The “People Person” Test

February 15, 2022

The other day I stumbled upon a social media post in which the author shared how she follows a simple principle of sparing 10 seconds to thank anyone who has the courtesy to spare 10 seconds for her.  I loved the post, and it got me thinking.

Many of us claim (or at least aspire) to be “people” people, but I wonder how people-oriented we truly are?  The post made me realise that there’s at least one simple litmus test we can use to answer that question.  While passing the test is certainly not a complete endorsement of our people-orientedness, failure of the test almost certainly reveals we might be less people-focused than we hope.

The litmus test is this:
What is our degree of self-initiative and/or responsiveness to communicate with people when we have nothing to gain out of the conversation? How do we respond to people with whom we have already engaged in a conversation where our continued conversation or response is important to the other party but not necessarily to us (e.g., it is not our highest priority or no longer serves our interests)?

To best identify with what I’m talking about, try to remember what it felt like being on the receiving end.  Have you ever experienced any of the following?

  • You attend one or more job interviews.  The new potential employer promises they will “get back to you” within a certain timeframe, but then you hear absolutely nothing.
  • You meet an important client to talk through the final steps of a proposal.  The meeting seems to go well.  But thereafter, there is radio silence.
  • You struggle weighing the pros and cons of whether you should follow-up with a client on something important.  You decide to send them a short note, but there is no response.
  • You send a personal note to a friend trying to clear the air on something in your relationship.  There is neither a response nor even acknowledgement of receipt.

What other situations have you experienced personally or professionally where the conversation was important to you but went silent?

How did this/these situation(s) make you feel?  What emotions arose in you?

Having walked down memory lane recalling what it felt to be on the receiving end of this equation, the real question is whether we also do this to other people?  While we might hate when we are the ones treated like this, do we do it to others?

We frankly can do very little about how other people choose to treat us.  But we can do something about how we treat others.  So if we shift the shoe to the other foot where we are the one with the conversational ball in our court, the hard question we have to ask ourselves is:

Who are the people I am “dissing” by failing to even give them the courtesy of a response?

As we reflect on that question, it may be only natural to get a bit defensive.  Am I expected to respond to every person who reaches out to me?  Not necessarily.  I’m not at all suggesting that we have to respond to every email we get from any random person!  If you are a person of notoriety, for example, you certainly cannot respond to every letter from every fan!  But, when there is a conversation that we have (by our own free choice) chosen to engage in, should we not have the courtesy to continue or at least finish the conversation?

Granted, we may not even realise that we are doing it.  Our intent could be to communicate, but we may leave people in the lurch without even realising it.  There are many reasons we might be unresponsive.  For example:

  • I know many non-profit organisation leaders, for example, who live their lives in the “service of people” yet struggle to effectively keep track of their emails or other messaging apps.  While they may not intend to treat others disrespectfully, their actions remain fundamentally disrespectful by virtue of their lack of execution.  It is not ill intent.  It is a lack of execution.
  • I similarly know many leaders who are so incredibly focused on their goals that their “purposeful focus” acts as an unconscious filter deleting “lower priority” conversations from their radar.  Their intent is not necessarily to ignore people who fail to serve their immediate goals, but it surely feels that way on the other side.
  • Some don’t reply because they are chronic procrastinators, particularly if the conversation has a degree of discomfort.  They put off communicating because they prefer to avoid the discomfort.  Ironically, part of the reason they kick the can down the road is because they do have empathy for the other person.  Perhaps the information they need to communicate is less than comfortable; so, they put it off.  But this leaves the person on the other side treated poorly.
  • Some are just efficiency junkies.  The topic of conversation has not yet reached a conclusion.  So the thinking is, “Why should I waste time giving an update when there is nothing to update?”  The simple answer to that question?  Empathy for the other person who does not know what you know.
  • And some seem to exhibit this behaviour primarily in managerial relationships.  They expect their reportees to respond to their emails in a matter of seconds but feel no responsibility to reciprocate.  I’ve lost count of the clients who told me in coaching conversations how frustrated they were with supervisors who left them unable to complete their work because they were waiting for their supervisor to respond.

That brings me back to the 10-second idea.  If we’ve chosen to engage with someone in a conversation, is it not just basic respect to continue the conversation until such time as we close the conversation, if we so choose?

How about you?  How do you fare with this litmus test?

If your assessment is less than you wish, what are 2-3 changes you could make to show others the respect you wish you were demonstrating?

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