People Skills

Every job requires a range of skills, thought Shama. Even in this age of specialization, you can’t just be a one trick pony. The world is always changing. Jobs of the Future was the program he had created to develop vital skills in the local community. His task was to support lifelong learning.

Shama had not done much learning himself, or at least not in the traditional sense. He’d had only casual jobs in the city, construction, telesales and retail, and had recently come to Lucerne, where due to a shortage of professional people, he’d been given two jobs despite being qualified for neither. He was now Building Control Officer and Training Director.

Some hasty research indicated a shift in the way that people worked these days. Even twenty years ago, it was all about the Big Boss, the guy at the top who made all the decisions and passed them down, however half-baked. The job of an underling was to obey his whims without back-chat, even if the idea was totally the wrong thing to do.

Advances in Human Relations taught people to understand themselves better; to talk effectively and empathize accurately; to build relationships of trust, respect and productive interactions. The result could be powerful teamwork. However it could also become decision-making by committee, causing regression to the lowest common denominator.

The tide had turned back towards the Authoritarian camp. Tech companies especially were run by monsters who whipped their staff to keep inventing new needs and new products. They didn’t have the vision to create products that lasted, and to build lasting relationships, so every year they must make new things. Maybe that was just the nature of capitalism, a system driven by eternal dissatisfaction.

Jobs of the Future would require people skills for sure. But should they be used to create products, or build relationships, or maybe both?

Shama utilized his people skills to buzz Sue. The Village Hall receptionist was always his first port of call. He asked her, “How can we improve people skills?”

She said, “The trick is listening. It’s always that. My grandma used to say ‘Be the first to listen and the last to speak’. That way you speak appropriately.”

“But someone has to speak first. Otherwise it becomes a comedy of manners.” He put on an English accent. “You first. No, no, you first. I insist, Sir, you first. You are no gentleman, you insult me, you first. What do you take me for, a barbarian? You first, or I shall be forced to engage in violence towards your person!” Shama became self-conscious and stopped. His grandpa used to repeat that routine; he had memorized it without realizing.

“Yes, someone needs to speak,” said Sue. “But someone also needs to listen.”

People skills had a dark side. Those lacking them were unable to manage their stress levels, or to create supportive social connections. This led to their isolation and frustration, maybe violent and self-destructive behavior, and even death.

“I have a plan,” said Shama, and discussed it with her.

They set up a network of listening posts around the village. They were wirelessly connected, and held enough charge to run for a month. Each was connected to a third-world response centre.

Pushing a button alerted an Indian, Kenyan, Filipino or Peruvian worker, who would then try hard to sell you something. Your job was to hear them out, and then using all the information you had gathered, to sell them something instead.

“How’s it going?” Sue asked at the end of the second week.

“It could be better,” said Shama, “but we have sold four vacations, three horses, two tractors, and many tons of potatoes so far. We have some very good listeners in this village.”

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