I’m only human after all – how to understand yourself and the others

A lot of consulting work is about knowing your area of expertise and using it to benefit the customer, but the other half is understanding people and how you could help them work better. Me and fellow Siili Sanna Koivu held an interactive workshop at Craftcon_ this autumn about understanding people and interpersonal relationships.

No universal models

The first thing to understand about working with people is that there are no universal models. Each of us is an individual, with our own unique thoughts and background. If you try to use the same model for everybody, you won’t get very far.

That being said, there are commonalities and things that are more probable to work. Our goal was not to teach you some life hacks that would make you likeable or able to influence people but to give you a framework that would make you think for yourself.

The first and most important part about doing anything with people is paying attention. And this doesn’t mean just to the other person, but to yourself as well. A lot of how we react or how others perceive us happens without much direct intervention by the brain, and it is important to know this. When you are aware that this happens, you can practice noticing these actions, and even begin to change them. 

Food for thought – the PEMS model

To give our participants a framework to use as a base, we showed them the PEMS model. Again, this is not a universal model. If you ever find anyone who is 100 % something, I want to meet them, because it would be like meeting a unicorn. But as a framework, the model can give you insights into what you might be facing in a negotiation gone wrong or a team that’s just not working.

Key for reading the model: the horizontal axis represents the scope of initial situations the type likes to deal with, while the vertical axis represents the scope the type drives towards.

PEMS model

Another thing to notice about the PEMS model is that often people use different modes in different situations, and might even change their mode according to the need of the situation at hand if they are tasked with moderating or just want to move the agenda forward. The PEMS model has many pitfalls, but it can help you to notice why rationalizing did not work in a situation or how someone might want their problems to be of smaller size.

Perception and perseverance

While there might be people who were exceptional socialites with unheard-of skill from birth among us, the rest of us have to practice interpersonal communication and people skills. In my opinion, there are no shortcuts for these. You can learn all the models and read all the books, but until you try something yourself you can’t tell how it will work, and you will never know how a new person might react.

In my opinion, two things matter the most when learning and applying people skills, and these are perception and perseverance. When meeting new people, whether at work or leisure, perceiving their reactions as well as your own to the situations and communication that arise is key to finding models that work. You could just use the same model every time or force your opinion on the situation, but that won’t teach you to be better with people. And with people, perseverance is just as important as when learning any other new skill. You won’t become a master without practice because learning takes time and effort. If you came here to learn how to be a masterful “peoplesmith” by reading this blog post, I’m sorry – that’s a skill you’ll have to find yourself.

The key takeaway of our workshop, and by proxy this post, was this: to be good at people, perceive and practice. And often to learn more about others and how they react, an easy place to start are your own reactions.


Written by Teppo Suominen

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