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Technical Skills Can Land You a Good Job, but it Won’t Help You Climb the Job Ladder: The Importance of Communication Skills at Work

According to an article in Business Insider, “Australian businesses are making do with mediocre senior executives because they can’t find enough with the right skills to motivate and get the best from staff.”1

 Everyone knows that Australia is hungry for people with IT, engineering, and meta-data skills. Everyone knows that these skills can (eventually) land you that first job.

But those skills won’t hoist you up the job ladder. For real advancement, you need to have seriously good people skills. It’s those soft skills that are needed to become a leader; as this Business Insider article states:

“Critical soft skills are missing or under-developed: empathy, problem solving and creativity, and fostering collaboration and innovation.”

The article cites a LinkedIn study that observed that 69% of human resources decision-makers in Australia and New Zealand say that it’s difficult to fill leadership positions.

That’s over two-thirds! And it’s not for want of available person-power: organisations receive hundreds of CVs daily from people stuffed with astonishing technical credentials.

Leaders are those who, through example, can inspire creativity and innovation. The leader who bellows “Just do it!” is becoming a thing of the past. Indeed, many studies have also shown that active listening is a skill needed by all leaders; Forbes published an article entitled “Six Ways Effective Listening Can Make you a Better Leader.”2

The Virgin Group founder Richard Branson agrees: “If you want to stand out as a leader, a good place to begin is by listening,” he said.“Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.”3

Problem is, people are so busy checking out stuff on their cells phones that the crucial skill of INTERPERSONAL OBSERVATION is beginning to become a bit . . . obsolete. It’s hard to pay attention to your fellow humans when Pokemon beckons.

Don’t let this happen! If you can start honing your observational skills early, the better a colleague you’ll be. The better a leader you’ll be. And those skills can be used right at the beginning: at your job interview.

1http://www.businessinsider.com.au/australia-managers-dont-have-what-it-takes-to-be-leaders-2016-9
2http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/05/20/6-effective-ways-listening-can-make-you-a-better-leader/#177c3eabf6c0
3https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/235540

 

eloquent-english_small pngI am a communications coach with Eloquent English in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and I can help you find your story: in your presentation, business report, “elevator pitch”, CV, website or job interview.
www.eloquentenglish.com
Email: arashap@eloquentenglish.com

“It’s your story. Get it right.”

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“The Machine Stops”: A 1909 novel by E. M. Forster that predicted our addiction with social media (like “Wall-E”, but written 100 years previously)

In my last post, I discussed how the emphasis on texting and striving to receive as many “likes!” as possible on social media can actually make people less social.

A novel was written about this inverse relationship…it takes place in a bleak future.

In this dystopian universe, most of the population lives underground. Each person inhabits his or her little cell and gets sustenance from the ubiquitous “Machine”. This is not a lonely world—oh, no, for people are glued to each other through the Machine, through which they communicate with all their “friends” and discuss ideas (most of which are not that good). This superficial world is a safe one, and most people like it that way. (They also get all their sustenance through The Machine, and eventually start to worship it as a deity.)

Does this world seem just a little bit familiar?

Travel is considered an onerous task and no one wants to do it: face-to-face communication is considered exhausting at best and rude and uncivilised at worst. In a scene from the book, the main character, Vashti, is on a plane. She stumbles, and the flight attendant touches her arm in order to steady her:

When Vashti swerved away from the sunbeams with a cry, she (the flight attendant) behaved barbarically—she put out her hand to steady her.

“How dare you!” exclaimed the passenger (Vashti). “You forget yourself!”

The woman was confused, and apologized for not having let her fall. People never touched one another. The custom had become obsolete, owing to the Machine.

What is this book—futuristic sci fi, written by a technophobe with a bad attitude who was simply sick and tired of too much texting?

No. This novella was written in 1909 by E. M. Forster (of A Room with a View and A Passage to India fame). Its title is The Machine Stops, and I’d recommend it to anyone; it’s a fabulous, easy read—and you can download it, legally, for free.

