It’s winter. I’m hibernating and on a podcast listening rampage. The latest: A secular student chooses a different experience for cultural immersion. Kevin Rose, a journalism student, joins Liberty University to understand a new perspective and get material for a future book.
This is a such a delightful story about stepping outside your comfort zone and remaining open to people who live wildly different lives that you.
There’s such potential for cultural exchange within our own country. People could experience one another’s views and have face-to-face conversation. It’s definitely not as glamorous as eating gelato on the piazza during your study abroad semester, but the impact of that cultural exchange experience within the US could be so beneficial.
The Boston Globe reports on how technology creates employee isolation which in turn causes work place interaction to suffer. From remote work to employees plugging into earbuds to escape open office noise (and annoying coworkers), employees are less engaged with each other at work. Fewer workplace interactions between employers result in less creativity, less productivity, and less motivation.
The solution? Design interactive spaces and create opportunities for employees to engage. One solution offered up by Humanyze, was to create a mobile coffee cart to stimulate impromptu conversations between different teams. The coffee station was strategically places between departments who worked on projects together to improve spontaneous conversation.
“If you create an environment where random people bump into each other, then every so often pretty amazing things will happen, and even more frequently, good things will happen,” said Ben Waber, chief executive of Humanyze, which analyzes workplace interactions and has seen its business quadruple in the past year. “It’s building those levels of trust so the right stuff can happen more frequently.”
This article is so timely. It’s no wonder organizations are starting to think strategically about conversation and interaction design. The decline in workplace conversation has been happening for years now. Chances are, you’ve had one of these things happen already today:
You texted or did emails during a meeting
You put in headphones to avoid a conversation with someone
You put in headphones to avoid the noise in an open office space
You emailed someone who sits near you instead of talking to them
You continued an email chain that could have been solved by picking up the phone and discussing it
You didn’t pick up the phone when someone called
You avoid a difficult conversation, instead opting to email it
You pulled out your phone during a lunch with coworkers
All of the above are conversation avoidance behaviors.
Here’s the truth: I did all of those things in my last workplace. And I watched my coworkers do similar things. None of these actions are wrong. In fact, they’re all social norms in the workplace. In my last workplace I saw opportunities for conversations – spontaneous or productive – decline on the regular. Management was constantly on their phones during meetings (despite insisting on a “no laptops during meetings” policy), including during interviews with potential employees. One of the deans was notorious for being on his phone during meetings unless it was his turn to talk at people (yes, at, not with), when he’d use his brute manners to command absolute attention for his turn. The leader of our department consistently emailed difficult news rather than having conversations in person. Everyone was so busy. Few people had time to give you their full attention for a conversation. Many people outright avoided it. I took part in conversation avoidance too. Because here’s the thing: this was normal.
I’m fascinated by the evolving social norms around communication in the workplace. I’m nearly done reading Sherry Turkle’s, Reclaiming Conversation, which is a must-read book for anyone who’s noticed how our communication habits are changing. Her book dives into the decline in conversation between people in the workplace and the impact that it has on organizations. But she goes beyond just the effect on the workplace. She examines family relationships, dating, and friendships too. She puts a spotlight on the digital communication tools we use and how it changes our relationships, often not for the better. The themes that Turkle covers in her book – less conversation between people, obsession with our phones, less connection at work between colleagues – are all familiar themes. What makes this book so perspective-shifting is the in-depth examination of the impact digital communication is having in our everyday lives. She combines ethnographic observations and hundreds of interviews with students, professionals, and families, to share perspectives that should challenge our apathy towards the negative effects of digital technology.
The book has certainly challenged my apathy. It’s also helped me better understand the experiences I have with job seekers. The job search is a persuasive act, one that requires communication and conversational skills. The interview and negotiation process are conversations. Informational interviews are conversations with (ideally) interesting people. Yet so many job seekers struggle when I tell them they can’t negotiate over email. In coaching sessions I’ve seen blank faces when I have explained how to conduct informational interviews. So many job seekers lack confidence in themselves to know what to say or how to sound interesting. They seem uncomfortable with the idea of starting conversations with strangers. Students panic at phone interviews. Now, none of these things have ever been pleasant. Job seekers have never enjoyed them. But in my conversations with job seekers so much coaching revolves around how to have conversations with people. My networking workshops have evolved now to teach people how to have a conversation: how to enter them, what to say, how to be engaging, and how to exit. It seems so basic and yet every time I do it I get loads of positive feedback. The emphasis isn’t at all on career – it’s on conversation.
The future of work belongs to those with communication skills: the soft skills that allow you to work across teams, engage with people from different backgrounds, and adapt to new situations. These skills are hard to develop if your every day communication takes place on text and email. These skills require a comfort with conversation and the ability to process unstructured, verbal communication. In her book, Turkle shares anecdotes from young professionals who struggle to have conversations because they’re unscripted. They prefer to have time to think about the answer and write a correct response. Open-ended conversations are too risky.
My copy of her book is filled with dog-eared pages. I’m talking about it so much to friends that they’re eyes start glazing over, probably in the self-awareness that they’d like to pull out their phone and check their notifications. Or maybe it’s from boredom with the subject. Or maybe it’s because we’re all little uncomfortable when someone points out the truth about phone overuse and the decline of quality conversations. But none of us talk candidly about the impacts of it. I was at a dinner recently with friends who I hadn’t been together with in ages. The conversation was lacking. I couldn’t figure out if it was a product of not being in each others lives on the regular or the decline of conversational skills due to phones. And then two friends pulled out their phones to retreat, possibly because they were bored (indeed the conversation was boring). I wish I could assign Turkle’s book to all my friends so they were at least aware of how our conversations are interrupted, changed, and impacted by phones. Now when I’m socializing with friends this book is all I can think about.
