Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 48 – Are your skills rusty

Welcome to the August edition of Information Overload for Registrants and other interested readers. As always we hope that you found the information in the last edition of interest and use, and will find the latest edition of similar benefit.

We’ve spoken many times about how to deal with gaps in your CV and the skills you need to do the jobs that are currently on offer. But what about the skills you say you already possess. Are they as sharp as they once were, or are they getting a little blunt and rusty from a lack of care and nurture?

In this issue we will look at:

• Are your skills as sharp as they should be?
• Verbal communication: What do YOU want?
• What is visual communication?
• Time and task management
• A Thought to ponder

Are your skills as sharp as they should be?

It has often been said that if you don’t use a newly acquired skill on a regular basis, you will quickly forget how to use all of the functions and short cuts that came with the training. How very true, which is one of the reasons why IEA stopped offering training on a Friday. You had all weekend to forget what you had just learnt.

However, this month’s edition of the Registrants Resources Information Overload newsletter is going to look beyond the traditional skills and training that we acquire throughout our professional careers, including those nice “bits of paper” and look at other areas of skills that we possess, but take for granted. These could be called “soft skills” and range from verbal, written and visual communication, through to time management and beyond.

Verbal Communication: What do YOU want?

Sometimes it is not what you say, but how you say it that can make all the difference in the world to the person you are speaking to.

We have all experienced poor customer service, and if you need a not so subtle reminder, go for a walk into any of your local stores, and watch the counter staff and their interactions with the general public. Alternatively, you can listen to the people who are working in close proximity to where you are. It can be at times entertaining, but it can also be highly embarrassing to hear people talk when they think no-one else can hear them.

Do you have a habit of talking over people? What does that mean? Talking over people, is when someone doesn’t stop for breath long enough for other people to take part in the conversation. They “need to be heard” and they will ensure their voices are the ones that will be. It could also be the case that someone doesn’t think that anyone else has a valid opinion and will expound their own theories as loudly as they possibly can to as many people as they can reach at the same time. A good way to check this – is to watch other people as they interact with each other. Do they look bored or angry? Both are a sure sign that someone is hogging the conversation. If that is you – then shut up, other people have an opinion as well as you, you know.

Most people have an opinion about most things. And that is what most verbal communication is about. It isn’t about “the facts of the matter”, but your opinion as to the facts of the matter. Most people don’t have ALL the facts, just some of them, yet they make out that they do. In reality most conversation is about opinions. My opinion vs. yours, where real two-way conversation works is when the two (or more) parties agree that the other side has a valid opinion and will accept it. Sometimes they may agree to disagree but that is good too.

But what has this got to do with “skills” in the work force I can hear you say? Well in most job descriptions I have seen in recent times, one of the essential selection criteria is “excellent verbal communication skills”, yet we pay lip service to the criterion. We may say that we treat our customers with respect, and we can demonstrate that by… but what would happen if someone could listen to you during your day-to-day interactions with the people you work with? What would they really think?

And whilst we are on the subject of communication, the one no one seems to speak about is “visual” communication.

So what is Visual Communication?
What do we mean by visual communication? Is it really how we look at people and things? The answer to that question is “partly”. Remember, communication is a two way process. So not only is visual communication how you “see” things, but how other people “see” you.

If you are currently at work reading this, could you do me a favour and go to the bathroom. Once you get there, take a good look at the person standing in front of you – what do you “look” like? What are you wearing? Are you still dressing to impress or have you downgraded your business attire? The question is – if the boss asked you to go into a meeting now, to discuss your performance to date with the company – would you feel comfortable talking about performance and commitment to the organisation if you have egg on your collar, your nail polish is chipped and flaking and your shoes haven’t seen a polishing brush in months let alone weeks.

I’d probably have to say that most of us would feel very uncomfortable at the prospect. Now there is one final question to ask yourself – if you were in the position to hire and fire, would you employ the person standing in front of you?

Confidence in yourself and your abilities (and no I don’t mean arrogance) is a good thing to have. But if you have become “sloppy” in one area, I can almost guarantee that you will be “sloppy” in other areas too.

Going back to those conversations you were observing a little earlier. Did you see what the people were doing with their physical selves whilst they were speaking or being spoken to?

Unless you are a poker player, visual clues are an essential part of the communication strategy utilised by people today. And fascinating to watch!

Do you dislike someone? If you do, you will non-consciously adopt a protective or sometimes aggressive stance when they are talking to you. For example, folding your arms or getting closer to their personal space. It is also obvious to those who watch, when someone is down and depressed, or putting on an act. Facial expressions, especially the eyes can tell the real story, so don’t just listen to the words; watch what the body is doing too.

Time and Task Management

Yet another one of those “essential criteria” people often pay lip service to is time management. Do you do all that you can every minute of the day that you are in the office? Now, please don’t think I am having a go at you. There are some days when we may feel rather under the weather, and may feel that we need to be in work, regardless of how we are really feeling. Well as Charles de Gaulle said, “the graveyards are full of indispensable men”. So if you are feeling under the weather, then do yourself a favour and take the day off. Re-align your body’s needs, and stop inflicting your germs on your fellow workers!!

So the answer to the question is – no. No one can work none stop every minute of every day, it’s just not possible. Yes you can be busy and productive, but for a lot of the time, we are simply busy. We have things we need to do, but other things and other people’s needs get in the way of our own task lists. And there will be times during the day when we don’t do anything. For example, passing the time of the day with your colleagues on the way to the kitchen etc.

But I want you to be honest with yourself for just a minute. Do you take as much care to ensure that you get to work on time as you did when you were new to the position? Or do you feel comfortable enough in your role to arrive when you arrive, and if that is later than normal, then so be it, after all every one in the organisation does it, so why not you?

I am under no doubt, that there will be times when you are absolutely flat out. So much so that you won’t stop for lunch and consider taking work home to get through the sheer volume of “stuff” that has accumulated. In reality, we all waste a portion of our days in doing things that we’re either not being paid to do, or shouldn’t be doing at all.

Do you make personal phone calls? Do you make them during your personal time, or do you make them when you think about it? And what about the Internet and Email? Do you check your Email more often than perhaps is necessary? Do you have an annoying pop up window that appears on your screen every few minutes?

Yes, me too.

And despite all your good intentions, your eyes stray from what they are doing, down to the bottom right hand side of the screen to read the brief synopsis – is it enough to stop what you are doing to go and read it? Possibly, but every time your thought processes are disturbed, it can take several more minutes to get back to the same train of thought you were having before.  But a quick and simple way to see how you are spending your days is to write down what you were doing and how long it actually took you. You would be amazed at how long, some things can take. And it is also amazing how much more you can do when you recognise how you are spending your days.

This really does sound like I am having a go at you doesn’t it? But in reality I am just asking you to consider those things you now take for granted, may mean a difference in where you end up with the organisation that you currently work for. Have you ever been passed over for promotion? Do you know why the other person got the job ahead of you? Was it because he was “sucking” up to the boss? Or was it the fact that he/she “shouted” loudest. Or was it really because they were the ones who took the time and the effort to make sure their “soft” skills hadn’t become rusty or blunted from poor use.

Now of course you may consider that you won’t work for the company that you are currently with forever, but consider this – they are the ones who will be giving your new employer a reference.

A Thought to Ponder
“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-)
Swiss born American psychiatrist