1909! This was the Edwardian era: pre-World War I, with men in stiff collars, women sporting stiff hair styles, and everyone with stiff upper lips. Queen Victoria had just died eight years previously. I’m astonished that Forster was able to predict the type of behaviour that is becoming all too prevalent today: an addiction to communicating on machines, and a resulting aversion to face-to-face communication

Now, who knows what all this online communication means for the future. Pundits have made dire predictions that have been totally erroneous; could be we’re shaking our heads over nothing. We’re facing a brave new world that, hopefully, will not become the kind of horrible, dehumanizing universe as envisioned by either Aldous Huxley of the real Brave New World fame—or that of E. M. Forster.

PS There have been a few video adaptations of this novella, but I would think a major production is in order. Here is one version:

 

Sometimes the Old-Timers Get It Right: Too much texting, not enough conversation going on

While many of us who love conversation enjoy casually bemoaning young people’s lack of social skills, many scholars have confirmed our whinging: 1) Texting and e-mailing are addictive, 2) people who often text and use social media are less likely to want to engage in actual face-to-face conversation and 3) this is not a good thing.

  • ADDICTIVE: We’re constantly checking our emails or our cell phones for messages. A Psychology Today researcher speculates that texting and emailing can trigger a “dopamine loop”. Dopamine is a chemical that sparks our “wanting” system, which is stronger than our “pleasure” system. (We enjoy craving things more than being pleased by things.) Hence, we can’t stop responding to texts or emails: we get a dopamine rush that will make us want to write more, seeking yet another response. When we get that response, we write some more. . . and on and on it goes.1

    People texting

    This situation is all-too common: people sitting together, not looking at each other, each immersed on his or her phone or other device.

  • LACK OF FACE-TO-FACE CONVERSATION: MIT professor Sherry Turkle has spent decades studying the effect of technology on human behaviour. She concludes that we still communicate with each other through Facebook, Twitter, etc., but that all this “talk” doesn’t add up to nourishing conversation. We’re talking at each other and not with each other. Indeed, an article in Forbes notes that employers such as JP Morgan Chase have offered to eliminate voicemail for some of their employees, and many of them, especially the under-40s, are snapping up the offer. These people are so accustomed to communicating through text and email that the idea of speaking to someone on the telephone is a bit nerve-wracking.

    Not looking at each other

  • NOT A GOOD THING: All this “Look-at-me! “Like me!” interaction can be satisfying, but it isn’t necessarily good for the soul. “An emoticon or a little smiley face doesn’t really convey joy versus minor happiness—and I think that might lead to a lack of empathy,” notes a scholar.3 Indeed, I have been asked many times by my students to help them learn how to socialise and make small talk: “I don’t know how to read people, and I don’t know what to say to people,” has been a common refrain. Maybe this has always been the case? I’m not sure.

Now, who knows what all this online communication means for the future. Pundits have made dire predictions that have been totally erroneous; could be we’re shaking our heads over nothing. We’re facing a brave new world that, hopefully, will not become the kind of horrible, dehumanising universe as envisioned by either Aldous Huxley of Brave New World fame—or that of E. M. Forster, who predicted this sorry state of affairs as early as 1909. (Yes, 1909; I’ll write about that tomorrow.)

 

I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: 

www.eloquentenglish.com. I offer workshops in public speaking,
self-presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.

Email me at arashap@eloquentenglish.com

Remember: “It’s your story. Get it right.”

 

 

1https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201408/are-you-addicted-texting

2http://qz.com/162117/saving-the-art-of-conversation-in-the-age-of-the-smartphone/

3http://nj1015.com/experts-say-too-much-texting-is-dangerous-series/

Learning to Use Free Association to Speak with Anyone (including future employers and mentors)

In two recent blogs, I discussed how using empathy can help you in most social interactions.

