By Leslie Leach. As I count down the days until our annual user conference next week, one of the things I’m most excited about is hearing from Geoff Colvin, our keynote speaker and author of the book Humans are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will.
A summary of the book is as follows: The abilities that will prove most essential to our success are no longer the technical, classroom-taught left-brain skills that economic advances have demanded from workers in the past. Instead, our greatest advantage lies in what we humans are most powerfully driven to do for and with one another, arising from our deepest, most essentially human abilities—empathy, creativity, social sensitivity, storytelling, humor, building relationships, and expressing ourselves with greater power than logic can ever achieve. This is how we create durable value that is not easily replicated by technology—because we’re hardwired to want it from humans.
I had the opportunity to speak with Geoff recently, and I asked him my most pressing question – how do you develop these skills if you are already firmly established in your career and behaviors? In other words, can you teach an old dog new tricks?
Geoff gave me three simple pointers on how to get started.
- First off, it is important to realize that you can do more than you think to improve your skills related to human interaction. Contrary to popular belief, these are not innate traits, and it IS possible to improve these abilities. In fact, many companies now provide effective training programs for their employees. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, has published several titles under “The Cleveland Clinic Way” about how it has successfully trained its staff in these areas.
- Reading high-quality fiction has been proven to increase empathy. (Geoff emphasized that these are novels which typically take a long time to write. I’ll make a recommendation here on a novel I just finished reading – All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – it is excellent and took the author ten years to complete!)
- Finally, seek out opportunities to interact in person, or as close to in person as possible. Suppose there is a hierarchy with texting/instant messaging at the bottom, a phone call or video call in the middle, and speaking face-to-face at the top. Push yourself to select the alternative that is highest on that hierarchy that is available to you. This seems like a simple, measurable step that we all can take to push ourselves to hone our human interaction skills a little bit every day.