The World Wide Web, celebrating its 30th anniversary today, is one of the most — if not the most — powerful tools launched in the last 50 years, if not ever. The Internet helps us connect across cities, states, countries and worlds; it bridges gaps and speeds up time in good and bad ways.

But let’s face one important fact: the Internet is not a suitable replacement for face-to-face interactions. When we look someone else in the eye, we see so much more than a face.

Communicating through Skype or FaceTime or any of the other virtual communication tools the Internet spawned attempts to overcome this obstacle. But lag time and being on a screen, not to mention the ability to mute or go without video, makes us prone to distraction and impedes us from achieving the kind of results spontaneous discussion sparks. How many times have you been in a face-to-face discussion at a bar, restaurant, grocery store, sporting event and made a valuable connection? I have yet to be able to do that on the Internet because everything is categorized well, which kills any chance of serendipity.

Face-to-face doesn’t just give us someone else’s reactions, it invites them. Our eyes plead with someone else to show us what they are thinking through their face in a way I have yet to master on a video conference call. When I see your face, I can see when you bored; your eyes go elsewhere. I sense confusion because your eyes and facial expressions give it away. Armed with this valuable information, I can react and change course.

Try changing the course of the conversation in a good way after you sent an email to someone that they misinterpreted in a way you didn’t even consider possible. Apologies and restatements only can do so much.

When I am speaking to or training groups, I often talk about the power of eye contact. I demonstrate its power by playing the staring game, where I stare a person in the eye for as long as it takes for them to look away. I have never lost in probably 200 attempts. Not just because I played the game with my dog Dabney and wore him down for years, but because I am not uncomfortable in that space when you are staring intently at another person. I actually welcome it. Maybe it’s the old newspaper reporter in me that knows when that space exists, the other person is apt to fill it with something valuable.

I fear I am alone. A growing number of people seem to find this prolonged eye contact uncomfortable (even if I warn them that it’s coming).

That muscle that allows us to look inside ourselves and others while staring appears to atrophied in so many people. Or, and it scares me to admit it, they never had the chance to develop this muscle.

I was thinking about this shift while staring at my new great-niece Leah last Friday night. She was being fussy, which troubles me since I was holding her. But when I looked into her three-week-old eyes, she calmed. She liked it. I know: She can’t focus yet and she probably was catching the light off my glasses. But still. She didn’t look away. She kept that eye contact.

Few of us want or can hold that kind of attention. If anything, the Internet has hurt our attention spans. More than two decades ago, teaching a college class involved standing in the front of the room and lecturing – and perhaps drawing on the chalkboard. Today, teaching a college class is more akin to hosting a late-night talk show – introduce the topic, get feedback, shift gears to a PowerPoint, start an activity, a little more discussion, then a breakout session, followed by a hand’s-on activity, then a wrap-up. If any segment exceeds eight minutes, you’re in trouble. (At the risk of divulging my teaching trade secrets, extra points for pop culture references or making anything connect to an episode of “Friends.”)

Like most people, I use the Internet every day in important ways. I would struggle to live without it. But I know I would struggle more if I couldn’t look the people who matter to me in the eye and tell them something important or receive important feedback.

I hope that when the Internet reaches its 40th anniversary, we will have moderated its use. We should focus on what it provides us that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. And not cat videos, old episodes of “Speed Racer” and 24/7 shopping. We should continue to use it as the most powerful research tool ever and to bridge distances when no other option exists.

But whenever and wherever the option exists, we should never ever allow the Internet to replace face-to-face communication. I wish I could see you nodding in agreement.

We all have to face ambiguity, even if we don’t want to. And while few of us actually become comfortable with it, we can employ strategies that help us make it at least bearable.

The ever-faster spinning of our business lives makes the soft skill of dealing with ambiguity one most of us must face in our professional lives more and more. Managers and leaders face it constantly. The farther you go in your career, the less clear things become.

Getting comfortable with ambiguity is an essential business skill and one that many entrepreneurs especially struggle with.

We Long For Control

Most of us want to control as much of our lives as possible – what we eat, who we spend time with, how much sleep we get, where we live, what car we drive, how we will retire. And for the most part, we have control over those things; most of them are functions of our choices.

