BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

More like 53 skills in 11 groupings ...

It's a funny thing. This is the third of Dave Kerpen's books that I've reviewed, and they've all come into my hands as prizes for “live Tweeting” during one of his presentations! I got Likeable Business and Likeable Social Media at a talk he was giving at one of the old “Big Frontier” events, and got his brand-new The Art of People: 11 Simple People Skills That Will Get You Everything You Want for the volume of Tweets I was generating during a recent webinar he was doing. I don't know if Kerpen gives out so many promo copies that this isn't unusual in terms of his book distribution, but it really sort of stands out in my acquisition stream (it could be like that – in Jay Baer's recent book he writes about Kerpen's policy for one-star review he gets on Amazon to apologize and “offers to refund money spent, plus money for the pain and suffering of having read the book”!).

This is a bit of a strange duck, however … with its structure being one of its strong points … if sort of masking its avowed intent as expressed in the subtitle 11 Simple People Skills That Will Get You Everything You Want (there I go again, having problems with a subtitle). I was about half-way through the book when I began to wonder when we were going to learn about these 11 “skills” … having not really registered that the book was set up in 11 sections (each having 4-6 small – the book's only 250 or so pages long – chapters looking at particular “skills” … I guess going with “53 Simple People Skills” would have had less shelf appeal in sounding somewhat overwhelming).

To give you an idea of the arc of the book, here are the titles for those 11 sections:
1. Understanding Yourself and Understanding People
2. Meeting the Right People
3. Reading People
4. Connecting with People
5. Influencing People
6. Changing People's Minds
7. Teaching People
8. Leading People
9. Resolving Conflict with People
10. Inspiring People
11. Keeping People Happy
Needless to say, while those are broad-stroke “skills”, they're not very specific (or actionable), so there's the 53 individual topics to deal with. Each of these run 3-4 pages, and conclude with a “FAST” (First Action Steps to Take) section, with three or four suggestions for taking action on the specific topic. This structure makes what could have been a bit of a brow-beating something more like a simple walk-though of bite-size ideas.

Now, I'm really going to try to not “go negative” here, but there were several points where I was seriously questioning what he was doing in some of the sections … from trotting out some long-since-debunked “saws” popular with “personal development” speakers (like the “93 percent of communication is non-verbal” meme, which I was able to find – in a couple of minutes on my phone while reading in the park – that the primary researcher of the study Kerpen cites here had very specifically noted was taken grossly out of context and was not generalizable beyond the extremely narrow scope of the study … why doesn't anybody ever check these things?), to starting the book with a section dismissing the Myers-Briggs categories in favor of the “Enneagram” model (which is, of course, submitted in its watered-down “newspaper horoscope” later-day form popular with corporate trainers, rather than the complete system propagated by Gurdgieff and Ouspensky with essential complexities such as “shock points”, etc.). What I found especially confusing was that from starting the book with this salvo (and dedicating 12 pages to an appendix for an assessment you can do to find “your enneagram type”) this never came up again … making me wonder if the author had a business relationship with, or at least owed a big favor to, the guy whose organization is promoted as a resource for enneagram info!

The other thing that one might find unexpected in a book purporting to impart skills, is that this is largely structured as a series of personal stories illustrating how the author encountered, learned from, overcame, etc., things related to the various individual “skills” (the 53 specific ones) … making this less of a “manual” and more of a tale of “how Dave learned about this stuff” (and how he'd suggest you work on these). While this certainly makes The Art of People a more breezy read, it also makes it a whole less direct than it might have been (and you know how little I connect with “teaching stories”).

These gripes aside, there is quite a lot of very good material in here, some of it I found immediately of use (despite being an Enneagram Type 5: “Striving to be Detached” – meaning that my main “people skill” is trying to avoid having to deal with 'em!). One of these came in a very early chapter titled “How to Understand Someone Better Than You Do Your Friends (in Just Three Minutes)”, which talks about a conference where the speaker was attempting to do just that for the audience. He gave, in sequence, three questions for each to pose to somebody next to them, with a minute each to get both responses. As I tend to have a hard time caring what's important to other people, I found this fascinating. The questions were:
“What is the most exciting thing you're working on right now?”,
“If you had enough money to retire and then some, what would you be doing?”, and
“What is your favorite charity organization to support and why?”
What is probably most telling about this is Kerpen's note that:
Although Steven and I exchanged a few emails after the event, it's been over two years since that first and only conversation I had with him. But here's the really interesting thing: It's been over two years, yet I still recall with ease the content of that conversation. I still know more about Steven after three minutes over two years ago than I do about most of my casual friends from high school, college, and work.
He goes on to suggest a list of 10 questions, and in the FAST section recommends picking 3 of them and using them as ice breakers at one's next social setting … I just might take him up on the suggestion.

