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How to Spot a People Person

Blog | Life and Leadership   |   November 27, 2015

by Faith Sudharman-Chan

We often hear the term “people person” and we talk about these creatures as though they were a different breed. They seem to have a magnet drawing others to them. Being with them just feels good. A people person is usually highly esteemed and valued by their subordinates, peers and even superiors.

The term people person is actually found in the Cambridge dictionary, and is defined as “someone who is good at dealing with other people”. But what does it really mean to be a people person? What sets them apart from others?

Here are six distinct clues:

1. High Emotional Intelligence

Having high Emotional Intelligence means having the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and that of others. He is also great at lifting the spirits of those around him and helping others calm down. One high-EI person who stands out to me is a leader in a non-profit organization I am involved with. He has a calm and steady disposition, not easily excitable nor too flustered when confronted with problems/challenges. Because of the kind of person he is, others feel a sense of safety and security being with him. As a result, many colleagues, friends and even family members flock to him for advice.

2. Emotionally Present

She is not merely physically there when she is interacting with others but she is emotionally engaged as well. That does not mean she takes on the exact mindset or emotions of the other person, rather she follows the train of thought of the other person. She is not one who “checks out” emotionally or mentally, perhaps wishing she is somewhere else or thinking what she should have for dinner. Haven’t we come across some who may be physically present when we are talking to them but we could sense that their minds/thoughts are miles away. It leaves a bad aftertaste, doesn’t it?

When my mother passed on 15 years ago, my then colleague left an indelible mark in the way she was emotionally present during my time of grief. On days when I was overcome with emotions at the memories of my late mother, she would just sit next to me at my desk without saying a word. She simply put her arms around me and let me express my grief in a way that I knew how at that time. That, to me, was far more precious than someone telling me not to feel sad.

3. Genuinely Cares

A people person takes a sincere interest in what is going on in the lives of the people he interacts with. He is genuinely concerned about the well-being of others; he shares their joys and their sorrows. He does not simply ask the question, “how are you?” with little or no intention of wanting to know the real answer. Instead he would delve deeper to truly appreciate the actual state of mind and emotion of another person. He has that natural ability to “draw out” the other person so that the latter feels comfortable enough to be authentic and transparent. There is a manager I know at ROHEI who exhibits this particular trait; no wonder colleagues and peers feel safe to share their struggles and problems with him. Can you think of someone with this trait at your workplace? Or are you that someone?

4. Shows Empathy

Empathy is being able to enter into the world of the one who is in pain, anguish, grief or frustration. This is different from sympathy, which is to pity. A people person seeks to feel and share the pain/suffering of others. At the same time, she does not claim to completely understand the feelings of the one who is going through those emotions. I recall the time during the global financial crisis a few years ago where a number of my friends were retrenched. Some organizations had trained career counselors present when the news was announced. One of my close friends shared that having a career counselor to simply be there, comfort and lend a listening ear to the sharing of her disappointments and fears was soothing and assuring. Many times, just having the presence of someone there whom one can pour out his/her innermost sorrows to is comforting enough.

5. Not Quick to Judge

A people person tends to suspend judgment and gives others the benefit of the doubt. He is not quick to judge others especially of those whose value systems, beliefs and lifestyles differ from hers. Neither is he eager to dispense advice or solutions to others. He chooses not to impose his perspective on others but seeks to respect that everyone is unique and different; he is secure enough to handle diverse viewpoints and agrees to disagree on methodology and approaches.

6. Asks Good Questions

I define good questions as those that provoke others to deeper thinking and self-evaluation. The questions asked are not self-serving to the one who asks them, instead the aim is to help the others broaden their perspective and think out of the box. A people person knows how to ask good questions at the appropriate time.

When I needed to make some important career decisions, my superior asked me some extremely helpful and good questions. They led me to search deep within myself, ask some tough questions and consider the larger scheme of things than merely looking at my work situation.

A people person does not need to be highly educated, have it all together in life or be in a high-ranked position. He or she has a heart for people, even for those who may or may not share the same perspective, values, beliefs yet is willing to see things from their point of view. Being a people person does not benefit just your organization, it enriches one’s relationships with others outside of the work spaces. It is a key success factor to having a happy and fulfilled life. It does take effort and time but investing in people skills is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Questions to ponder on:

1. Do you think of yourself as a people person? Why or why not?

2. What are some ways you can grow in the above six aspects of being a people person?

Feel free to share your thoughts. Email us at

Faith Sudharman-Chan has two children, and enjoys reading the news when she’s not busy settling disputes between her kids.

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