Business is different. We can make the right choices and derive a bad result because our actions are only part of the equation. Business is about working with, for and against other people and companies. They do what’s right for them, or at least what they think serves them best. We do what’s best for us. The two cannot always coincide. As a result, we find uncertainty and ambiguity permeating our business ventures all the time.

Huge Decisions Riddled With Ambiguity

Here’s a common example: A company creates a product or service and tries to set a price. The company struggles to identify the right price. They assess the competition. They assess people’s views on the product or service. They make their best guess. But if they are wrong, the consequences can be enormous. A product or service that could make a difference in people’s lives fails because it’s price is too high or too low.

Pricing is just one area of uncertainty. What if the marketing message is unclear? The website looks off? The name is wrong? The benefits don’t resonate with the ideal customer? Or if people aren’t ready yet to address this problem in their lives?

Businesses face this challenge everyday. It’s a reality.

Strategies For Combatting Uncertainty

Finding strategies to address our feelings surrounding ambiguity can help greatly.

Here are four hints for combatting the fears that arise with ambiguity, drawn from a discussion I had with Dr. Tobin Porterfield, on our Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

  1. Accept that ambiguity is real. Easy choices don’t always exist. Taking action, even if it’s the wrong action, will bring you one or more steps closer to your goal.
  2. Keep a compass. Know what you are trying to accomplish and keep true to it. People, circumstances, finances and other factors will
  3. Call in the reinforcements. Find people and other sources of information and support that are solid no matter what else is happening.
  4. Heed the signs. When things appear to be faltering, recognize it and react. Remember, inaction is the enemy of any success. A course adjustment, even if it takes you farther from your intended target, still provides you valuable insight that can help the next course correction or the one after that put you back on track.

The more we fight ambiguity, the more a toll it takes on us and our plans. Facing the reality that is ambiguity head-on can keep you moving toward your goals, when others are getting sidelined worrying about things they can never control.

We always hear how important a positive attitude is, but why and how do we ensure we have a positive attitude. We’ll tackle how to maintain a positive attitude in this episode of the Serious Soft Skills Podcast.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore a variety of topics related to the soft skill of having positive attitude.

Among the topics they address are:

  • What if we bring a negative attitude to a situation
  • The negative effects of creating a hero among teams
  • “Faking it until you make it”
  • Pushing forward despite stumbles
  • Moving past problems
  • Confidence in myself and my team
  • Finding ways to overcome challenges
  • Being honest and open and how to leads to trust among team members
  • How sparks and cobbled together ideas can fuel better outcomes
  • Naysayers never get promoted
  • Not falling into the unrealistic and non-optimistic perspective

Tips for keeping or restoring your positive attitude

1. Set realistic goals and recognize when you achieve them
2. Don’t let setbacks dig into you
3. Be grateful – we all need others to succeed
4. Smile
5. Sleep well and eat well
6. Laugh at yourself
7. Populate your life with positive people
8. Don’t get stuck in the weeds

Next week

We will look at the complicated soft skills of understanding the ethical implications of our decisions.

Yes, it’s shameless self-promotion, but someone has to do it. And Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham finally celebrate the long-awaited release of the paperback version of The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success and explain how reading it will help anyone who works.

 

Among the topics they discuss in this short episode are:

  • How they came up with all 55 soft skills
  • Their surprise at how many soft skills employees use
  • The logic of the book
  • Where employees and leaders can benefit from reading the book
  • How to get the book

Want to buy our book, The 55 Soft Skills That Guide Employee and Organizational Success? Visit Amazon.

Next week

We will go back to our list of 55 soft skills to explain how another one of them works and why it matters in the workplace.

Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham will tackle the soft skill of complying with standards. Sounds boring, right? Well, they’re going to make it interesting. We promise.

Among the topics they will discuss this week are:

  • Why complying with standards is a soft skill
  • The difference between internal and external standards
  • Written and unwritten standards
  • How the subprime mortgage industry breaking key rules caused a financial collapse
  • When standards need to be challenged or questioned
  • How time can require the need to evaluate old standards
  • When to question standards
  • The expectations that organizations have about complying with standards
  • How organizational culture can help with complying with standards

Next week

We will be talking about an important soft skill that forms a foundation for lots of organizational success: client focus.

