I spoke to Bob Burg about building strong relationships in the workplace. His latest book is called Adversaries Into Allies (Portfolio, 2013) and he’s a well known speaker, writer and consultant. Burg is also the coauthor of The Go-Giver, Go-Givers Sell More, It’s Not About You and Endless Referrals. Together, his books have sold more than a million copies. He presents to corporations and associations internationally, including Fortune 500 companies, franchises, and direct sales organizations. In the following brief interview, he talks about developing soft skills, dealing with corporate politics, the importance of influence, and more.
Dan Schawbel: What are some ways to develop your soft skills on the job?
Bob Burg: Success in business is about 10 percent technical skills and 90 percent “people skills.” This is not to say that talent is not important. It absolutely is. However, it’s simply the baseline.
So, first do a personal accounting of your people skills. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
How do you do in terms of your emotions? Do you control them or do they control you? What about speaking to others with tact? Do you both feel and effectively communicate empathy? Do you listen in order to understand or simply to talk and convince? Do you speak kindly of others when they are not there or do you participate in office gossip?
Once you have an idea where you stand on those and other important issues, then determine how you will improve in these areas.
An excellent book to begin with is Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you’ve read it before, then read it again (and again, and again).
Schawbel: Why do many workers fear corporate politics and don’t get involved? How do they better work with their adversaries?
Burg: Quite simply, because it can be scary. Your professional relationships matter greatly to you in terms of your success, happiness, peace of mind, advancement, etc.
While office politics may very well be part of the general eco-system of your company, you don’t need to (and, if I may suggest, nor should you) participate in the more counter-productive aspects of it such as gossip. Leave that to others. However, it can certainly be important to be sure that your work, contribution and value is noticed by those who need to notice.
The big question to ask yourself is whether what you are about to say and do is in everyone’s best interest. If not, don’t do it.
Regarding how to better work with adversaries, the key is to move them from being adversaries into allies. Do your best to see the situation from their point of view. Only then will you effectively be able to tie your wants and needs with theirs.
Schawbel: What’s the difference between persuasion and manipulation and how do you best persuade co-workers to support your cause?
Burg: Influence is the ability to move a person(s) to a desired action within the context of a specific goal. This can be accomplished through persuasion or manipulation.
However, the difference is huge!
Persuasion is positive, “other-focused” and is all about uplifting and creating a win for everyone involved.
Manipulation is self-focused and win-at-all-costs even if others lose. Not only is this bad business, it’s bad “life.” Once one has established themselves as a manipulator they will have broken trust. Achieving their goals will always be a struggle.
Influence and success are much easier to come by when people feel good about you. When they – as I like to say – “know you, like you, and trust you.”
You most effectively persuade your co-workers to support your cause by aligning the benefit of what you want with their wants, needs, desires, goals and values.
Schawbel: How do you go about handling verbal attacks without losing your cool?
Burg: The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice! Mentally rehearse these types of situations and picture yourself responding calmly, with thought, peace and calm. Much like an astronaut simulates their upcoming space flight over and over again before their launch, you can do the same with verbal attacks. Then, when it finally does happen and you handle it perfectly, take great pleasure. Mastering this will make a huge difference in both your personal and professional success and ability to influence others.
Schawbel: In your book, what do you mean by “be a judge not a lawyer”? Why is this important?
Burg: A lawyer’s job is to defend their client regardless of whether they are right or wrong. A judge’s job is to listen to and understand the facts of the case. When we act as a lawyer, we’re not interested in the other’s point of view. Our mind becomes closed to any “truth” that might be different from the one we’ve already determined.
When we act as a judge, we become open, we listen, we learn. Our conclusion might remain the same as it was, but it’s now based on facts. We’ll earn the respect of the other person, as well.