The Power of People Skills


By far the greatest obstacle to success that I see in others is a poor understanding of people. A while back the Wall Street Journal published an article on the reasons that executives fail. At the top of the list was a person’s inability to effectively relate to others.

One day I was talking to someone who was complaining about not winning a business contract that he had bid on. “It wasn’t fair,” he told me. “All the people involved knew each other, and we didn’t have a chance. It’s all politics.” But then what he went on to describe wasn’t politics. It was relationships.

Authors Carole Hyatt and Linda Gottlieb indicate that people who fail on the job commonly cite “office politics” as the reason for their failures, but the reality is that what they call politics is often nothing more than regular interaction with other people.

If you haven’t learned how to get along with people, you will always be fighting a battle to succeed. On the other hand, making people skills a strength will take you farther than any other skill you develop. People like to do business with people they like. Or to put it the way President Theodore Roosevelt did: “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

From The Maxwell Daily Reader

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  1. 1
    Mark Ryan says:

    This is one of the most important things I try and help my employees understand. In order for them to gain an understanding of the people they deal with, they need to build relationships.

  2. 2
    Trevor Murray says:

    I agree work harder on relationships

  3. 3

    All other things being equal, people would rather do business with someone they have a relationship with.

  4. 4
    amber hohrein says:

    Yes, I have learned that people first brings true and lasting success. I become better when I think of sucess as putting
    my clients needs before my own personal goals and acheivements. The return of relationship building and investment yeilds great return
    Especially if your eternally minded. I must warn you, you have to think like Jesus, who was not of a mind of personal gain.

  5. 5
    Rismantoyo Mahujan says:

    Totally agree. People skills not people kills.

  6. 6
    Yulanda K. Jones says:

    Excellent! I do not disagree.
    I’m going to make this personal. I keep saying we must see every angle, else you will be decived. We must stay in the moment.
    But there is a thing called politics. This was the reason they invaded my privacy. I was greatly accepted bcuz I do love &get along w/ all. I always have. So as they take from me, they will say it was relationship. Politics & relationship are different but can be used to be injust and cover bad acts. Ex. Racism. You can chose based on race, and say its by relationship. Its been done. And if relationship, then you don’t hold the person not chosen long enough to exhaust them, steal their stuff, &give it to the other. That’s just evil. We continue to fight. Don’t care who relates to me.

  7. 7
    lisa reynolds says:


  8. 8
    David says:

    So true Bro Maxwell. I have often said, I would rather my children (7yrs and 2yrs) learn to interact and master social skills than make straight A’s and be the Valedictorian! People skills will take you further in this life than most realize.

  9. 9
    Kent says:

    So true. This apply in everywhere, business, religion, marriage, etc. People skills or building relationship is number job we need to do in order to succeed in every areas.

  10. 10
    Furquan says:

    People skills are extremely important. But as an African American entrepreneur color has a lot to do with being given a fair opportunity to display people skills and develop relationships. In God I’m seeking him so I’m colored blind and it’s easy for me to talk with anyone.

  11. 11

    […] was reading a blog today from John C. Maxwell regarding the importance of relationships with people.  He was talking about people who may have a […]

  12. 12
    Tawana says:

    That is true, the types of relationship we establish and maintain, reflects on how we able to communicate.

  13. 13


    So how does one develop these people skills?

    • 13.1
      Kent says:

      By reading John’s book and practice, that’s it. No matter how many books you read, if you don’t practice, you will never learn.

  14. 14
    BOSRPK says:

    You never end your journey on learning and mastering People Skills.
    It’s an on going experience.
    John, thanks for reminding this all the time.
    I like the way you say it, “People cannot go along if they cannot get along”.

    It’s true!!!

