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21C Workplace Success Begins with a Handshake (and Eye Contact)!

By Elizabeth Torphy-Donzella - Shawe Rosenthal LLP

December 12, 2018

The 21st Century is in full swing.  Yet, we still don’t quite know what it means to be a 21C workplace.  We are told Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) will displace tasks performed by many (including lawyers) after we train the machines to perform our tasks.

However, a recent Wall Street Journal article reminds us that the art of a handshake, eye contact, the ability to sense when a customer has had a bad day, remain business-essential skills which at this point are uniquely human.  And, apparently, increasingly must be taught.  Literally.

According to the #WSJ article, companies increasingly are spending significant money on programs that provide communication instruction.  For example,

Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va., uses online courses, job coaching and video-recorded simulation labs to help employees develop skills, such as the best way to approach difficult conversations with patients, said Executive Vice President Jeanne Armentrout.  “All of us text more, all of us use cellphones more, less live conversations,” she said. “So we’re not as practiced at verbal communication and even writing skills.”

Also, despite all of the noise about STEM jobs being the “magic bullet” for young people motivated to excel in careers, this same article cites an interesting statistic: “Jobs requiring high levels of social interaction grew by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force between 1980 and 2012, according to a study published last year by David Deming, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. Less-social, math-intensive jobs fell by 3.3 percentage points over the same period.”

That statistic validates the advice I have given to my daughter (a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill) and those her age who are unsure what to focus upon. Your future job likely has not yet been invented.  If you have a passion and it aligns with a specific degree (Engineering, Biomedicine, Performing Arts), go for it!

But, even in that case – and if like many at the age of 18 to 21 you have not predicted your path – build the skills that will give you the foundation for success in the workplace (and life):

the ability to look people in the eye and have a conversation that meets them where they are;
the facility to examine an issue and come up with a reasoned analysis of it that takes into account relevant factors and yields a creative solution;
skill at expressing your thoughts verbally and in writing, with prose that takes account of the audience and gets to the point (please!); and
a respect for others that is evidenced by arriving on time, in the proper attire, ready to tackle the challenges at hand (and the diligence to phone – not text! – promptly when you know you will be delayed).

Your future depends on it!

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