If you’re new to Turkle’s work or interested in how the role of digital technology affects the workplace and family watch her talk below.
As for solutions, 82 percent of executives at companies with more than $100 million in annual revenues believe retraining and reskilling must be at least half of the answer to addressing their skills gap. Within that consensus, though, were clear regional differences. Fully 94 percent of those surveyed in Europe insisted the answer would either be an equal mix of hiring and retraining or mainly retraining versus a strong but less resounding 62 percent in this camp in the United States. By contrast, 35 percent of Americans thought the challenge would have to be met mainly or exclusively by hiring new talent, compared to just 7 percent in this camp in Europe (Exhibit 3). – Retraining and reskilling workers in the age of automation, McKinsey
Two thoughts from this report:
Do executives think they need to upskill? Maybe their inability to see the training needs, new jobs, and workforce of the future is shaped by their inability to reskill.
Americans who think their companies are going to invest in them and their future career are mistaken.
My love (obsession?) for career education is deep. I could talk about how we train people for the job search and the future of work for hours (and sometimes I do). I love listening to peoples’ work lives. But I know career education isn’t the most entertaining subject. As much as I try there’s only so much I can do to transform traditional career advice like “research all the companies”and “LinkedIn is your power tool” into engaging content. Enter, gifs. I love gifs. My newsletters have them. My courses have them. Gifs help me liven up some of the driest parts of my career content (and really, when I say dry I mean desert-dry…)
Today I hit a major milestone in my gif appreciation: I made my own.
I teach people how to build soft skills, specifically negotiation, networking, and public speaking. Unfortunately developing these three skills make people feel incredibly uncomfortable. To deal with discomfort I drive home this motto: embrace awkward. Awkwardness is to be expected when we try new new things. Awkwardness happens with difficult conversations. Stepping outside our comfort zone is bound to be awkward. Avoiding awkwardness is futile. Instead, we should embrace it and power the the fuck through it.
Power-the-fuck-through-it doesn’t make for snappy, corporate friendly workshop copy, so Embrace Awkward is my go to motto.
Anyhow, I’ve enshrined my favorite career advice in a lovely gif for my upcoming course, How to Ask for a Raise.
Your oral apparatus – lips, tongue, jaw, throat – functions likes a machine, a precision tool to produce the sounds of your native tongue. To learn a different accent you have to understand how that machine works, take it apart and reassemble it. – PRI World, Why People are Still Trying to “Lose” their Accent
This delightful episode takes you on a linguistic ride into people’s attempt to rid themselves of their accent. From immigrants to Bostonians to Southerners, people trying to lose their accents share their motivations and challenges.
This episode has it all: tonal languages, tongue stretches, survival words, writing accents into novels, and questioning why its still acceptable to make fun of people with accents. Listen as a Russian woman moves from a Russian accent in English, to a British one, to an American one. It’s an amazing linguistic feat.
I haven’t even started my online course. I just sits there, purchased. I am no closer to upskilling than I was when I wrote my professional new years resolutions post dedicating this year to upskilling.
What motivates people to upskill? Money? Fear (of job loss, irrelevance)? Curiosity? Passion for the subject?
Nearly 30% of professionals believe their skills will be redundant in the next 1-2 years, if they aren’t already, with another 38% stating they believe their skills will be outdated within the next 4-5 years. – LinkedIn Economic Graph
In 2017, roughly 70,000 postings requested AI skills in the U.S., according to our analysis of job postings. That’s a significant change, amounting to growth of 252% compared to 2010. Burning Glass also found that demand for AI skills is now showing up in a wide range of industries including retail, health care, include finance and insurance, manufacturing, information and professional services, technical services, and science/research. – Burning Glass Technologies
I’ve been seeing AI skills pop up in random job posts. I’ve wondered if it’s part of a bigger trend. It’s hard to get perspective since I’m not in the job market. Amazon leads the hiring for AI skills by a mile but GM, Accenture and Deloitte are also investing heavily. The most in-demand AI skills:
software developer/engineer, data scientist, data mining/data analyst, data engineer, computer systems engineer/architect, medical secretary, systems analyst, product manager and business management analyst.
SmartExam acts as a virtual physician’s assistant – an automated medical resident, if you will – that enables primary care providers to deliver efficient remote care while cutting costs and improving outcomes… The intelligent software dynamically interviews patients, using answers to garner more information and support providers in the care delivery process… SmartExam lets providers achieve as much, or more, in a two-minute virtual patient visit as the 20 minutes of provider time needed for an office visit, the company said… “It allows clinicians to operate at the tops of their licenses,” said Constantini. “They can focus on what they do best — diagnosis and treatment.” – Bright.MD raises another $8M for “virtual physician’s assistant” SmartExam
I wonder if current medical students are taught how to integrate AI software into their training.
I struggle with upskilling. I’ve failed out of more Coursera courses than I can count. I struggle with procrastination and attention (it’s the online course vs. the entire internet vs. Twitter vs. Instagram). Five ago I completed a Financial Accounting MOOC from Wharton just to see if I could do it (I did). Since then I haven’t managed to make it through a coding class or a data analytics specialization, despite desperately wanting those skills and being quite curious about them).
I’ve signed up for his ultimate course. As a course designer I want to see his instructional design approach. As a career coach, I want to understand the process people go through as they try to upskill, so I can build better courses to help them do it. As a person who needs to get her shit together and upskill, I want to upgrade my technical abilities and build interactive websites.