    God Bless…


  15. 15

    I have found this to be more important than any other pursuit in life besides that of a relationship with Jesus Christ. I must say that I wasn’t very good at it as I was timid in my earlier years. No degree will equip us to handle people-not even human resources. It is still all theory. It took me an entire MBA degree to be pushed aside and two failed business ventures to realize there is nothing that can take away from practice in this art. Now that my husband is a pastor I am learning and adapting to a new church with new people, I pray the Lord help us both as we aid these people to be all they can for the Lord and his kingdom.

  16. 16
    JAMES says: says:

    I think this is some great stuff. Learning to get alongs with people is what its all about. God Bless


  17. 17
    JAMES says: says:

    I agree, getting along with people is one of the best skills to have

    God Bless


  18. 18
    cosmic utensil says:

    Great advice – What would be a good resource to get better with this? It seems like the most innovative entrepreneurs struggle with patience with others and often rub people the wrong way (Steve Jobs being the extreme example).

    • 18.1
      Susan Davis says:

      I agree and ask the same questions. So many very successful people have been very controversial.

    • 18.2


      I recommend John’s book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect as a beginning. Creating lasting relationships happens through connection, and connection takes work. For many years I thought that if I did my work well, that would lead to great relationships with the people around me. What I found out was that it gave me a good reputation for my work, but did little to create connection with those other people. Consequently, it did little to help my career.

      But taking just a couple of minutes a day to reach beyond business and understand what is really important to people has not only helped me create relationships that are more lasting, it has actually improved the quality of my work. Why? Because the people whom I serve are no longer simply satisfied with the work, they are delighted by it because it usually meets their needs on a deeper level now.

  19. 19

    […] John Maxwell on Leadership November 29, 2012 Post Under Uncategorized – Read More […]

  20. 20
    Susan Davis says:

    I agree building relationships is key. What advice would you give to those who struggle with building relationships? What can people do to learn to build better relationships with others?

    • 20.1

      Hi Susan,

      In addition to reading John’s book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, I would recommend learning the fine art of small talk. Actually, small talk isn’t too difficult to master, but it does require work and it feels a little uncomfortable at first, just as with any skill you are in the process of learning.

      The simplest way I can think of to begin is to develop and memorize a collection of conversation starting and extending questions. Dale Carnegie says that the subject people are most interested in is themselves, so why not allow people the privilege of talking about themselves and what is important to them?

      The easiest place to begin is with the topics of work, family, and leisure. As a business owner or an executive how s/he got started in their profession… what is the most interesting thing they have done in their career… etc. I’m sure you see how this could also work with the other two categories.

      The key is to memorize these questions so that you can really listen to what people are saying so that you can meaningfully interact with them. If you are busy trying to figure out your next question instead of listening, people start to wonder if you are playing inquisitor (asking too many questions) or if you are really present, making you come off as phony.

      Small talk is a great way find common interests and to create ties that bind, leading to good relationships and help you get clues on how to serve others better.

    • 20.2
      Kent says:

      Read Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People. It changes my life.

  21. 21
    Clayton says:

    Agreed! In my estimation, people skills are critical for success as a leader. Technical competency gets you to the table and is more of a given. People skills allow you to move.

  22. 22
    Kay says:

    Dear John,

    Thank you so much for this post. I do agree with you and would love to agree with you wholeheartly, however, unfortunately, my experience has to disagree. Although I do agree that people skills are definitely important, I have worked for organizations that choose and hire people for managerial positions based on the fact that they are very good at controlling people rather than managing them. The people they choose are good at “looking after” people who are higher than they are, but those under them they treat them very unfairly even verbally and emotionally abusing them. I know not all organizations run like this, but the ones that I have worked for have been this way. Even when the verbal and emotional abusing by the people in management is too much and higher management is sort, not even the higher management agree with those putting in the claims because they are either friends, just call it stress or just say it is how they are. Please know I’m not having a go at all managers, but that I really appreciated your post and it did get me thinking. There are many people in leadership who really do lack people skills but yet still get chosen regardless of people skills. I would really appreciate to hear your response to my comment to hear your perspective on this. Thank you so much for your reply.

