Building Your People Skills: 4 Steps to Clarity

Jen Bunk
Jul 8, 2016 · 5 min read

People skills are important. Especially at work. Given my focus on the tech industry, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why tech companies — or anyone with a tech background — should care about building people skills.

And lots of folks understand the power of people skills — at a very high level.

Yes, you might know that people skills are things like being able to communicate better, motivate others, and set realistic expectations.

You might also know that having better people skills can translate into lots of good stuff — including increased productivity, increased engagement, and increased sense of self-worth.

But do you know EXACTLY what people skills YOU need to develop to achieve more wins?

Here’s a 4-step process to gaining clarity about what people skills would be best for YOU to build.

Step 1: Make a list of ALL of the people skills you MIGHT want to build.

“People skills” are nebulous. To get you started, Forbes says there are 20 people skills you need to succeed at work. They are:

Go through each of these 20 and write down any that stand out to you. Is this a people skill you might need to work on? Write it down.

Then, set a timer for 5 minutes. Write down any other people skills that come to mind. If you think you need to build it, write it down. If you’re not 100% satisfied with your progress on a skill, write it down. Shoot for a list of at least 10 people skills.

Step 2: Focus on your goals

Now that you have your list of at least 10 people skills that you think you need to build, it’s time to winnow that list down. A very good way to do that is to focus on your goals.

What is super important in your life RIGHT NOW? This could be your work life or your life outside of work. Which of the people skills that you wrote down in Step 1 can help you achieve your most pressing goals? Put a star next to them.

You can also focus on the LONG TERM. What is your #1 long-term goal? Again, this can be work-related or not. Which of the people skills that you wrote down in Step 1 can help you achieve your most important long-term goals? Put a star next to them.

Step 3: Visualize mastery

Look at each of the people skills you starred in Step 2. Say them all out loud. After you say each out loud, imagine you are a Master of that skill. Visualize it in as much detail as possible.

For example, let’s say one of my starred skills was patience. I would say the word “patience” out loud. Then, I would visualize being a Patience Master. I might envision one of my team members interrupting me while I’m working on a Very Important Task. I can see that person in my mind’s eye. I also see myself taking a deep breath and calming telling The Interrupter to please come back in 5 minutes. I imagine the sound of my voice. I can feel the sense of calm. I can hear my team member saying, “No problem, Jen.”

Do this visualization exercise for each of the skills you starred.

Step 4: Pick ONE skill and write down a Next Action

Briefly, reflect on the visualization exercise. Was there one people skill where the thought of being a Master filled you with absolute glee and determination? Was there one people skill where, upon visualizing mastery, it sent chills up your spine? Is there one people skill that you KNOW you should focus on FIRST?

Good, then that’s the ONE.

If you can’t decide between two or three, just pick one. Roll some dice. Draw straws. It’s not important how you begin. Just begin. (You can focus of the other skills later.)

You have your ONE? The ONE people skill you are committed to building?


Now, write down a NEXT ACTION. What is one thing you can do VERY SOON that can help you develop that people skill? (I love David Allen, GTD guy. His “next action” stuff is ingenious.)

It’s important that your NEXT ACTION is, well, actionable. Avoid vague terms like “think about” or “figure out.” Next Actions that begin with terms like “call/email…,” “search Google for…,” and “write a paragraph about…,” followed by specifics (e.g., phone #, search terms, topics) work best for me.

For example, if my ONE people skill is “patience” my next action might be: “Call Mary and ask her about that book she read about patience” or “Search Google for synonyms for ‘patience’ and then search Amazon for high-ranking books using those terms.”

Then DO it!

Here’s to gaining clarity about our people skills.

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Jen Bunk

Written by

Jen Bunk

Career Coach for Tech Managers. I help tech managers upgrade their careers, their teams, their paychecks, and their lives.


We help people work better.