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December 3, 2004

News & Opinion: (Little) People Skills

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 6:01 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Another category of skills that parents acquire are the interpersonal, "people" skills. The most important may be knowing how to listen, respectfully, to what others have to say. Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, who raised four kids before she went into politics, told me the most important thing she learned from her family was to never let anyone leave the table without feeling theyd been heard.
Another interpersonal skill is the ability to negotiate. Modern management, like modern parenting, involves unending negotiation. One former high official in the Defense Department under Reagan confided that negotiating with his teenaged daughter taught him more about how to deal with the Soviets than any other training hed ever had. After years of dealing with "What cant I stay up later?" "Why cant I have the car?" "What cant I go to that movie?" talking about the ABM treaty with a grown-up in Geneva was childs play.
A big point here is that parents often learn not only how to deal with people tactfully, but how to be tough when need be. One investment banker told me that after a rough night of dealing with an obstreperous toddler (it was "NO, NO, NO!" until midnight) she had to drag herself to a big negotiation the next morning. Irritable and grumpy from lack of sleep, she snapped "NO!" to the other sides every suggestion. "NO!" "Impossible! We might as well end this right now!" The opposing side eventually called a time out and then came back and agreed to all her major demands.
"Thats when I discovered the power of the Irrational No," she explained.