Why Business is Still Personal


Workplace evolution is a constant – and accepting this fact is inevitable. Many of us have re-invented ourselves, redefined our roles (more than once), embraced the “would be” powers of social media and hopefully made some measure of peace with the on-going mobile revolution. But as time marches on, and our attention becomes infinitely divided – we must be careful not to overlook the core skills that are critical to business success. The recommendations posed years ago that will always remain uniquely relevant. We may have brushed them aside – or underestimated their importance for a moment. However, the expectation remains each time we  introduce ourselves to a new co-worker or pitch an idea to a client. Business is about people – and business is still personal.

It has been discussed, that the state of our economy has allowed some of us to become forgetful concerning the importance of “people skills”.  This is somewhat understandable, but not excusable. The resulting stress can cause us to skip the “people component” – even though we know on some level this is ill-advised. The reality remains that in the long-term, we really cannot hope to move forward individually or organizationally, without this skill set intact.

Business is not only about spreads sheets and IPO’s. It is essentially about connecting with your employees and the dreams of your customers. Business is about people – and if we forget this, we are likely to fail miserably somewhere down the line.

The business of understanding people
There is no need to re-invent the wheel to refresh our memories. There are resources out there to help us sharpen or re-connect with this skill set. The Dale Carnegie classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, (which should be required reading for all aspiring business students and entrepreneurs), is one example. The basic tenets of the book still make perfect business sense. Concepts such as showing appreciation, and leaving others with the feeling that they are worthy of your undivided attention, are certainly crucial leadership building blocks which have stood the test of time.

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, another people skills basic, takes a closer look at how the ability to understand others can impact all aspects of our lives. As we have all learned, possessing a spectacularly high IQ may not be enough to propel you forward in business. You also need to grasp how your behavior impacts others and how that ultimately affects your business future. (Find a review of studies on Emotional Intelligence here.)

A few other basics worth mentioning:

  • Face-to-face contact still works – Reading the Human Moment at Work can be a game changer for developing leaders. Written at the forefront of our now technologically nagged world – its posed premise will only become more important as time goes on.
  • Listen more,talk less – When considering the skill of strategic  listening – attitude and awareness are key. As described recently by Tom Peters, author of In Search Of Excellence, “My argument is skills such as listening are full-scale “professions” to be studied, practiced, and mastered as the cello would be”.
  • Manage technology – Don’t expect to develop business relationships if you are always tethered to an electronic device. If you think that your overall level of distraction isn’t noticed – you are wrong.
  • Eye contact, a smile and a handshake – I am not sure when these common courtesies were expunged from the game plan, because they are so accessible, yet so very powerful. Having someone feel welcome and comfortable, is a gift that will come back to you in so many ways.
  • Reward effort – Never underestimate the power of a thank you and a “job well done”. If you are unsure how to show gratitude, start with a simple note to let someone know you’ve notice, and appreciate their contribution.
  • Offer respect – I don’t know if you can teach “respect” –  but the belief that everyone has something to offer is a basic business tenant. Most everyone brings something to the table, and they deserve respect for that contribution.
  • Consider history –  Knowing and recognizing someone’s journey in life and work, is consummate to that person. Just as you need to know the history of an organization when doing business with them, know the history of the key players as well.

We’ve all witnessed uncomfortable moments when we realize that an individual has completely forgotten the skill set mentioned here. It is alarming to watch. We can only hope, that someone with influence and wisdom can set them straight and point them in the right direction.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and career coach. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

8 thoughts on “Why Business is Still Personal

  1. Respect can be chosen, like a welcome greeting. If you choose to respect others, it tends to multiply and upgrade the environment, allowing others to shine where they may have been marginalized. It also helps build team structure, focusing on the good common ground, which again,
    draws people out into productivity, etc., Respect can be rejected, but even when it seems relationally hopeless giving trust can be a powerful stimuli to growth. People give up on each other too soon and switch to the “more entertaining” device…


  2. I appreciate the technology tether discussion.

    Nothing is more annoying than trying to discuss a complex topic with a colleague or a client — and see endless checking of cell phone or answering calls and texting in middle of my meeting. I have come to ask attendees to turn off the phone or put it on silent mode. If I run into the problem now, I ask to reschedule any meeting so I could have the client’s full attention and to avoid the distractions. Thank you for this important article..


  3. I have had similar experiences recently. (I am sure that was the motivation behind the post). I find that as a culture we are becoming “technologically nagged”, with little time set aside for deep conversation and thought. Through it all, manners have taken a downward turn.

    Thank you for reading Colin –


  4. Marla this is great. I make a point of turning off my cell phone whenever I am engaged in the company of others with few exceptions. I find it incredibly rude when in the middle of a conversation someone’s phone rings and they answer it only to engage in idle chit chat. People, like mice, seem to react to the sound of a bell or phone ringing almost instictively. As a society I think we need to start reigning in these compulsive acts once again and develop something that in many cases seems to have been forgotten, manners.

    Have a great day!


  5. You make an excellent point. Sometimes we are unaware that we are “crossing the line” – and being told is the very best thing. I am sure that all of us could use a bit of a “refresher course”. Thanks for reading Miriam.


  6. Funny you should mention being tethered to technology Marla. I was recently called out for having my phone out and texting/tweeting/talking excessively.

    I deserved it and as a result have put it away except for lunch breaks. It was amazing how many people were put off by my distraction. Luckily I was able to get my eye back on the ball before it was too late.

    Thanks for a great post. Miriam


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