How to be human at work… what the?

A recent trip afforded me the rare luxury of time to read and catch up on recent TED Talks. It struck me that there was a consistent message underlying many of these – that as technology gradually infiltrates more and more of what we do, we are at risk of losing our humanity, of how to be human.

Dominant themes in the latest articles and opinion pieces include: whose jobs will be lost to AI, how to compete for jobs with robots, how to be more ‘human’, and how to foster deeper connections with our colleagues.

Even the very notion of what work means is changing thanks to AI. During the Industrial Age, work became characterised as a series of tasks. Now, if the sequence of such tasks can be adequately described, they theoretically can be performed by artificial intelligence.

And much is being written and discussed about the consequences of such technological change on workers and the workplace – and top of the list is dislocation. Jobs will alter; some will no longer exist. In one TED talk[i] , computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee notes that in future the only thing that will distinguish us from AI, will be our humanness. Not our intelligence, but the emotional advantages – such as compassion – as well as the warts-and-all shortcomings of being, well… human.

 

An odd reminder

Yesterday, a message arrived in my email inbox with the subject line “How to be human at work”. It was selling a suite of books on emotional intelligence. I found this sell-line somewhat troubling. Have we become so disconnected from each other in this age of chat technologies and virtual working, that we actually need to be reminded of something as fundamental as ‘being human’? It reminded me of a similar expression I’ve heard: “Bring your whole self to work”. As if we have the option of leaving some of our “self” at home?

 

Connection

At the core of what makes us human is our need for connection with other people, as well as our skills to make those connections. Another TED speaker, the German-American author and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Leberecht[ii], spoke of our need for “intimacy” in our work relationships – and for these to have a real depth of relationship and trust. It’s not the quantity but the quality of connection that counts, he said.

One of the most important work relationships is the one we have with our boss. I have noticed a barrage of articles and research studies recently about the stress impact of toxic managers and even just downright inept managers[iii].

So, having good quality relationships at work is important but, in this fast-moving tech era, they are becoming increasingly challenging for us to maintain. We are all struggling to find time for true human connection and perhaps we are even losing the art of conversation. Just observe in any cafe or restaurant how many of us are disengaged from our companions, lost in our mobile phones instead. Even within our company, team-mates prefer to connect via chat messaging apps rather than actually speaking to each other.

 

Meaningful conversation

In one of our recent blogs, we warned that “flash”, “just in time” and “speed” mentoring are all valid and perhaps useful methods of transferring knowledge from one person to another, but they are not true mentoring. True mentoring occurs within relationships. Not in a 10-minute speed mentoring merry-go-round session, or in an online “ask a mentor” Q&A exchange. And at the heart of a mentoring relationship – indeed, any effective relationship – is meaningful conversation. It worries me that we are losing the art of conversation, something that is so fundamental to being human. And we are not giving ourselves the time for the deep reflection that can happen during developmental dialogue.

 

How to be human 

If we are to safeguard our employees’ wellbeing and maintain flourishing organisations, as business leaders it is up to us to ensure that we don’t lose our humanity. That we work hard to create work environments in which true human connectedness is encouraged and rewarded.

As I think about what that might mean in the next year for Art of Mentoring, I am looking for ways to bring our whole team together in a more meaningful way. This is so that we can share ideas, learn from one another, but even more importantly, so that we can have better dialogue, and connect at a deeper level with members of our geographically dispersed team. I am even, dare I say, thinking of banning our chat technology. But that might cause a rebellion.

 

Running a mentoring program with those that have forgotten to be “human”?
Our online mentor and mentee training guides and coaches the distinctly ‘human’ aspects of conversation and questioning so you get the most out of your investment

 

© Melissa Richardson 2018

[i] https://www.ted.com/talks/kai_fu_lee_how_ai_can_save_our_humanity#t-345940

[ii] https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_leberecht_4_ways_to_build_a_human_company_in_the_age_of_machines/transcript?language=en

[iii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/is-your-boss-making-you-sick/2014/10/20/60cd5d44-2953-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6128fadccf52

Image: Designed by rawpixel.com / Freepik