A couple of weeks ago I was watching an interview with Simon Sinek, author of the book Start With Why. In the interview he talked about hearing from companies that working with Millennials is difficult. He then went on to explain what he thought was at the root of the difficulties. One item really stuck out for me in his interview – that many Millennials coming into the workplace may not have all of the skills necessary for success. Specifically, they may not have the communication and relationship skills, or human skills, and that without those skills in an organization, creativity and innovation suffer.
Sinek’s other point was that if the people don’t have these skills – the organization needs to step up to the plate and provide the training and development. Time to stop complaining that the skills aren’t there and time to invest in the organization. I agree and believe that there is additional benefit to the organization. It isn’t just Millennials that can benefit from having this skills training – everyone can. And everyone can learn the human skills – they aren’t coded into our DNA, they are skills. If you learned how to put together a complicated tax filing, or learned how to do a drug development experiment, or learned how to design a bridge, or learned how to put together a legal brief, or learned how to do anything new – then you can learn this too.
So what types of human skills are needed? In this arena, a foundation of listening must be first. This isn’t the ‘ninja listening’ of old. This also isn’t a ‘parrot back’ everything the talker says – presumably so that the listener knows you are listening. This is make eye contact, gear down, relax, and be fully present listening. This is knowing that listening isn’t a one-size fits all – but that you have to understand why you are listening and what the talker needs. Does the talker need you to listen to information? Does the talker need you to help troubleshoot a problem? Does the talker need to blow off steam? Does the talker just need a space to talk their way through a difficult situation? Most people can listen effectively for the first two situations – but what about the last two?
This is where the person listening to you doesn’t need to say a word – but you know they are with you, they understand, and they empathize with what you are saying. This is the listening where even when the talker becomes emotional, the listener stays in the conversation. This is listening for the talker – to let them say whatever they need to say – for them. To listen, consistently at this level, takes new skills and practice. It is akin to discovering a new gear in your car – one that will make your listening skills more complete and take your listening performance to a higher level.
With more complete listening skills, other performance areas become more effective. The ability to give feedback becomes more effective. How many times do people get defensive when receiving feedback? 100%! So, listening to the defensiveness is key to having the feedback heard as intended. The ability to resolve conflict becomes more effective. How many times do people get emotional during a conflict? 100%! So, listening to the emotions is key to resolving the conflict. Taking an organization through a change? Change causes conflict. So, if you want to effectively shift an organization, you must be able to resolve conflict. All of these areas sit on a foundation of expanded listening skills.
Some folks today believe that listening and interaction are the same thing. They believe that instant messaging a person is just as effective as getting up and being with them face-to-face. I believe it is more complicated, more nuanced, and entirely depends upon the type of conversation that is desired and that is needed. While using technology for communication is convenient, it isn’t always appropriate. Trying to resolve a conflict via email or instant messaging rarely goes well or ends well. As communication becomes more high-tech, high-touch and the need for one-on-one human skills, becomes even more important.
So, if greater effectiveness is desired, invest in the human skills. If relationships are needed in your organization to get the work done, invest in the human skills. If your organization is expecting changes, invest in the human skills. If you want to increase personnel retention levels, invest in the human skills. If you want everyone in your organization, including the Millennials, to be more capable and more effective, invest in the human skills. If you want to foster creativity and innovation, invest in the human skills. James Wolfensohn, Australian-American lawyer and author, said ‘You can’t compete globally unless you have appropriate communication skills‘. This is a no-lose investment that pays dividends locally and globally across the board.
Let us know how we can support you in growing your organization’s human skills!