In the first blog (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/how-to-use-free-association-to-build-a-bridge-in-socialising-and-creating-bonds/), I wrote about the importance of finding the other person’s “why” —his or her passion—in order to forge powerful bridges with that individual.

The second blog (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/537/) took this “why” approach and applied it to a specific job interview.

There is one theme that binds together these two blogs: The most important step you can do in having meaningful conversations is by not focusing on yourself and immediately listing all the wonderful things you can offer. Rather, work on understanding the other individual and determining what is important to him or her, and then convince that person that you share similar passions. (If this is true; if it is not true, do you want to be working with that person?)

You do this through having real curiosity about others; through associating one idea with another; by using you own general knowledge to elicit more information.

Here are some examples.

Setting: You’re speaking with an important client over coffee, and the client mentions that he is from Holland. What can you say here? What do you know about Holland? (Hopefully, you know it’s in Europe.) Quickly pull up categories that could be used to find out more about that person.

The graphic, below, would show the type categories of knowledge I have about Holland:

Holland free assoc

 

 

 

With these associations, I would ask these type questions (look at the associations starting at “noon” and going clockwise around the circle):

  • I’ve always admired the art of Rembrandt, Vermeer (etc.) and am dying to visit the Rijksmuseum. Have you been?

  • I just read an article about global warming and I understand that Holland is below sea level. Is global warming a threat to your country? How is it handling that threat?

  • I love to garden and have seen amazing pictures of your country in the spring with all those beautiful flowers. Is it as gorgeous as I think it is? Where do you go to see all the bulbs in bloom? When is the best time?

  • Pardon my ignorance, but I know very little about the Dutch language (and you speak English so well). I’ve heard it spoken a few times and it sounds a little like German; is Dutch a Germanic language? Is it hard to learn?

You’d be surprised at how much you really DO know about a topic; you simply need to learn how to quickly retrieve that knowledge to ask questions.

Why bother with this? You really don’t care about the Netherlands; you don’t give a toss about whether the language is related to German or not. Well, here are two things to think about:

  • Everything can be interesting for its own sake; why not learn something new just for the sake of learning something new??
  • This type questioning shows people that you are interested in them and want to understand what is important to them. THIS technique should be your foundation of communication, for people crave being understood, being “listened-to.” Once you have established this foundation of empathy, you can build a relationship by telling them about you and what you can offer.

Let’s look at one more situation.  You’re in a conference and it’s break time; you’re chatting with a CEO of a tech start-up that excites you and you’d like to know more about it. You know several things about this company, and now you have the chance to make an impression. You do this best by asking targeted questions about the company, not by talking about yourself. (In this association exercise, I will demonstrate my own lack of knowledge about tech start-ups, but wanted to use a more technical situation, so bear with me:)

Start up free assoc

 

If I were in this situation, I would ask these type questions (again, start with the “noon” position and go clockwise):

  • I understand you are doing very exciting things with (mention whatever platform, software or hardware it is…) I’ve been exploring that area, too, and would enjoy hearing your experience using it.

  • I just read an article about your company trying to improve (fill in the blank) and to meet this social / technical need (whatever it might be). In my spare time, I’ve been working on similar things. Tell me more about what your company wants to achieve.

  • Do you have much competition in this area? What do you hope to accomplish in five or ten years—or is it too early to be even thinking about that?

  • I understand you have a background in (fill in the blank) and that you got your idea for this start up by (fill in the blank). That’s fascinating—I’d love to hear more about how you started your company, and what were the main obstacles you had to overcome.

If you can start using this technique of using your own varied knowledge to build bridges with others, soon they will be asking about you. And then it will be your turn to shine.

 

 

I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: 

www.eloquentenglish.com. I offer workshops in public speaking,

self-presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.

