How To Be “Good with People”

photo: Yevgenia Nayberg


To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.

Mary Oliver

I was at Starbucks waiting in line for my order – and listening in on a conversation a woman was having with the barista. Seems he’d left Starbucks for another job but returned after having been laid off at that short-lived job. The woman offered sympathy saying, “You’ll be okay because you’re so good with people.” He thanked her and tossed the compliment back, saying, “You are, too.” She demurred, “Not really. I’m not good with people at all!”

I don’t know why she thinks she isn’t good with people, but she did get me thinking – what does it mean to be “good with people”? 

Okay, so there are scores and scores of ways to be “good” with and to people. Recently, though, I was reminded that one of the best ways is simply to pay attention to people.

Last month I met with Lauren (names changed), an executive who was interested in bringing someone onboard for her team’s annual training. Although she was cordial, I couldn’t get a read on how things were going. When it was time to leave I wasn’t sure I had won the contract.

But, then, as we approached the door, I noticed a cluster of black-and-white photos of Pacific islands. Hawaii?

I asked Lauren if she’d taken them. She had. We spent another five minutes chatting about our mutual love of Hawaii – and, yes, Lauren hired me.

Last week I visited a new client at his downtown office. The receptionist, Amy, greeted me with a smile and a, “Nice to see you, JP.” Because it’s a large company and she encounters hundreds of visitors weekly, I was impressed she remembered my name (most people confuse my initials within minutes of meeting me). When I complimented her memory, she simply said, “It’s easy to remember nice people.”

Okay, I know this borders on the corny, but. . .

A couple of months ago, I met with that client on what happened to have been Amy’s first day. She incorrectly validated my parking ticket and I had to go back up to the office to have it fixed. Amy was apologetic and I just made a joke about it.

Last week she told me she had been embarrassed that her mistake caused me to waste my time. She appreciated my patience and understanding. I was floored. It really had been no big deal.

Here’s the thing – part of being good with people is paying attention to them. 

The Latin root of “attention” is “attendere” – to reach toward.  To reach toward another person with interest – with curiosity – with empathy and humor. 

Yes, that’s what it means to be good with people.

Would Lauren have hired me had I not noticed her photos of Hawaii?  I think most likely.  However, those last five minutes spent chatting made each of us more human to the other – and more likeable.

Would Amy have given me a friendly greeting had I been less than understanding over her mistake? She’s a smart woman and so she would have, even if she thought I was a jerk. But I helped her ease into a new job and in turn she’s making life easier for a whole lot of other people.

Being good with people is actually as simple as making a Starbucks Iced, Half Caff, Ristretto, Venti, 4-Pump, Sugar Free, Cinnamon, Dolce Soy Skinny Latte.

All you have to do is pay attention!


Having read this article you now may be saying, “This is all nice, JP, but. . .”

Whatever your “BUT” keep in mind –

  • Relationship is all about paying attention to the other person.
  • Do you see the person as a “person” or as a “problem”? Seeing a person as a problem will limit your ability to connect.
  • Being “good” with people simply means you have figured out a way to reassure the person you “see” them.
  • Paying attention will help you gain a perspective on the situation of the other person which in turn will help you be empathetic.
  • You won’t always be able to be empathetic because you’re human and limited in your capacity. So, the goal is to develop an orientation towards empathy.
  • Why is all this “being good with people” stuff important? BECAUSE you can’t do “it” alone – life – business life and personal life – is grounded in relationships.
  • Which brings us back to the beginning – the quality of your relationship is grounded in the quality of your willingness to pay attention. . .

Want help learning how to pay more attention to people?

Have you been thinking about Life-Skills Coaching?

Let’s explore how I can help you gain massive traction on your goals!


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