Are you really a “people person”?

When was the last time you heard someone say “I am a people person”? Candidates for various management jobs often describe themselves as a people person. What is that exactly?

I have a friend who is an HR professional. He tells me the response they use is “Oh good. If you are a people person, we can pay you five people a week. Will that be OK?”

But seriously folks. Most of us know where that concept came from. Originally when someone said they were a “people person” it meant they could deal with others in a positive way. It also likely meant they liked doing it. It was supposed to indicate a sincerity for interaction, the ability to relate, a consensus builder. Do you think people really do that anymore?

I fear the truth is we have lost some of the drive, desire, and ability to truly relate with people. Of course some of us are really good at it. But I don’t see where we teach that anymore. Instead, it seems young people are being encouraged to get better with computers and automated interfaces, but they do not get the same encouragement when faced with facing a live specimen.

When have you heard about training for one on one communication? What about simple social graces like waiting outside a conference room right before the meeting starts. Instead of making small talk, faces are buried on smart phones or tablets. Leaders can build more rapport with their team in those short moments outside the meeting than they do inside the meeting once the official discussion has started.

Social media is not really that social at all.

One indication: A recent Pew Research survey of adults in the U.S. found that 71% use Facebook at least occasionally, and 45% of Facebook users check the site several times a day.

That sounds like people are becoming more sociable. But some people think the opposite is happening. The problem, they say, is that we spend so much time maintaining superficial connections online that we aren’t dedicating enough time or effort to cultivating deeper real-life relationships. Too much chatter, too little real conversation.

Others counter that online social networks supplement face-to-face sociability, they don’t replace it. These people argue that we can expand our social horizons online, deepening our connections to the world around us, and at the same time take advantage of technology to make our closest relationships even closer.

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, says technology is distracting us from our real-world relationships. Keith N. Hampton, who holds the Professorship in Communication and Public Policy at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, argues that technology is enriching those relationships and the rest of our social lives.

Let’s rally together and do something different. If you struggle with making new friends, try baby steps first. Try simply saying hello to someone at the grocery store. Wave to a neighbor you haven’t spoken to in a while.

A second issue is the difference between connecting and communicating. While we may have hundreds of Facebook friends—people we never would have met otherwise, with whom we can share many new things—do they really provide the kind of human interaction that is so essential to our emotional health?

Psychologists define social capital, or the benefit we derive from social interactions, in two ways: bonding and the more superficial bridging. Research shows that virtual-world friends provide mostly bridging social capital, while real-world friends provide bonding social capital.

Larry Rosen states

“For instance, in one study we found that while empathy can be dispensed in the virtual world, it is only one-sixth as effective in making the recipient feel socially supported compared with empathy proffered in the real world. A hug feels six times more supportive than an emoji.”

To be a true people person, the number of friends or connections on social media has nothing to do with the people you can influence with your day-to-day behavior. Can you add value? Can you emote empathy and support for someone in need of encouragement during a tough time? Are you genuine?

The next time a friend or co-worker expresses something personal, decide whether you are truly a people person. Or will you simply brush it aside so you can get back to posting on Twitter or Facebook.

Let’s try to be a real “people person”.

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