People Skills Always Win the Day
Dave Kerpen, the author of The Art of People, has developed a remarkable career around a key skill: being likeable. Kerpen is the founder of a social-media software company called Likeable Local as well as co-founder of a branding consultancy called Likeable Media. In his first two books, Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business, Kerpen explained how being likeable, which emerges from listening, storytelling and building relationships, was key to success in online marketing and business, respectively.
In The Art of People, Kerpen expands the scope of his approach to success even further, laying out a step-by-step manual for likeability in all situations. As the title of his book eloquently conveys (perhaps the reason Kerpen released his grip on the “likeable” brand name), being likeable is about the “art” of people. Becoming likeable is not a mechanical exercise; it is not about learning how to manipulate people to achieve your ends. Likeability is driven by authentic and transparent emotions.
A Lesson in Authenticity
Kerpen tells the story of listening for 20 minutes (while waiting for his phone to charge) as a tipsy stranger at a New York City party described her life, her hopes and dreams, and her disappointments. Eventually, the phone was charged and Kerpen was ready to leave, at which point the stranger, whose name was Jackie, realized she had monopolized the conversation. “What about you?” she asked. “Are you traveling anywhere?” This question led Kerpen to describe an imminent trip to San Francisco and to ask, almost as a joke, whether she had any connections at a highly exclusive Napa Valley restaurant for which he had not been able to get reservations. Jackie, it turns out, did have personal connections at the restaurant and was able to get the sought-after reservations for Kerpen and his wife.
The story is a lesson in authenticity. Kerpen did not “chat up” Jackie in order to use her influence with the restaurant. He certainly had no idea this New York City stranger would have connections to the world-famous Bay-area restaurant he was interested in.
However, he had been genuinely interested in her stories and her frustrations. “I listened and connected and helped her feel less lonely, if only for a few moments, and that happened to lead to my getting exactly what I wanted most at the time,” he writes.
Counterintuitive & Creative Approaches
The Art of People is filled with engaging and illustrative stories that launch each of Kerpen’s 53 short chapters. Each chapter is focused on a specific relationship tip. Jackie’s story, for example, opens a chapter entitled, “Most People Are Lonely; Help Them Feel Connected.” Many of the chapters have intriguing titles — “Crying Is for Winners,” “Always Be the One to Give the Bad News” and “Go Beyond the Humblebrag” are three examples — that introduce often counterintuitive and creative approaches to connecting with and managing people.
For example, Kerpen argues in “Crying Is for Winners” that people who are not afraid to show their vulnerabilities to each other — even to the point of tears — will develop a much deeper connection. In support of this theme, he tells the story of the first executive retreat of his company Likeable Media, in which three of the five top executives at the retreat shed tears as they opened up to their partners and peers.
Every chapter ends with a “F.A.S.T. First Action Steps to Take” box, in which Kerpen offers specific implementation steps to apply the core advice of that chapter. The action steps for “Crying Is for Winners” includes “inventorying” your ability to get in touch with your emotions (remember the last five times you cried and why) and experimenting with your vulnerability with someone you feel comfortable with. The final step is to never be afraid to be vulnerable, even if it means tears.
The 53 chapters are grouped under 11 different “people skills” that form the different sections of the book. These people skills are standard — “Connecting with People,” “Influencing People,” “Changing People’s Minds,” for example — but they form a valuable envelope to organize the often counterintuitive but always compelling advice that fills this thoughtful, powerful book on mastering what is indeed the art of people.
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