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Book Summary: Stand Out – 5 key skills to advance your career

You’ve heard it before: The skills that matter most in a world where intelligent machines take over routine tasks are soft skills, including emotional intelligence. Robots still have a long way to go until they can be empathetic team players. And as workplaces become more ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse, self-awareness, empathy and the ability to communicate are all the more critical.

This book summary offers a practical five-week program to start honing the skills that make you uniquely human.


Business and Money, Job Hunting and Career Guides, Success Self-Help


The robots aren’t coming – they’re already here. In an increasingly automated world of work, how can you stand out? Soft skills training expert Debra Stevens says the answers lie in developing the qualities and capabilities that make you human. Stevens offers valuable insights into the neglected – but much-needed – skills of engaging with people, listening, empathizing, collaborating and inspiring. A full half of the book comprises a practical five-week program to start developing these capabilities. Stevens’s writing style is breezy and approachable; you’ll read the book in an afternoon. Building the skills will take a lot longer, but the author offers plenty of online resources to assist.

[Book Summary] Stand Out: 5 key skills to advance your career


  • To stand out in the automated workplace of the future, you’ll need uniquely human skills.
  • You can recover and hone the ability to engage with people.
  • Listening represents a foundational skill – one you can improve.
  • Begin to build empathy by developing your awareness of emotions and perspectives.
  • Become a better collaborator by boosting your skills in giving feedback, managing conflict, running meetings and other components of collaboration.
  • Whatever your role or industry, you need to develop the ability to influence people.
  • To develop your skill set, first adopt a growth mind-set.
  • Take responsibility for your own learning and development.


To stand out in the automated workplace of the future, you’ll need uniquely human skills.

The rise of automation is unexpectedly bringing human skills to the fore. Machines can’t do everything – they can’t truly listen, engage with people or collaborate, and they lack the ability to empathize or inspire. And as automation takes over the mundane tasks that humans currently perform, it creates opportunities and entirely new jobs focusing on uniquely human capacities and skills. In the automated future, both work and customer experience could become more enjoyable. For example, nurses and doctors will gain time to listen to patients’ stories, and teachers will be able to attend to individual students’ unique needs. This shift is already taking place across all areas of work.

“If we are to survive automation, we need to shine at being human.”

After decades of prioritizing technical skills, employers are now clamoring for the capabilities that only humans can bring. And as recruiters increasingly seek candidates who possess these uniquely human skills, they’re having trouble finding them. These skills have atrophied in many people, due to the modern world’s social isolation and overreliance on technology to communicate. As the landscape of work changes, five essential skills – engaging with others, listening deeply, empathizing, collaborating in teams and inspiring people – are becoming both critical and in short supply. Respected research reports list these five capabilities over and over; they’re enjoying high demand now and will become even more crucial in the future. In any job, industry and type of work, now and in years to come, you can stand out by excelling at being human.

You can recover and hone the ability to engage with people.

The skill of engaging with people used to come naturally to almost everyone; just being human means, in part, connecting with others. But many people need to reignite or sharpen their ability to connect. And when you learn to go beyond the surface level to connect more deeply, you’ll stand out to employers, colleagues and customers. Being engaging doesn’t mean putting on a façade: People respond to genuineness and vulnerability, while a fake performance of perfection will put them off.

In five days, you can learn how to engage deeply and genuinely, creating a foundation for developing skills in listening, empathy, collaboration and inspiring.

  • Day one – Choose two co-workers you’d like to connect with better: one with whom you already have a warm relationship and one with whom your relationship has remained distant. Spend 10 minutes with each of these people, either in person or virtually, asking questions and listening to their responses.
  • Day two – Take some time to learn about introversion, extroversion and strategies for connecting with each personality type. Find out which type describes you, if you don’t already know. Choose a person who has the opposite personality type and spend five minutes with this person, practicing the strategies and getting to know the person better.

“If we try to compete with robots by being robots, we have no chance. We need to embrace what makes us human.”

