Developing Your Interpersonal Skills during the Age of Remote Work

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Going through life, everyone is bound to encounter situations where it would be nice to have better interpersonal skills. And while these are often the same types of scenarios where the family law attorneys get involved, at other times they are more relevant to your career.

Skills such as empathy, active listening, clear communication, and effective collaboration with others have received increasing focus as we move into a future dominated by AI. As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, robots can be counted on to take over repetitive manual tasks.

The human jobs of the future will be the ones where we can continue to leverage our advantages in terms of social competencies and soft skills. But for modern workers, developing those skills will be a growing concern. How are we supposed to practice interpersonal skills during an age of remote work?

The internet’s effects on communication

Historians of the internet will point out that the technology itself is not exactly young. It had its genesis in the form of a US Defense project called ARPANET in the 1960s. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee wrote the proposal for what would eventually become the World Wide Web.

Either way, the actual age of the internet ranges from over 3 to 5 decades. It has been around for a long time. And with technology that is so omnipresent, our lives will inevitably be changed by it on some level.

Around the turn of the millennium, studies had already revealed that online communications were significantly different from our face-to-face interactions. This was called the ‘online disinhibition effect.’

When we’re online, people don’t see everything we are doing. We might be multitasking, opening other apps, or conversing with other people in a separate window. In person, such behavior would be deemed impolite. But it’s the norm on the internet.

Add to that the ability of various online channels to hide users’ true identity, and you have a communications medium that’s conducive to disregarding their inhibitions. People are prone to revealing more about themselves and their private thoughts. And entire generations have now grown up with this sort of influence in the way they communicate.

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Embracing the digital influence

Clearly, the internet has been a boon to our capacity for communication. We can stay in touch through social media and maintain relationships over long distances. But those are superficial benefits, channels enabled by the technology itself.
We are often less cognizant of the actual effects of the internet on our social skills. Talking to someone in person is different than talking to them in a messaging app or over a video call.

Psychologists argue that social media and other online interaction forms are no effective substitute for developing real interpersonal skills. A large part of effective communication comes from nonverbal cues. When two people with good conversation skills talk, each one is constantly taking the measure of what the other is saying, not just in terms of content, but also context. They observe the emotional cues and body language of the other person and adjust their responses accordingly.

That context is largely absent in any form of online communication. Thus, if you want to improve your interpersonal skills, you must somehow manage to overcome the limitations of using online channels for the majority of communication. And it’s a challenge that looms large in the age of the pandemic.

Striving for dual mastery

As we work remotely, the opportunity to have face-to-face interactions with others is limited. And such conversations tend to be brief or transactional. They don’t offer the same sort of opportunity for spontaneous engagement that you’d normally get in a traditional workplace or at a party or networking event.

Seeking a hybrid work arrangement can bridge the gap. If employers are willing, you will end up working from home but can still come to the office a few times a week. Maximize the time you spend with colleagues or leaders at work and practice socializing during these days.

Ultimately, however, we cannot ignore the fact that the internet has fundamentally changed how we communicate. Having integrated it into our lives, there is value gained from mastering the separate art of communicating online.
If video calls have become a mainstay of your team’s workflow, you can still make the most of such limited resources.

Make an active effort to overcome the disinhibition effect. Stop multitasking and give your full attention to whoever is speaking. If you missed something, consider the best way to reach out to them and seek clarification.

Interpersonal skills might be crucial to your future success. But the internet is likely to play a prominent role as well. Understand that communicating in person and online are different but related skills. And be deliberate about mastering them both.

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