Before I knew Jesus, I was a user.
I used people. I am one of those people gifted with an insight into other people, and before I knew Christ, my gift was used for my benefit alone. I always knew what people wanted to hear, and I used that knowledge like a skeleton key to unlock the doors which kept me from getting what I wanted. People were simply tools of my trade, and my trade was self-satisfaction. Then I met Jesus.
Once I met Jesus, that nagging voice of my conscience developed into an alarm bell clanging in my head whenever I used my God given gifts for my own gain. Over the next few years, the Holy Spirit and a few mentors helped me develop a greater aim than my good. Instead of asking, “What do I want from this person,” I asked, “God, what do you want for this person?” The skill of dealing with people provides opportunity to serve those people for the glory of God.
Pastors and planters, you cannot overlook the need for good people skills as a steward of God’s people.
I want to eliminate three myths about great social skills, define social skills, and talk about specific practices that enhance social skill.
Three myths about social skills
- Social skills are innate. At 5’9”, you may never make the NBA, but that doesn’t mean you’re banned from playing basketball. If you are quiet, uncomfortable around big groups, or — like myself — an introvert, you can still develop social skills which will help you build the relationships you need to fulfill the Great Commission.
- Competency can compensate. For the ambitious leader, relationships seem like ties that can be released on the way to success. In reality, broken relationships become the chains holding you down, keeping you from greater levels of success. Your competency is not enough.
- Social skills are about charming people. Charm is deceitful. And when you start to mix social skill techniques with leadership, the fear of being conned looms large, but social skills do not need to be cheapened to the level of mere charm. Rightly understood, good social skills reflect God’s desire to restore dignity and bring reconciliation to every person.
Defining Social Skills
Good social skills for a leader enable him or her to establish and build upon healthy relationships for the purpose of glorifying God. At the core of healthy relationships and good social skill is trust.
Two keys to establishing trust
- Remove yourself from the center. You cannot build trust with someone else if you are only focused on yourself. As you begin to engage with someone new, focus on them. Focus on a shared value or problem. Let your questions outnumber your statements. Remove yourself from the center, because an others-focused person is a rare treasure in our world.
- Validate the person you are getting to know. Now, this is where manipulators and con-men can run wild, so let’s put some parameters in place. God-honoring validation of another person comes from recognizing and valuing the unique contours of the image of God present in that person. This is not flattery, because you are calling out what God has placed there. This is not false nicety, because the glory of God reflected in another deserves our honor. This is not manipulation, because we seek to free the good things of God from the shackles of sin, not place them under the shackles of our ambition.
Humility and validation of the image of God in another builds trust, which results in building relationships, but the true measure of social skill comes from building onto those relationships to create friendships.
5 commitments to develop healthy relationships
- I will be curious. Most people are willing to open up if you ask them a question, so stay curious a little bit longer. Keep asking questions, and you will discover more than you ever expected.
- I will be present. If a limited supply creates a higher value, attentiveness is like a relational Bitcoin. Put down your phone when you’re with others.
- I will be personal. Use names, remember people’s stories, and ask them about what you discussed last time. Small talk becomes a big deal when you remember it later.
- I will be generous. Give people your time. Give people your attention. Give people your love. Good relational skills involve a lot of giving, so commit to being generous.
- I will be intentional. Relationship are not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Someone has to initiate, and initiate again, and initiate again. Take responsibility for intentionally developing relationships.
God has called you to be his emissary to a hurting and isolated world. Make sure people are grateful when you show up.