As the economy slows down, these soft skills can make or break your upward momentum.
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After a record-breaking streak of job growth, the unemployment rate is now at the highest since the Great Depression. Some forecasters predict a 12-15 percent unemployment rate well into 2022 and possibly beyond.
If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, you are probably worried about holding on to it. And if you’re currently out of work, you want to bounce back as quickly as possible. You can’t control how this shock to the economy affects employment prospects. That means it’s more important than ever to refine the number one thing that will get you ahead in any career: your ability to communicate and make deep human connections.
According to the Carnegie Foundation, only 15 percent of your professional success is causally related to your technical proficiency and knowledge. The rest of the pie is made up of what we might call “soft skills” — your personality and your ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. In a word: your connectability. Most of us spend our entire academic and professional careers exclusively focused on the 15 percent and largely ignore the 85 percent. The problem is that in almost any job, your co-workers probably also have the right knowledge, experience and technical skills: They’re the price of entry. So in order to differentiate yourself — to ensure you’re seen as indispensable —you must master the art of connectability.
This career-defining skill is based on three key communication strategies: the authority you exhibit, the warmth you convey, and the energy you exude and bring out in others.
We know it when we see it. We know it when we hear it. Authority stands up tall. It’s competent and commanding. Whether it’s delivered softly or loudly, it sounds confident. The most successful salespeople, businesspeople, broadcasters and politicians — all people — embody authority. There are a few key elements of authority: voice, presence, body language, dress, alignment and detachment. First, consider the quality of your voice. Is your pitch properly placed? Are you too nasal? Resonant? Does your accent obscure your message? Do you use too many filler words? Do you speak with a sense of purpose, or do your comments and questions trail off? Now consider your physical appearance. How’s your posture? Your attire? Do you make eye contact when you’re speaking to someone? When you present with authority you feel it internally and you recognize it externally based on how people respond to you.
Warmth is communicated through humility, vulnerability, empathy and by your attentiveness — your listening ear. That’s because effective connection isn’t just about output, or projecting your message outward into the world. Input, how you receive the crowd, group or single individual you’re communicating with, is equally important to making an effective connection. Warmth is necessary to create trust, as well as relatability, which is crucial to solidifying your position on a team. To assess your warmth, ask yourself a few key questions. Do your colleagues trust you? Do you make them feel acknowledged in your interactions? Do you welcome feedback from others so they can feel open enough to challenge your ideas? Do you listen when others are speaking? Does your body language belie your interest? Pay attention to the signals: Your life provides all the answers to these questions.
This is that dynamic quality that gives you power. The more energy you have, the more power you have to influence, illuminate, educate or engage. Authority earns other people’s respect; warmth earns their affection and trust. Energy compels people to follow. The components of energy are conviction, enthusiasm, engagement and emotional commitment to your message. When you believe in and trust what you’re saying, your audience inevitably will, too. You must be genuinely all in — present, authentic and fully engaged. Your emotional commitment makes an emotional connection that can be extremely memorable, impressionable and persuasive. That doesn’t mean you always have to be “on.” There are benefits to high and low energy; what matters is how it’s communicated and received. How’s your energy? Do you overpower people by talking too fast? Too much? Not pausing to let others have their voices heard? Do you truly listen in a way that makes others feel energized by your interest in them? Again — all you need to do is pay careful attention to the way people react to you and you’ll know if you’re energizing or deflating.
Google’s Project Oxygen, which researched its own pool of top employees since the company was founded in 1998, surprised everyone when it reported that out of the eight qualities considered most important, STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) came in eighth. Absolutely last! Hovering at the top were qualities like good communication and empathy. Google knows there are many candidates who can code. It’s more rare to find someone who can code and collaborate with others, lead a team or follow someone else when needed. Someone who can do any and all of those things and code really well is not a commodity. They are indispensable.
You may not be a software engineer, and your job has its own specific challenges. But what is clear from the research is that every job requires authority, warmth and energy. The business world will likely be permanently changed as we emerge from this crisis, and there will be a Darwinian thinning of the workforce. Will you be fit to survive in this new reality? That answer will depend on how you act now and nimbly adapt to the uncharted future that will emerge.