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Increased dependence on technology at work raises demand for more highly skilled workers. However, much of this will become automated or offshore and in a report by NESTA, interpersonal skills will be as relevant in 2030 as any technological or systems skills. And despite the hype about STEM skills, AI, automation and that pesky robot stealing your job, occupations requiring human communications skills are growing rapidly.

The ability to connect, communicate, understand and build relationships is not easily automated, especially in the growing services sector.

People-focused skills such as active listening, empathy and teamwork have never been in more demand.

Leading high-growth scale-up businesses requires excellent people skills. Without cooperation and collaboration, most businesses fail. Not the biggest surprise.

And coding itself relies heavily on strong communications skills, both with the humans and the computers involved!

What exactly are interpersonal skills?

For the avoidance of doubt the definition of “interpersonal skills” is ‘what we use when we communicate with others both in the real world and online. Everything we say and do cannot fail to leave an impression and to be successful, good relationships matter.’

Ah, common-sense of course, but great communication might not be such common practice. All of us are pront to getting stale and lazy and changing old habits and our preferred ways of relating to the world can be challenging.

Life in 2018

According to LinkedIn, many of us will change career up to 15 times in a lifetime of work. We are all likely to have free-flowing career paths, and to see transformation in just about everything we know about work.

We’re fast getting used to this new paradigm. We need to be agile, nimble and ready for the unexpected. With four generations in the workplace, from the mature and savvy through to the young and techie, employers have the widest range of talent ever available to choose from.

We are a sea of humanity doing the necessary to get a job, stay in a job, start a business, sell a business and pay the bills – senior executives, mid-managers, newbie graduates, lawyers, accountants, rookie entrepreneurs and rock-star business leaders – there’s some major hustle going down in every demographic.

Meanwhile, the power relationship between buyer and seller has shifted. That impacts on all of us. Whatever you do, it is a tough gig commanding anyone’s attention these days, whether online or offline.

Where do interpersonal skills fit in the world of online marketing? 

Interpersonal skills play out online in subtle ways. The experience of us is contained either by the constraints of the channels we choose. Video has taken off because it allows others to get a far more holistic impression of ‘what we are like.’ The ‘tone of voice’ of our copywriting is something that branding companies agonize over. Then there’s our content. Do we aim to enter a dialogue, or is what we share all “about us”?

There’s also how we engage and how we react to others. How much time and effort do we put into getting into the trending conversation or is it all about our personal agenda? Are we sharing and appreciating other’s efforts? Do we newsjack? Do we display empathy or ego?

What is said is not necessarily what is heard

We can always slap on some gloss, sharpen our saw and put our best foot forward. It’s what most people do every day – in interviews, sales meetings and when presenting. It’s perfectly normal business behavior to aim to persuade, to influence and to win over others.

However, the truth is that we can’t manage anyone’s view of us. We simply can’t control what other people think. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and “perception is reality”. It’s for others who decide how to hear and view us. And a reputation can be destroyed in a second.

Do I need become a communications rock-star?

We know the A-list business celebrities in our space. Books, TV shows, legions of fans. To mention a cliche, we’re talking about the Richard Branson types. The septuagenarian entrepreneur’s entrepreneur now has over 13 million LinkedIn followers hanging on his words, Gary Vaynechuck, The Dragons Dens… you know who they are in your niche. There are numerous ideas leaders on just about every expert topic. For instance, Seth Godin. God of marketing. He of 7,000+ blogs and millions of fans. But Branson’s been cultivating his brand for half a century and Seth Godin spent years in the dark publishing other people’s books. It might take you a while.

Are these always BIG personalities? An interesting point made by Dan Pink, is that ambiverts (the mid-way point between introvert and extravert) make exceptional communicators. So, interpersonal skills are not necessarily about creating a noisy, artificial ‘personal brand’ rather coming across in a way that is natural, consistent and easy for others to understand. Over a period of time.

So how do you build your online interpersonal skills?

You learned to communicate as a baby. Everyone communicates, right? It’s common sense. It’s practically a matter of survival. Well of course. But, some people just relate to others better.

We can get into the nature versus nurture debate, but most psychologists agree that interpersonal skills can be learned and improved, even by deep introverts.

Having a strategy to improve your online interpersonal skills will create an asset for you and your business. It’s not really about marketing (in the traditional sense), it’s not doing the sales hustle, it’s not broadcast PR, and it’s certainly not aiming to intentionally cultivate a personal brand. It’s about building rapport, listening and responding.

Interpersonal skills involve being more aware of how we communicate, developing a broader toolbox of behavioral skills and selecting the best response at the right time.

Here are three suggestions to build your online interpersonal skills in 2018

  1. Build your self-awareness. Ask five people what they think you need to start, stop and continue in terms of how you relate to others. Weird, audacious, ridiculous, embarrassing? I dare you to ask. You’ll be amazed at what they might say if you give them absolute permission to be honest. Don’t throw away golden feedback. Use it to work out your key areas of communications strength and weakness.
  2. Develop a broader repetoire. Work on your areas of communications challenge. Produce online content that is directed at the needs of your audience. Perhaps try a new channel – blogging, video or produce a white paper. But, only do this from the perspective of how you can be of service to your audience. Avoid directly promoting yourself like the plague.
  3. Respond. How hard would it be to engage more and be in the conversation? Why not set yourself a target to ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘comment’ on other people’s content more generously than you do now. Being your natural generous self isn’t hard. And your LinkedIn feed is the perfect platform. Regularly scan your feed for great content and go with your gut. Comment as you see fit and like and share as you would as if you no concerns about what anyone might think about you. Then witness your impact on others. Would you value someone liking, sharing or commenting on your article should you write one? Don’t hold back in supporting others. They will remember you.

Just imagine you’re at a party

If you’re cynical you’ll still see developing intepersonal skills as an act of cultivated ’personal branding’. Indeed, no one is going to pretend you’re not doing this for commercial gain. We are all at work to pay the bills and find our place in the world.

A timely metaphor is a Christmas party.

Consider what kind of person you’d like to spend time with. We all know who we dread getting stuck talking to. The crashing bore who doesn’t let you get a word in?

The people we are naturally drawn to at parties spend far more time asking questions, responding to us, being empathetic and enthusiastic than talking about themselves. They’re thoughtful, helpful and responsive in ways that are surprising, charming and sometimes, remarkable.

Whatever your business (well unless you are Google, Amazon or Facebook), you are unlikely to need 7 billion clients to thrive. So, do your homework and become a seeker. Get curious about your audience. Research them. Reach out. Then build relationships. Seek out your type of people and let them decide whether they’re in your tribe.

This should naturally lead to greater business success. Because we are human. And people buy people.

And if getting better at coding is on your radar too, you’re building a powerful future-proof twin skill set which should stand you in good keeping for decades to come.

My mum is 80. She is a busy freelancer. Richard Branson is 67, Seth Godin is 57. If you are reading this, you are highly likely to be working at an advanced age. You will probably switch careers a number of times along the way.

So from now on it makes sense to chip away at building the relationships you need to sustain an amazing career journey. That means being present for your tribe on a day-to-day basis, whoever they are, and continuing to be the amazing and unique individual that you.

How are you going to build your business relationships in 2018? What interpersonal skills are the most important to you? I’d love to know.

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