No matter how tech-savvy, you have to get along

Diane Stafford
Kansas City Star

Automation and self-service have replaced a lot of jobs. Computer programming and technology skills are requirements for others. But the ability to interact well, person to person, remains vital for career success.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review cited a National Bureau of Economic Research study that argues that “high-skilled, hard-to-automate jobs will increasingly demand social adeptness.”

In other words, you can’t hide behind a keyboard and expect to prosper.

The experts in no way downgrade the importance of technology skills. You must have command of your field — cutting-edge command is even better — but you also need to get along with others. David Deming, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said it this way in the Harvard Business Review:

“If it’s true that work is becoming more team-based, and there’s a lot of evidence that it is, then it ought to be true that people who are more able to work with others will be more valuable. Because the thing about computers, technology and machines is that they’re very good at the specific things they’re programmed to be good at, but they’re not flexible.”

Ah, flexibility. It’s a word heard often from hirers who know that the job you’re hired for today might evolve into something different tomorrow. New or fewer co-workers might come into the picture. Experts say adapting to change is the ability to adjust when your “comparative advantage” shifts.

A machine can’t do that kind of adaptation on the spot — it has to be reprogrammed. The competitive advantage for humans, despite what you read about artificial intelligence gains, is that we are better able to adapt to change quickly.

There’s some evidence that intelligence, your basic IQ, gives an edge in human adaptability. Smart people may find it easier to think through the reasons for change, quickly understand their altered roles and see how they need to adapt. But those smarts aren’t enough in many real-world applications.

Here’s why: Workplaces are veritable cesspools of office politics, as you’ve probably noticed. Throw in personal relationships with bosses, co-worker cliques and fighting for scarce resources (pay, promotions, top assignments) and even the best brains can be taxed.

Thus, a raft of social science research points to the heightened value of relationship building. IQ may not be as important as EQ, or “emotional intelligence.” Also called “soft skills,” these involve interpersonal awareness and interaction, no matter the white-collar, blue-collar, pink-collar or no-collar job.

Here are two key questions to ask yourself:

■Do you see yourself as others see you?

■Do you treat others — colleagues, clients, customers — as you wish to be treated?

Honest answers to both can help measure your social skills reputation and likelihood for career success.

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