But I Have People Skills!

people skillsOne of my friends who owns a small, specialized, successful distribution company once characterized the people on his team to me as either “nice guys who don’t know anything” or “guys who know everything about every product but have zero people skills.” It sounds like a stark generalization, but since I know the people he was talking about, I have to admit he was right.

There is often an inverse correlation between how brilliant someone is with technology and whether you should ever let them anywhere near your customers. When I worked in retail sporting goods (which is literally now a whole other lifetime ago), we had a number of techs on staff. One, in particular, was a virtuoso with everything: skate sharpening, skis, bikes, stringing racquets, etc. There was no discipline he hadn’t mastered. In terms of technical proficiency, there was him, and then everyone else was a distant second.

Unfortunately, he was also the single biggest source of customer complaints: He was completely incapable of not being abrasive or condescending.

At least in the short term, management’s solution was to keep him busy with work orders and forbid him from talking to customers. Other people could write new work orders for stuff being dropped off or check them out when they were picked up. Just not him.

Long term, it didn’t work out, unsurprisingly, but it did keep the peace for a while.

Not everyone I’ve known has been as extreme as that. The best AV tech I’ve ever known is not only the best AV tech I’ve ever known, but he’s also really good with people. Customers like him, and he can talk with them; he’d just …rather not have to. He’s happiest when he can focus on completing tasks to his own exacting standards of perfection and not have to deal with people. I can respect that.