The Energizer

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Top Two Critical Workplace Skills Needed in 2020

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Monday, November 11, 2019
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The Institute for the Future teamed up with the University of Phoenix Research Institute to pinpoint critical skills essential to thrive in 2020. Here are the top two: Sense-Making and Social Intelligence.

Sense-making requires one to withhold judgment and ask critical questions in order to more deeply understand the meaning of what is expressed. In the common expression from my years as a communications expert, it’s what we called Active Listening.

Our 24-7, get-it-done-now world seems to have forgotten that it takes time and patience to listen deeply—particularly to the “other”. At a time when words are carelessly spouted and divisions are deep, tolerance and an ability to seek first to understand has never been more necessary and more difficult.

Consider these steps to develop sense-making:

  • Ask clarifying questions to see if you understand what the other person said.
  • Ask “what” questions rather than “why”.
  • If there is a difference of opinion, merely state “It appears we have a difference of opinion.” Let it go. Sometimes, that is the best.
  • Paraphrase what you hear. Then be quiet. The other person will either add or correct.
  • Look for places of agreement. What do you both have in common?

The second critical skill, social intelligence, has nothing to do with social media. Rather it is developing an ability to connect to people in a way that allows them to feel heard, understood and served. Connecting with mind and heart has never been more important.

Consider this: We recently returned from a trip aboard a ship where there was one passenger whom people quickly tried to stay away from. Why? She had no social intelligence. She’d plop into people’s conversations and start complaining about her husband, bragging about her money, her trips, and handing out unwanted advice about whatever she had noticed. People moved to other parts of the ship when she’d enter a common area. It was actually quite sad.

So how does one develop social intelligence? Here are some tips:

  • Pay attention to how others respond to you. Honest self-reflection might be difficult but also very instructive.
  • Ask someone you trust and whom you know will be straight-forward to observe your interactions. Ask if there are things you do that distance you from others. We all have blind spots.
  • Nothing begins to create a connection like a sincere smile. It’s why email can stand for escalation and error—we can’t see the person we are emailing! Words are flat and only have meaning to the person reading them. I became aware, on my last trip, that simply looking into someone’s eyes and smiling created a brief human connection. The next time I encountered that individual, the smiles and conversation became extended.

For a full listing of all ten critically needed skills, read The Future of Workplace Skills 2020.


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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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