Originally published here
We know that our world is becoming increasingly digitized. Sure, in some ways we are more connected, but we are also further apart than ever before. It can seem like technology has swept into every aspect of our lives to replace what used to be a human connection. My uncle likes to joke that one time he heard his son call a friend only to say, “Get online so we can talk!” Or take the rise of online dating, where ‘boy meets girl’ has succumbed to ‘boy downloads 7 apps in order to mindlessly swipe through profiles of girls’. Has technology stripped our interactions of intimacy? Or worse, have our values shifted such that we are complicit in this indifference to relational connections?
Maybe not. A recent New York Times article suggests that prices of consumer technologies (e.g. phones, personal computers, TVs) are falling and becoming more available to lower income individuals. By contrast, the costs of things that would get people out of poverty (e.g. education, child care, health care) have soared for Americans. One way to interpret this trend is that the things most valuable to us include personal interaction and engagement. Perhaps the ubiquity of technology has created a shortage of human connection.
It seems the significance of relationships, which enable us to cut through the digital noise of our world, is only increasing. How does this apply to our work lives? It means that while technical proficiency is always a critical competency, there is no substitute for the ability to build sustainable, trusting relationships. Organizations that select for and develop interpersonal competencies have a competitive advantage, and assessment centers are a valid and credible option for evaluating and enhancing these skills in your employees. Assessment centers generally involve exercises that simulate job content as well as problems employees typically confront on the job. Interpersonal skills are one of the primary dimensions measured – which involve capacities like effective communication, the ability to influence others, foster relationships with internal and external stakeholders, lead teams, and manage conflict.
Despite the ingenuity and pervasiveness of technology, what really matters is what we can do when we turn it off.