November 29, 2016
You must get along with people
Some professions are typically characterized as a “people business.” Certainly anyone who sells for a living falls into that category. Public relations, politics and other fields also require advanced social skills on the part of their practitioners.
Yet to my way of thinking virtually every way of making a living is a people business these days. Being job-ready for a trade career requires refined social skills along with technical ability.
Construction workers have a reputation for being tough, surly types. Okay, I’ll concede that sometimes those stereotypes hold true, and that a pleasant personality isn’t as important in construction work as the ability to do the job with the tools. But I’m not entirely giving in. Even on construction jobsites, you’ll need to get along with bosses, co-workers, inspectors and assorted other folks you’re likely to run into while you’re trying to install complicated systems. Trade workers who can’t get along with others usually find themselves being the last hired and first laid off.
In the trade service sector, social skills are of paramount importance. Often you will be dealing with people who are under stress because something has broken down. A sewer may be backing up, a furnace conks out in the middle of winter or the a/c fails on a sweltering summer day. How you handle those situations separates the most successful service technicians from those who may be only technical wizards.
Tradespeople who work in the service sector need to make customers feel comfortable inviting them into their homes and businesses. Once inside they must have the ability to explain technologies, procedures and product features and benefits for the purpose of providing solutions to customer problems. Some people might describe this as salesmanship, and that’s not totally incorrect, but some elaboration is in order.
The stereotype of the fast-talking, glib salesperson describes someone who will not be very successful selling most products and services. Studies have shown that the most successful salespeople are those who speak only about 10% of the time in conversations with customers. The rest of the time they are listening. The social skills required of a service trade worker involve listening and observing much more than talking.
Nor does it require an outgoing personality. Some of you may be naturally shy and with a tendency to speak only when spoken to. That’s okay, too. As long as you’re polite and speak to customers in a language they can understand.
Social skill entails the ability to size up who you are talking with and why. It’s fine to use a lot of technical jargon when speaking with co-workers and other trade associates, but you have to bring things down to earth when dealing with customers who may not know a nut from a bolt. When you’re partying with friends, conversations might be filled with slang, profanity and sarcasm. Better leave all that at home when addressing customers and the people you work with.
In the trade world and in virtually any other line of work, it’s important to get along with people. Conflicts will inevitably arise from time to time with various associates, but you must be able to deal with those episodes maturely. You must develop the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
This is an important element of trade professionalism. That is a subject I will deal with in my next blog.