If you want to get ahead and stay ahead you’d do well to develop your social skills. Researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne of the University of Oxford estimate that nearly half (47 percent) of U.S. jobs may become obsolete over the next two decades due to automation.
One area that computers haven’t been able to master is the nuances of social interaction, particularly when it comes to the ability to work on a team. “Human interaction in the workplace involves team production, with workers playing off of each other’s strengths and adapting flexibly to changing circumstances,” David J. Deming of Harvard University writes. “Such nonroutine interaction is at the heart of the human advantage over machines.”
The ability to see another person’s point of view, to understand and leverage power relationships between and among other team members and within groups, and to adjust behavior to fit social norms are arguably the most critical skills for job success.
The good news is that positions that require both cognitive and social skills have shown more wage growth in the past few decades than those reliant on specialized technical skills and limited social prowess.
How do you polish your social skills? In a word, practice.
The key characteristic of those with excellent social skills is hyper-awareness of and ability to focus on others. Start small. Ask people about themselves and pay attention to their answers. Offer (sincere) compliments. Demonstrate good manners. Stay up to date on current events so that you have something to talk about (note: avoid controversial topics!). Read books on developing social skills. If you need support because you’re shy or uncomfortable in a group, seek out those who can help you.
Polishing your social skills can have benefits beyond the workplace; for instance, imagine how popular you could become with your mother-in-law once you’ve learned how to charm her!