  23. 23

    Very inspiring. A must read to all.
    President Theodore Roosevelt did: “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”
    Thumbs up to this. This is what we really need now a days.

  24. 24
    Nadia says:

    If you haven’t learned how to get along with people, you will always be fighting a battle to succeed!!!! so true

  25. 25

    […] 16, 2012 by DwayneBaptist Leave a comment A recent post on John Maxwell’s blog discussed the power of people skills. John’s major point was that often what people call “office politics” is really […]

  26. 26

    Effective leadership is a combination of being focused on both results and relationships. In many organizations, the culture rewards the focus on results at the expense of relationships. I believe people and organizations reach their potential when they balance their focus on both.

  27. 27
    Thomas says:

    I have 2 supervisors (soon to increase by 3) that report to me that I have introduced the 17 laws of Teamwork to. We have a unionized workforce (Department of Energy site…government) with the union being relatively strong and the union/mgmt relationship being mildly adversarial. There are frequent conflicts (mild verbal ones) between my supervisors and the crew. The crew has even expressed that they feel like the supervisors do not listen to them, take them seriously, or even care about them. But at the same time, the crew has its issues also.

    My crew in particular consists of 16 workers, soon to increase by 10, ranging from 25 – 59 years in age. My supervisors are 27 and 49 years old. The younder one has about 5 years total supervisory experience while the older has 3 years on the job and is a retired Master Chief from the Navy. They don’t think the 17 Laws can be applied to a union due to the collective bargaining agreement.

    As a manager I get the importance of relationships with respect to effective influence but, the supervisors don’t seem to get it…at least not at the heart level.

    Does anyone have any experience, ideas or tips that can be shared for applying the 17 Laws to a unionzed workforce with a CBA in effect? Does John Maxwell offer any resources for individuals and situations like the one described above?

    • 27.1


      Great question! The 17 Lawscertainly apply to union situations. In fact, if you look at the foundational principles of the union movement, you will see that they include such things as the Laws of the Niche, Countability, the Scoreboard, the Bench, Dividends. Remember that they are principles to apply not standards to hold people to.

      You might consider rethinking your and your supevsors roles on the team. If you are simply managing and supervising, you are focused on holding people to a standard rather than moving them toward a vision of something they value. In Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John quotes Steve Jobs: “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is “about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”

      The difference is a vision. What is your vision for the team? How are you communicating it? You need to create and cast that vision for your team, but especially for your leaders.

      And remember, leadership is not role dependent on one’s specific role, but those who want to help share and promote the vision.

      • 27.1.1
        Thomas says:

        Thanks Dwayne Baptist! I have spent the last weekend contemplating my vision for the project/ crew. I have shared it with my supervisors (via E-mail) and will receive feedback tomorrow. I will also share it with my crew in the morning.

        Your words of wisdom are well received. Anymore (from anyone) are welcomed!

        • Congratulations! I hope that you take the time needed to build support with your team, and really listen to what your people have to say with respect to their hopes, fears, and needs with respect to your vision. If they don’t buy in, then you don’t have a team working with you… just a group.

          If I can be of service, in any way, you can click my name to get to my website. My contact data is there.

          Good luck this week! (Luck favors the prepared!)

  28. 28

    That is a powerful message!!! I have heard this statement made by many employees, and business owners alike. Each one that used this excuse had either an ego that would not allow you to fit in the room and/or an attitude that made people want to run at first glance.

    Relationship drive everything in this world. Rather it be with your spouse, children, friends or work associates. If you have the right attitude, and respect others, they will go out of their way to do anything for you.

    When I was 17 I took my first sales job. I was selling $7,000 water treatment systems to homeowners. In training the instructor and said something that made me think and has stuck with me for ever since. He said “where there is no relationship, there is no profit.”

    I have used this saying many times in my life not only in business but in my personal relationship as well. Remembering this has helped me to really try to understand the needs of people. Whether that be a new potential client or my wife and children.