Q: My boss has put me on notice that my interpersonal skills need to improve or he's terminating my employment. I'm just not the kind of...
Q: My boss has put me on notice that my interpersonal skills need to improve or he’s terminating my employment. I’m just not the kind of personality that’s good at dealing with people. Should I start looking for a job where I can work by myself?
A: Unless you plan to take up permanent residency in a cave in the Himalayas, you’re stuck needing to learn to deal with people.
Contrary to opinion, there’s no “personality” that naturally knows how to deal with people. Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist French philosopher, once observed, “Hell is … other people.”
You can figure either the French or the philosophers are depressed pessimists or realize being human means finding other people challenging.
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Interpersonal skills are as learnable as computer programs or a new cellphone. There’s a tough period when we feel frustrated and awkward, then success when we use a new tool well, and then new challenges where we aren’t sure we know anything.
All your boss is saying is he wants you to learn a few communication tools.
Some of the most helpful basics I teach in companies include paraphrasing, using “I” language, and describing what you want behaviorally. For example, saying, “I need that report by 9 tomorrow,” rather than “You’re utterly irresponsible!”
None of the tools involves a personality transplant. You can be introverted, extroverted, bold, shy or eccentric and still repeat back what someone says. If you can learn to send an e-mail message, you can learn to improve the messages you send verbally at work.
Similar to your new cellphone or computer program, you need a tutorial to become skilled at new people skills.
Before you crawl under your bed, try letting your boss know you’re always happy to learn new skills. Ask him to be specific about what behavior he wants you to change. Also ask him to provide training or coaching to teach you what he wants you to learn.
Be aware that some lucky dogs do get early communication coaching from an unusual source — parents who themselves are skilled communicators. If you have a co-worker who skates through your workplace like an interpersonal Peggy Fleming, don’t be intimidated. You now know why they send their parents flowers and enjoy holiday functions.
For the rest of us, we wait until the right incentive comes along. Your boss has provided the motivation; just make sure he also provides some help.
The last word(s)
Q: My boss is out to get me. Can I get his boss to protect me?
A: No. You’d be more likely to win the lottery than get his boss to side with you.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006).
To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube