Some of my tech colleagues believe that all our world needs is to be better organized around algorithms. In their minds, everything can be simplified (e.g. shopping, getting a driver, losing weight, dating, etc.) through the use of the right code. You have a problem, “There’s an app for that!” is their mantra. For these colleagues, total automation is the true nirvana and ultimate goal. In this reality, algorithms will create the perfect world, with humans exerting minimal effort to guide their lives. I have never bought into this notion. As a psychologist, I recognize that the beauty of human engagement is tied to the imperfections & nuances of it. While technology continues to improve certain aspects of our lives, the joy of our existence is not solely based on neat algorithms, but rather on some of the more unpredictable parts, namely social interactions, which require a human touch. While we may acknowledge the value of social skills in our personal life, we may tend to take it for granted in our professional spaces. However, a recent study suggests that the labor market actually rewards social skills, and they should be considered a critical element for career advancement. If this is an area in which you struggle, here are some simple, non-automated tips to help increase your social skills in the workplace:
- Consider people not things first– in your quest to get the job done quickly, to make that perfect product, or to hit that elusive sales target, you may become so enamored of things (e.g. metrics), at the expense of people. Ultimately, individuals are who will determine your advancement possibilities. If your direct reports don’t like you, they are less apt to contribute to your success. If your manager doesn’t feel connected to you, he or she may not provide you with a stellar performance review or advocate for your promotion. Therefore, you should always take into consideration the impact of your style on work colleagues (e.g. managers, direct reports, team members), and be willing to modify it accordingly.
- Take time to engage person to person- with the emergence of social media platforms, apps, and other indirect forms of communication, we can easily hide behind our technology walls. However, nothing will make greater impact than taking time from your workday to actually speak to your colleagues, to develop an emotional connection. If you feel that you are too busy for such engagement, you should add it to your work to-do list and view it as a productive, mandatory part of your day.
- Seek out opportunities to work in groups- if your work environment is not already set up for you to work in groups, volunteer to work on projects that involve group interaction or join company committees that naturally involve such engagement. By working in a group, you can practice your social skills and also ask for feedback while doing so.
- Filter before you speak or act- you may feel that you are being “real” by saying and doing what you feel in the workplace. However, this behavior may be to your detriment. Thinking about the impact of your words and actions in the workplace will benefit you, without sacrificing the integrity of your personhood. The way you act or talk with colleagues should be a bit different than how you engage normally with trusted friends and family members. For instance, some work colleagues may not get or appreciate your sarcasm, and may feel that you are just mean or insensitive. Therefore, it is crucial that you take the time to do the social calculations necessary before offering your verbal response or action.
- Adjust your approach- social flexibility is a key element of emotional intelligence. You have to be able to read the room, or the moment. By doing so, you can assess what is needed and successfully provide it. For instance, one situation may call for some humor to lighten the mood, while another may require a more pensive, serious approach. Maintaining flexibility will enable you to build social capital, which is helpful in engendering goodwill and bolstering your career prospects.
If social skills are not a part of your core competencies, it is essential that you take the time to cultivate them for long-term career success and satisfaction. If they are already an area of strength, you should continue to utilize them for your career progress. The responsibility to nurture these skills is in your hands, even if there is an for app for that!