framed photographs they have entered in contests. Maybe they have championship dogs that they breed and train. Find out what makes them unique and ask questions about it.
5. SMILE. Yes, a real smile. A smile is contagious. We’ve all seen it. Find things to smile about and share your smile with the world. If you are feeling down…SMILE. It messes with your brain, and you start to feel better pretty quickly. (Besides, when you smile, grouchy people will wonder what you’re up to, and that’s fun all by itself.)
6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. When you meet a person, learn his or her name and repeat it several times in the conversation. If it is a unique name, ask the person to spell it and make sure you pronounce it correctly. Everyone loves hearing his or her own name. We love hearing our own name. I also love being called Daddy by my children. (My wife also has a couple of other names for me, but none I can share with you today!)
7. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. Don’t sit and wait for your turn to talk while you are listening. Be attentive and show actual interest in what the person is saying. The best way to make sure you are listening is to ASK QUESTIONS rather than tell your own story. And here’s a secret: What’s the best way to show an interest? By actually being interested!
8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests. Find some common ground. Don’t just bore someone with things that are interesting to you. You don’t have to fake interest; find real common ground. If you like sports, ask them what sports teams (if any) they enjoy. If you like cars, ask them what cars they enjoy. Same with food, movies, their kids, or anything else that might interest you both.
9. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely. Discover the causes the other person has fought for and the victories that person has achieved in life. What are that person’s unique gifts and skills? What are his or her God-given talents? Everyone is a genius at something, and by asking questions, you will discover that genius. Then, spend the rest of your time pointing out what the other person has done right. The only true way to make somebody feel important is for you to sincerely feel and believe that person is really important. If a person is in your life and you are spending time with him or her, then that peson should be important to you.
So, those are the nine principles. When How to Win Friends and Influence People was written in the early 20th century, it had a tremendous impact on people, and the thoughts and principles behind it are as true today as they were back then. Hopefully these principles will help you, whether you are a leader in business, your home, your church, or your community. I think that if we all hone up on our people skills, we will make the world a better place, simply by treating each other better. Now, go apply one of these skills today!
God Bless, Tim Marks