Email me at arashap@eloquentenglish.com

Remember: “It’s your story. Get it right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Associating: Using active listening to nab the job interview

I’ll start this blog with a story that relates to the last blog I posted, in which I stated that:

  • Learning to listen and discover the other person’s “why” for doing what they do is significant because
  • With this information, you can align your “why” with their “why”. Then the real interaction and mutual benefit can take place.

https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/how-to-use-free-association-to-build-a-bridge-in-socialising-and-creating-bonds/

I did this when I was living in Singapore. I had received a call from the assistant of a very high-ranking government official: I was being considered as a public speaking coach for this gentleman; might we be able to discuss this project soon? He would like to visit me in my home.

Eeek. I also discovered that this official was involved in government security; when I told my friends who this person was, they freaked out. “You do realize you are being observed right now,” they said, “and ALL your records are being gone over with a fine-tooth comb.” They then ran away so they wouldn’t be seen in public with me.

Well. I sighed, cleaned my apartment and waited for the meeting. At exactly the appointed time, a black limo glided into view and there was a knock on my door.

A very mild-looking, trim man came in. He was modest in demeanour and soft-spoken—not a scary individual at all. He quickly glanced around the apartment and made a small nod—of approval, I thought. I invited him to sit and offered him tea, which he politely declined.

So what happened? Did he ask me piercing questions about my past, trying to sniff out any infractions I might have committed? Absolutely not. We spoke about Singapore history, the effectiveness of many of its policies, the social problems the country still faced and possible solutions. We did not discuss any business interaction, and I did not rush in to reassure him that I could be a fabulous coach. At the end of the interview he smiled, shook my hand and said, “We’ll be in touch.”

Within a few hours, I had this man as a client.

What happened?

#1 (of course), my apartment was pristinely clean—reflecting the respect due an honoured guest

#2, I demonstrated to him that, though I was an outsider living in Singapore, I was an interested outsider. I knew key things about its history, I spoke with sincere admiration about many of the island’s accomplishments and yet also demonstrated I was not blind to some of the social problems its citizens faced.

#3, I listened carefully to what he said, asked him to clarify some of the things he mentioned, and made it clear that I was honoured to learn from him.

Basically, I let this individual know that I appreciated living in Singapore and was committed to living there and understanding as much about it as I could. I cared about the country and communicated my concern and interest.

 

flowerflower

This government official and I shared this interest. That was enough for him; I got the job.

In the next blog, I’ll discuss how I used active listening to draw the person out. I’ll examine the bits of that conversation and what made me get the gig.

I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.

www.eloquentenglish.com

“It’s your story. Get it right.”

How to Use Free Association in Socialising and Creating Bonds. Part 1: Building Bridges

OK, I lie. What I’m about to discuss is not free association per se; that’s a technique in which the patient blurts out any thought associations that come to mind, no matter how seemingly unrelated they may seem to be.

In this blog and the next, I’ll be taking a modified version of this exercise to help you become the best conversationalist you can be. These days, hundreds of people are competing for everyone’s attention: between the Facebook posts and Tweets, how can you get someone to pay attention to YOU and what YOU can offer? It’s not easy to stand above the crowd.

The unfortunate reality is: we are all selfish beasts at heart. When you’re trying to impress someone else, you need to remember that the other person is doubtless thinking: “What’s in it for me? Why should I be interested in this person?”

This harsh reality is especially true when we’re searching for mentors, job leads or are facing a job interview. If you can find out what you and the other person have in common—and can focus on those commonalities—you can create a bond that just might lead to someplace amazing.

Motivational speaker Simon Sinek gave one of the most famous Ted talks of all time, with millions of hits*. His message is a simple one:

We do not make decisions logically. We make decisions with the part of our brain that processes feelings like trust and loyalty. We do not automatically analyse data and then carefully make a decision.

You need to make people get to the “Why”: WHY should they be interested in you? What’s in it for them? Simply listing all the wonderful things you can offer won’t get you anywhere, for everyone does this; your words will become part of the endless chatter and noise that usually lead to Nowheresville. You need to forge a connection between you and the other person: Why do you want to get out of bed in the morning? What passion motivates you? Do you and the other share the same passion? It’s up to YOU to build a bridge that links you and the other through verbal acts of active discovery.

