“I’m a people person.” That’s what he said. He was about 68 years old sitting solo at a table at an isolated winery/brewery drinking a beer and reading a local paper. “Where’re y’all from?” he interrupted as my husband and I were engaging with the owner of the winery and starting our wine tastings. “NC” was all we got out before he started down a path of storytelling and don’t-mean-to-offend-you joke telling. He didn’t ruin our experience, but he certainly didn’t enhance it. He just seemed like a lonely older person who needed to be seen and heard.
But then he made a mind-boggling declaration, “I’m a people person.” He went on to say, “I can’t help it, I just am.” Letting us know he had no need to apologize for being such a great guy and loving people so much. He actually said, “I love people.” My husband and I gave each other the raised eyebrows surprise look, bought a couple bottles of wine, said our goodbyes and headed out the door. We chatted a little bit in the car, and I shared with my husband why I was surprised at what the man had said.
When someone says they are people person, I assume they mean that they are interested in others… in learning about them… their stories… who they are…where they’ve been…where they’re going. That they are curious, but not judgmental about others. That they’d rather listen and learn than talk about themselves. That they don’t use questioning to get their own point across or to feign interest.
I don’t think this man is a “people person.” I think he is a “me person,” who is not very socially adept. Of course, I only met the guy one time, so maybe I’m being judgmental. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions. Maybe I have him all wrong. Too bad first impressions are so – well – impressionable.
Lots of people in fundraising claim to be people persons. But are they really? People persons are socially competent, which isn’t just about being popular with your peers or your colleagues. Social competence is about accurately reading people and situations that are unfamiliar to you and choosing appropriate interaction strategies for achieving goals, like assimilation, or group cohesion, or fun and lightness, or space for others to shine. It’s not a one trick pony, like being friendly or out-going. It’s a complex set of high level skills that includes inhibiting your own needs for the spotlight.
If you’re not really a people person, that certainly doesn’t mean you’re not a good person who wants to help others. But if you want to be a top performer at the task of helping others, practicing people-person skills will take you a long way to attaining that goal.