Communication, Communication, Communication.

Communication skills remain in high demand. 

Sathnam Sanghera’s excellent article in today’s Times was (perhaps) prompted by Uber’s announcement of the “quiet mode” facility that enables users to alert drivers in advance that they’re not going to be in the mood to chat. 

Praising this feature on twitter prompted a sceptical response, and not just on behalf of the drivers who despite having reasons to be thankful for the technology are increasingly being treated as machines. Sathnam goes on to list other ways in which modern technology is dehumanising us (dating aps, supermarket checkouts, becoming Siri/Alexa-reliant) and reducing interaction to the extent that at the same time as we’re becoming beholden to AI it is we ourselves who are behaving as robots. To borrow an unattributed quote from the article: “The world has a genuine crisis of social skills coming”.  

If this is the case then here’s the good news: 

Even though this is the price we pay for ever-increasing convenience there’s no reason why we can’t side-step the inevitable route to ‘progress’ and use some old-fashioned qualities that still have their place as ‘strengths’.  We can’t go back, but it’s increasingly true that sometimes we have to make a conscious effort to be different. 

Take a step back

If you’ve ever deliberately avoided the fast-track travelator at an airport, preferring instead to walk briskly alongside under your own steam this is not only good for staving off DVT but it can be quicker too, avoiding the ubiquitous knot of stationary idiots blocking the thoroughfare with their life belongings. When booking a holiday and getting stressed out because your decision is being affected by the warnings that there are “only 2 seats left at this price” it is safe to assume that this is simply not true. In fact “Which” (same paper, different article) advises that you’re better off calling the hotel/airline direct, perhaps even to result in an incentive discount for doing things the old way. 

Pick up the phone and have a live conversation. 

Talking of the old way, many young people find that human interaction can be foreboding. It’s something of a sweeping statement, but there’s a whole generation that do whatever they can to avoid making live phone calls. Not so long ago, in order to enliven a sales/marketing team you’d rally them with “let’s make some noise, people” but there’s little point in doing so if the customers at the other end of the phone are not inclined to pick up were it to ring. To be generous, this is not simply because they fear having a live conversation but due to time constraints that don’t allow them to be distracted by something that isn’t already in their diary.  How do you get it in their diary? Email, text or whatsapp. In fact, anything but a live phone call, the mode of communication which is almost certainly the most efficient way of making an immediate impact, establishing a rapport and building a relationship.  

Keep it real. 

There is no definitive list of employability skills wanted in job applicants but emotional and communicative intelligence are invariably to be found in the top 3.  Technology can take a lot of the blame for the degradation of social skills but the world is well aware of the risks should this be allowed to happen and AI itself has applications designed to counteract the consequences of social disengagement, with specially-designed algorithms to teach people to understand and improve human behaviour. 

Wherever Artificial Intelligence is deliberately used to protect what should remain real that has to be a sure sign of a skill worth learning and keeping.   

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