By Rachell Smith

At Collaboration, we take our core values to heart. As “Relentless Learners”, we agree that continuing our professional education is integral to our growth. I recently attended two educational seminars that inspired me to take a look at the future of America’s businesses as they develop new ways to compete for a shrinking workforce. The first was “The Art and Science of Skillful Communication” led by Lynne Biddinger, and the second was presented by the SLO Chamber’s Insight Studio series called “Future of Work” featuring Harlan Findley, Director of Consulting/Strategy at Google, and Dan Week, an entrepreneur working with HotHouse & SLO Partners.

Despite these events being independent of one another, I noticed many intersecting ideas that business leaders can implement now to establish a competitive edge. Following are some actionable tips that can enhance your company’s communication and, ultimately, ensure the longevity of the workforce.  

Communication Breeds Trust 

In her presentation, Lynne Biddinger echoed what we at Collaboration hold true: that an improvement in communication leads to more trusting relationships. She said that when a team doesn’t trust its leader, the team is demonstrably less creative, passionate, innovative, committed, and engaged than teams that fully trust their managers.

Skilled Communication is Learned 

The key here is that positive communication skills must be learned, they are not innate and must be developed at every level in an organization. Lynne discussed four trigger areas for team communication: Control, Approval, Respect, and Empathy. Overall, the idea is that if something in these areas is not met, it could lead to negative feelings and unhappiness at work.

  • Control. We all seek to feel a sense of control in our lives. However, when we don’t feel in control at work, i.e. expectations for our performance are not set, we can inadvertently neglect to perform our tasks properly since leadership didn’t outline their expectations.
  • Approval. We all have a desire to be liked, loved and included. This sense of connection is important in skillful communication. When a person is not invited to a meeting or no one recognizes their hard work, it leads to feelings of exclusion.
  • Respect. Feeling significant and valuable is important. When ideas are challenged or requests are ignored, people will feel disrespected.
  • Empathy. Empathy is showing people you care. When empathy is not demonstrated, others will feel ignored or small. Also, understand that empathy is not the same as sympathy, although sympathy is a definite silver lining of demonstrating empathy.
Trigger Awareness Leads to Better Communication 

Being aware of these triggers allows people to effectively communicate. According to Lynn, developing these five skills enables people to become great communicators.

  1. Empathic Listening. Become non-judgmental when listening to others. If a team member comes to you with a problem, start with listening to them rather than jumping to a solution. Lynne suggests taking the route of Listening, Reflecting, Clarifying, and Validating when being a sounding board for a colleague.
  2. Be Curious. Always ask questions and let go of your need to be right. When you are wrong, acknowledge it and apologize.
  3. Be Present. Put your phone away and pay rapt attention to the person you are communicating with. Let them know they have your full attention.
  4. Be Clear and Concise. Start conversations with the point you’re trying to make, then follow up with facts. Also, don’t assume others understand your train of thought; stop and check for understanding before moving on.
  5. Demonstrate Respect. Respect must be genuine. Show kindness in the little moments as well as the big ones and always give credit where it is due.

AI Could Replace You 

At the Insight Studios panel, Harlan Findley once again discussed the ways that machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) could replace workers (and for more information on this topic, check out a previous blog post about Harlan’s theory). This time around, Harlan stresses the importance of being our own innovators, basically in a way to prove our worthiness and separate us from AI technologies. This is one area where I saw an intersect between these programs: If we, as humans, can learn the delicacies of skillful communication, then we make our work more valuable to our employers in human ways that AI just can’t do.

As Dan Weeks said during the panel, there’s a big challenge right now for companies to find and grow skilled local talent. He suggests a screening process to determine a candidate’s attitude and then providing them with training to develop their aptitude. He stresses, as I echoed previously, that computers can’t feel empathy, which gives the advantage to us humans.

Thriving in the Future: Three Skills to Develop 

Dan believes that it’s easier to upscale a company’s existing employees than it is to find, onboard, and train new ones, especially in the soft skill, i.e. communication, area. To truly thrive in the future workforce, teams must learn:

  • Empathy
  • Teamwork
  • Communication

Bottom Line 

Skilled employees are expected to be harder to find in the near future. When employees learn effective communication strategies, they are setting themselves up for longevity in the workplace. Being empathetic and creative will launch leaders into positions of power to affect real cultural change within an organization. The success of an organization depends on the leadership’s investment into its people.

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