People Skills Basics

underwater view 300x225 People Skills BasicsImagine if you will, a submarine cruising through an underwater Grand Canyon, hundreds of feed below the surface.  It’s night, pitch black, the only sound is the sonar beacon, pinging away, receiving constant feedback, a flow of information about possible obstacles, perhaps even dangers.  The captain watches all of this on a computer screen, surveying the virtual world, avoiding a boulder here, a dead end there, searching for an open clear channel.  Human beings are like submarines, constantly moving through space, sending off signals, receiving signals back, interpreting signals – all at lighting speed.  Within the blink of an eye, people know if they’re being understood, if they like another person, if they are afraid.  And because of the enormity of the volume and speed of information, we’re unable to interpret it consciously.  It’s feelings, impulses, impressions, all set against a background of each individual’s beliefs about themselves and about the world. Now imagine 9 billion submarines traveling the earth, everyone of them on autopilot. It’s absolutely mind numbing.  But some how we manage, some of us better than others.

Setting up a computer network, on the other hand, is pretty easy. You wire together computers, peripherals, servers, hubs, Internet, etc. – give them all a common language with which to speak to each other and voila, you’re in business. Every single time one computer relays a certain command, the other machines in the network will react in exactly the same way.

Connecting people is not so easy, especially if you don’t know the “human protocols”. We may share a verbal language but there is no common emotional and social language. The people world is chaotic, each individual is thinking his or her own thoughts, has their own desires, wants, fears. What may be a good thing to you is bad to someone else. You might say something that is meant as a good thing and for some reason, the person you’re communicating with takes it as a bad thing. It’s very different from the regularity of machines, that’s why geeks are so bad at interacting with people. Why is it that can you say something to someone on Monday and then say it again on Tuesday and they react in an entirely different way? Why is it that something that Bill thought was funny is offensive to Sally? People are strange and unpredictable and generally act in a very chaotic manner.

This is a tough nut to crack for engineers and tech types because much of their work is based on creating models or working to models. A model, by it’s very nature, implies predictability. An event will occur in the same manner every time. You build a bridge to withstand X, Y, and Z stresses. If any one of X,Y and Z or a combination thereof occurs, that bridge will not fall down. It’s about repeatability. The interaction of two or more human beings does not have this same predictability. Yes, models could be created for human interactions but they’d so general as to almost be irrelevant. Usually, if I walk into a room and smile at someone and introduce myself, the other person will smile back and introduce him or herself and we’ll shake hands. But there have been plenty of times when I’ve done this exact thing and the object of my introduction will simply turn and walk away. Maybe his mother had just died. Maybe he was desperately looking for a bathroom. Maybe he just didn’t like the look of me. It’s incredibly unpredictable and for those who are used to repeatable models, it can be frustrating.

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