Our latest Serious Soft Skills Podcast looks at how paying attention to details can help an individual, the team and the organization. But unfortunately, most of us struggle with this important soft skill. Learn why it matters and how to do it better in this episode of Serious Soft Skills.


Cohosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham explore the many important benefits of paying attention to details.

Among the topics they cover:

  • Who benefits from our attention to detail
  • What happens when we don’t pay attention to details
  • How to pay attention to details more effectively
  • Eight hints for better paying attention to details

Next week

The Serious Soft Skills Podcast will explain how complying with standards makes the soft skills list.

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham talk about setting goals and prioritizing, which together make an important soft skills for managers, leaders and any employee.

Setting goals, as in organizing and prioritizing your work, is critical for team success. To make sure everyone is working toward the same overall goal, we need to assign tasks. Those tasks have to be completed on time or else others will be waiting.

Among the topics they address:

  • Examples of where setting goals and prioritizing are critical to achieving results.
  • How most of us have deadlines each day, week or month.
  • Why these goals have to be in sync
  • Tips for setting goals
  • Being SMART

We can set our own priorities in a day, evaluating what needs to be done, what others might need from us, what we need from others. The best employees are updating their priorities as situations change throughout the day. They don’t write a list in pen, but rather in pencil, with an eraser.

Good leaders and managers set realistic priorities and goals for their staff, ideally with their consent and buy-in. Rather than telling people what to do, they work with people to align personal and organizational goals to be the same. This shared vision can be powerful, especially when things go wrong. And they will.

No matter how much we prioritize, things go wrong. How we deal with it — by readjusting — can make or break us and our organizations.

Responding to listeners questions the co-hosts explain why people don’t talk much about soft skills and how often we call on our soft skills, often without even being aware of it.

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham answer questions about soft skills from some of their listeners in this episode.

Among the topics they discuss:

  • How soft skills tend to be overlooked
  • Why people fail to recognize the role of soft skills
  • How combining soft skills with technical skills makes employees and organizations better

Don’t miss our free ebook offer for our ebook, The 55 Soft Skills that Guide Employee and Organizational Success, using a special coupon code that we mention in the middle of this episode.

Next Week

We will be exploring the soft skill of adapting to change and prioritizing and how it helps people be more successful in their jobs.

Enthusiasm is not just a soft skills; it’s an attitude, a choice we make that is often heavily influenced by our workplace culture, but more importantly, success. We’ll discuss how and why enthusiasm is important in every workplace.

Co-hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss the following:

  • The value of enthusiasm and why it’s a soft skill
  • The Fake It Till You Make It reality
  • Enthusiasm is a form of professionalism
  • How optimism fuels enthusiasm
  • Tips for how to look enthusiastic, even when you aren’t
  • Why enthusiasm is infectious and how the opposite is cancerous
  • How team members can help a person who lacks enthusiasm
  • Winston Churchill’s view of enthusiasm and its effect on success
  • Why managers and leaders have to bring the enthusiasm
  • Where journaling and daily reflection can help you retain the enthusiasm
  • Making sure failures don;’t pile up
  • Portraying things to encourage enthusiasm
  • Avoiding manufactured enthusiasm

Next week

We will answer more questions from our listeners on soft skills in their workplace.

This is the last week of our Six Weeks of Serious Soft Skills Strategy and this week we look at a specific job posting and talk about how the employer could have better integrated soft skills into the job posting, valuable information for employers and job seekers.

In this week’s episode, Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss various aspects of integrating soft skills into a job announcement.

Among the topics they discuss are:

  • Getting soft skills into the competencies and qualifications an employee needs
  • How to combine soft skills into one bullet in an employment announcement
  • Taking what’s in the job add and adding a story about your soft skills
  • Talking about a situation that covers lots of soft skills in the cover letter
  • Why a story is worth a thousand promises of what we can do
  • Using an employment advertisement to set good candidates up to succeed
  • How to show growth, not experience, at a job
  • How applicants can read between the lines of a job posting
  • Being a rock versus a rock star
  • Using soft skills to develop the fiber of your organization

Next week

We start the first of two weeks of how to become a Networking Ninja. Networking is an important career skill, encompassing many soft skills. We’ll break it down and give you some real good hints for networking effectively, even if you are an introvert.