I gave a communications workshop at a scientific organisation in Melbourne the other week, and one of the participants left, saying, “Gee, this is more complex than I thought.”

Yes, that is true. But learning how to (kind of) free associate with the other individual, to get to each other’s similar “why” can result in wonderful things.

Specific techniques will come tomorrow. Stay tuned.

 

I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.

www.eloquentenglish.com

“It’s your story. Get it right.”

 

job-interview

 

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4

How a Demon Can Use Open-Ended Questions to Destroy (and Create) Empathy as Well

My last blog was on learning how to become a great conversationalist through careful observation and listening, and asking targeted questions. As mentioned, when you do this, you can create a bond with the other person, and through such bonding, many wonderful things may happen. (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/i-know-the-difference-between-open-ended-and-close-ended-questions-and-i-still-cant-talk-to-strangers-whats-going-on/).

I just finished a book by Michael Faber* called Under the Skin. What a strange book: part science fiction, part horror, part black comedy. After reading it, I realized that it perfectly illustrates how to use open-ended questions to create an empathic bond with others — but in this case, the reason for developing this empathy is so, so wrong.

Potential Spoiler Alert

The main character’s name is Isserley, and when you meet her, she is driving around Scotland, trying to pick up men: she only wants well-muscled, fit specimens. As you continue to read, you realise that there is something not quite right about her: her appearance, the way she talks . . . and that she happily anaesthetises each man after she’s chatted with him. Eventually you realise that she is taking them to her company’s headquarters so her colleagues can kill them for meat. Isserley and her co-workers come from another planet, and they do not recognise us Earthlings as being truly human; they do love munching on our tender flesh, however.

I know—yukkk

Isserley understands that she must select people who do not have family or friends in the area, because their absence would be immediately noted; hence, she drives extremely carefully to avoid police detection and asks all her potential victims targeted, open-ended questions to get them to open up to her so she can ascertain whether they can safely disappear. Forever. Bums, drunkards, students, professionals; she knows how to chat them all up.

Below are two examples of her conversations with potential victims. I have sometimes changed the words to standard English versus the thick Scottish dialect Faber has his characters speak. (I stands for Isserley and V for Victim.)

#1

I: “So what brings you out on the road today?”

V: “Staying at home was driving me crazy.”

I: “In between jobs, then?”

V: “Jobs don’t exist up here. No such fuckin’ thing.”

I: “The government still expects you to look for them though, doesn’t it?”

Go, Isserley. She infers that the guy is out of work because he is staying at home all day. Aha! If this guy isn’t working, maybe he doesn’t have a lot of contacts, so he could be a possible specimen.

#2

I: “What is there for you in Thurso?

V: “I don’t know. Perhaps nothing.”

I: “And if there is nothing?”

V: “I’m going there because I have never been there.”

I: “You’re travelling through the entire country?”

V: “Yes.”

I: “Travelling alone?”

V: “Yes.”

I: “For the first time?”

V: “When I was young I have travelled a lot in Europe with my parents.”

OK, she does ask close-ended questions as well, but Isserley is weaving a web of questions around her victims, just as a spider does to a fly. Very soon, these men find themselves giving away far too much information under her seemingly harmless queries.

Hopefully, you do not want to create empathy for destructive purposes! I hope it can be argued that one can learn from terrible people (or aliens) as well as from wonderful ones . . . and fiction, in the hands of a skilful writer, can illuminate communication better than almost anything.

Next time you pick up a book, start noticing the type conversations the characters have with each other. Doubtless you can learn tons from your own books, as well. Feel free to email me with interesting titles!


*Under the Skin by Michael Faber. New York: Harcourt, 2000.

(In 2014, this book was the inspiration for a film of the same name, starring Scarlett Johansson.)

 

I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: www.eloquentenglish.com. 

I offer workshops in public speaking, self presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.