The old-school skills that still matter in the workplace

Thursday 01 August 2019
Knowing how to send a fax may no longer be necessary, but some traditional interpersonal and communication skills are still very relevant in the workplace. Here are some skills that your employer will (or should) still look for…
Laptop next to a type writer

Thanks to the internet and digital technology, we can worker faster and more efficiently-- but sometimes it’s more appropriate, or even necessary, to do things the old-school way to get the best results.


Thanks to email and instant messaging, we can stay in touch all the time. We’ve all been included in lengthy email chains where few things get resolved: questions can go unanswered or overlooked, and often more questions pop up along the way. Picking up the phone to speak with someone directly can not only achieve the end result more quickly, but also avoids misunderstandings. The key to productive phone calls is to prepare your questions in advance, and finish the conversation by making sure both of you have understood the next steps or action points. There are also times when writing a letter will make a greater impact. It’s memorable and surprising, demonstrates a personal and authentic touch, and doesn’t get caught out by spam filters; in a world where most communication is through a screen, the personal touch of a letter can sometimes go a long way. If you do decide to pen an actual letter, play to the strengths of the format. Make it sincere. Say the things that matter or that need to be said.


It wasn’t that long ago that the prevailing attitude was to 'make do and mend' instead of today’s more wasteful throw-away mentality. Next time something – or someone – in your office is acting up, see if you can fix it first before walking away. You’ll be surprised how easy, and even satisfying, it can be. Similarly, repairing relationships that have fractured is a key part of being a successful manager, so tap into your emotional intelligence to repair client or team relations before calling it quits. When communication or relationships break down, reframe how you’re approaching the situation and focus on repairing the situation rather than fanning the flames.


We've all experienced the panic when the wi-fi stops working, or the electricity supply goes out . On the upside, one of the best things about not having internet access is that it gives you the opportunity to develop your offline information skills. Taking a few moments to think about what information you need, and how you are going to look for it – an information search strategy – can save you a lot of wasted effort.

For example, why not take advantage of the downtime by seeking some of that information you need from your coworkers? An internet outage could be the perfect time to get your team together to brainstorm, catch up on the status of everyone's projects, and find out schedules or issues that you may not normally be aware of. Or, try hunting down solutions in books and magazines. These days, with everyone instantly looking online for answers (and often looking in the same places), you can differentiate yourself and your content by drawing on sources such as books, journals and magazines.


In a world driven by numbers, and with data playing an increasingly large part in our day-to-day working lives, reinforce the value of the human element by weaving the data into a story. This is a feature that no data analysis tools have. Compare your data points to previous (or future) projects; evaluate and explain what you’ve learned, the patterns of human behaviour you have analysed, and what your team has taken away from projects - successful or otherwise. Charts and trends are useful visual tools of data analysis - but only you can make the data really talk, and only you can relay to your team and superiors the lessons you’ve learned along the way. So how do you make the data human? How do you find the story in the numbers?

Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. Begin yours by choosing the appropriate set of data. Then think of the person who will be listening to your ‘story’ – a customer, client, line manager or supplier – and create a narrative around actual situations or problems they face, using the data to support your story. Finally, suggest solutions to these problems that involve your products or services, interacting with your ‘listener’ on ways to address the problem. You may find it helpful to use data visualisation tools, such as Tableau, to provide illustrations for your story. Or you could even draw a sketch. Now that’s old school…

Want to know more about what skills are valuable in the workplace today? Read up on the new skills that are required in the modern workplace.

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