I found the next chapter, “Be Interested Instead of Interesting” of use as well (as I do tend to “bloviate”, in O'Reilly's terminology), this is condensed into a bullet point (or, in the book, a free-standing quote on its own page) as “The secret to getting people to adore you is to shut up and listen.”, even to the point of deflecting courtesy questions from the other person and making it “their turn” to speak again. This is followed up in subsequent chapter with:
Listen to understand, authentically try to connect deeply with people, help them feel less lonely, and you will find yourself far more able to influence them.
… in which Kerpen stresses the “authenticity” part (which, sadly, brings my cynical mind the classic quote of Jean Giraudoux: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made.”). These concepts come up later in the context of the aforementioned non-verbal communication (not 93%, but a useful thing to keep in mind), and in concepts like “mirroring” (where you parrot back wordings used by the person you're speaking with in terms like “I hear you saying”, and similar). On this latter point the author says:
      People in general don't want advice even when they ask for it. They just want to feel heard. As you practice and get good at mirroring, you will help people feel heard, and they will love you for it. Focus on really emphasizing the “feeling words” you hear as well; mirroring feelings is much more valuable than mirroring thoughts.
Again, there is a LOT of interesting items in here, including “validation”, “simple keys to networking” (develop a “signature style” – Kerpen has owned 29 pairs of orange shoes, making him stand out in pretty much any crowd), how to “help people come up with your idea”, acting with confidence, making “the ask” (it's amazing how often the actual “ask” doesn't happen), build teams of advisors and accountability coaches, using the phenomena of “mirror neurons” to do what are essentially Jedi Mind Tricks on audiences (project what you want to have them mirror), using LinkedIn to connect with people you might not be otherwise able to (and using it to introduce other people to folks you think they should know), and even “Be Unoriginal”. This last one leads into the second appendix, where Kerpen presents fourteen pages of quotes, and a link to a site he's set up with even more … which he recommends using in talks, meetings, and even social media postings, which he justifies with:
There truly is very little original thought left out there, so why shouldn't we take advantage of the brilliant minds of the past and borrow the words they used to convey ideas and inspire others?
One other thing he suggests that I had some resonance with was the suggestion to start sending out actual, physical, thank-you cards. He starts this chapter talking about a “barely legible” card he'd gotten from the CEO of a big company that he'd interviewed for a previous book, and how great it made him feel (which makes me feel better about getting cards out, as I've got a chicken-scratch which looks like some bizarre crossing of Klingon and Linear B). This also dove-tails with a bit from Robert B. Cialdini's Influence where a car salesman created a huge business by sending out thousands of cards a month to his contact list. I'm additionally reminded of a story from my youth, when my Mom's friend, Bishop Montgomery (who I was amazed to Google is still alive, albeit in his mid-90's) was always so prompt with thank-you cards that my Mom jokingly accused him of mailing them on the way to the dinner/event they were about.

Anyway, I found The Art of People useful, if not as focused as its subtitle would suggest (it really is “11 broad categories” in which the 53 could-be-called skills are collected), and it has a good deal to do with the author's life experiences. There was stuff that “raised my hackles”, stuff I found exciting, and a lot of stuff that I just didn't connect with at all (hey, according to the book's companion site, I'm a “People Rookie” who “may just not like other people very much”, so there's that!).

At this writing, the book's been officially out for under two weeks, so is likely to be all over the brick-and-mortar stores handing this sort of thing … and, of course, the on-line behemoths have it, with discounts of a bit more than a third off of cover price. I'm sort of on the fence on this one, there's elements I liked, parts I didn't, but generally found it something I'm glad to have read. Given that a lot of my resistance to this is likely based in me being a curmudgeonly misanthrope of a non–“people person”, I suspect that others … who find the dominant fauna on our planet more engaging that I do … will find this more agreeable as well!

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Tags: book review
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