Eyeing off an advantage in workplace
AN age-old children’s game could be the secret to building a high performance team as social skills become increasingly sought in the workplace.
Recruiter and leadership performance coach Mike Irving believes a version of the staring contest – where eye contact is reciprocated between two people until one person blinks – is a great way for both children and adults to learn empathy.
“Mobile devices and tablets are taking our attention away from human interaction to focus on screens, losing our ability to recognise non-verbal communication cues from other people,” he says.
“Children aged 5 to 16 spend on average 6½ hours a day looking at a screen and adults more so.
“This is having a huge impact on relationships at home and in the office, particularly as workers with exceptional social skills will be the most sought-after in the next 10 years, overtaking those with qualifications.”
Irving says if people don’t learn to observe and decipher facial expressions, tone, posture and body language, they can lose the ability to create meaningful relationships, particularly in the workforce with colleagues and customers.
“A US study on a group of sixth graders tested their empathy before a five-day camping vacation in the bush with no technology and then again afterwards,” he says.
“The results showed not only noticeably improved levels of empathy but also intelligence as a lack of human interaction has a dumbing down effect on all of us.
“Being willing to make eye contact is a great starting point. This helps you improve your ability to observe their emotional experience and get to know when they’re engaged in the conversation. It also helps to know when they are not and how to get their attention.”
To avoid seeming too childish, Irving recommends a slight change to the staring contest. Instead of staring until someone blinks, just make eye contact for 10 minutes.
“It’s not a competition that way. Instead, it’s a way for adults to really see and be with another person, helping to understand their emotions and even the ability to improve problem solving with that interaction,” he says.
Other ways to improve communications and empathy skills include being present, turning devices off, observing, being interested and not judging.