Do You Play Well with Others?Do You Play Well with Others?

Do You Play Well With Others?

If you want to be more valuable to your current employer or a new one this year, get better at playing well with others. Before you send an e-mail, utter or write a word on paper, think about how it might affect the recipient. No matter what your field, how large or small your company, whether you work with people, products or ideas, whether you are 25 or 55, you need to do this well this year and for many to come: Play well with others.

Hardly anyone asks me, "What are the hottest skills to have this year?" which would be much more useful than asking, "What are the hottest jobs?"—which is what most people ask.

The hottest jobs go in and out of style and don't necessarily fit you, and what you'd like to do and be good at. More bad careers get launched based on what's hot one year and not the next.

But hottest skills? That's another story. Many, like problem solving and analyzing, don't go out of style, but one skill in particular that employers have been harping on for years is hotter than ever.

So, you ask, what's the hottest skill to have this year? I'm glad you asked. Because it is a skill that few have mastered, yet every employer desires. No matter what your field, how large or small your company, whether you work with people, products or ideas, whether you are 25 or 55, you need to do this well this year and for many to come: Play well with others. Now before you get all well-who-doesn't-know-that? on me, let's look at what this entails, which means that you:

1. Can actually speak and write in a way that customers, clients and others know what you mean and you communicate often enough so they don't feel left out in the cold.

2. Can work through difficult issues with customers, clients and co-workers without screaming at one another.

3. Know how to get your point across and preserve the relationship at the same time.

Most people stink at this, in part because few think about what it really means. They simply call it people skills—which doesn't tell you anything. And for years, companies have lumped it under soft skills, making it seem less pertinent than things like developing strategies and budgets and project management.

A lot of people also miss this important nuance: everything is personal. It doesn't matter if you're developing software, preparing someone's taxes or launching an advertising campaign. You're still discussing your work with people, getting buy-in and input, enlisting help and giving feedback to people—who take things personally. I don't care if it is business and you say they shouldn't—they do.

In his book, The World Is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman talks about this important ability to play well with others, saying, "Although having good people skills has always been an asset in the working world, it will be even more so in a flat world," which refers to the concept of his book—competing on a level playing field in the 21st century.

"There are going to be a whole slew of new middle jobs that involve personalized, high-touch interactions with other human beings," he says, "because it is precisely those personalized high-touch interactions that can never be outsourced or automated and are almost always necessary at some point in the value chain."

If you want to be more valuable to your current employer or a new one this year, get better at playing well with others. Before you send an e-mail, utter or write a word on paper, think about how it might affect the recipient. How will they see this? What do you need to say to be diplomatic and move things forward so people will be productive instead of upset, uncooperative or vindictive? What does this person need to hear from you? You'll get good practice by treating people for what they are—creatures with emotions—and add a valuable credential to your repertoire of skills.

Andrea Kay is the author of "Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers: 9 Steps to Get Out of Your Funk and On To Your Future." Send questions to her at 2692 Madison Road, No. 133, Cincinnati, Ohio 45208; www.andreakay.com. E-mail: andrea@andreakay.com.