  • Day three – Focus on learning to make a strong, positive first impression. Reflect on the elements of a good first impression, including making eye contact. Practice with new people you meet as you go about your day, such as baristas and checkout clerks.
  • Day four – Learn to become a positive, optimistic person who can serve as a role model. Reflect on your current levels of positivity and optimism, as well as ways you could improve them. Choose someone to be your role model for positivity until you can become your own.
  • Day five – Learn techniques to make your conversations more meaningful, and practice these techniques – first with people you already know and then with a stranger.

Listening represents a foundational skill – one you can improve.

True listening means seeking to understand rather than just politely waiting your turn to speak. This kind of listening forms a foundation for building relationships and enables you to influence and inspire people. In five days, you can learn to improve your listening and practice your new skills to have more meaningful conversations.

  • Day one – Think of some people you know whom you consider to be great listeners, and reflect on their listening skills. How do your own compare? Begin a daily practice of spending three minutes in silence, paying attention to your surroundings. Reflect on your obstacles to listening better.
  • Day two – Consider how your personality type affects your listening style. You listen with your eyes, brain and gut as well as with your ears, so practice using all four when you listen.
  • Day three – Assess your active listening skills, including whether and how you use active silence, ask questions, reflect speakers’ emotions and summarize what you hear. Have a conversation with a person you trust, and then ask the person for feedback on your listening.
  • Day four – Reflect on the ways you criticize yourself for poor listening, and then reframe those thoughts to make them positive. Ask three people you consider great listeners to give you suggestions for improving your own skills.
  • Day five – Spend the whole day listening without interrupting. Notice how much you want to interrupt and why. Challenge yourself to start a conversation with a stranger and listen without an agenda.

Begin to build empathy by developing your awareness of emotions and perspectives.

The ability to sense, understand and vicariously experience others’ thoughts and feelings can help you forge deep connections. Research shows empathy also has bottom-line benefits, including boosts to productivity, customer loyalty and recommendations.

“There’s not an article about the future of work that doesn’t mention how massively important empathy is.”

In five days, you can develop a basic understanding of empathy and its benefits, and begin to grow your sensitivity to other people’s thoughts and emotions – and your own.

  • Day one – Reflect on your current understanding of empathy and begin a daily practice of stopping occasionally to become aware of what you’re feeling.
  • Day two – Consider whether you lean more toward thinking or feeling. Start to use questions and reflective statements to make your conversations more empathic.
  • Day three – Reflect on the ways empathy differs from sympathy. Start paying attention to stories that evoke your emotions. Begin gaining new perspectives by exploring new environments.
  • Day four – Learn the basics of body language so you can listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Ask a trusted person to give you feedback about your empathy and nonverbal communication skills.
  • Day five – Start using the GROW template to reach your goals in relationships: Write down your Goal, the other person’s Reality, and Options for moving forward; then write down the Way forward you plan to follow. Reflect on the ways your understanding of empathy has changed.

Become a better collaborator by boosting your skills in giving feedback, managing conflict, running meetings and other components of collaboration.

Collaboration occurs whenever you work with one or more people to accomplish a shared purpose. Few projects of any value happen without collaboration. In five days, you can increase your ability to manage conflict, your skill in giving helpful feedback and other essential components of collaboration.

  • Day one – Reflect on the qualities your team members bring to collaborations. Ask the people you work with to give you feedback on your own qualities and behavior as a team member.
  • Day two – Consider whether you and your team members tend more toward being highly organized or more toward adaptability. Organize a social gathering for your team, either in person or virtual, to help improve your relationships.
  • Day three – To learn about managing conflict, think about a conflict situation you encountered in the past and how you dealt with it. Reflect on your usual ways of approaching (or avoiding) conflict and how you could improve.
  • Day four – Boost your skills in giving feedback by learning to “feed forward”: Focus on the future rather than the past. Practice feeding forward by giving feedback to someone in your team.
  • Day five – Add to your collaboration skills by watching Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on purpose and learning about Edward de Bono’s “thinking hats” approach to running meetings.

Whatever your role or industry, you need to develop the ability to influence people.

Your success at work depends on your ability to capture people’s attention and influence the way they view you, your vision and ideas, or your product or service – so whatever your job title is, you’re also a salesperson. Honing your ability to inspire people will also enhance your personal life, as you’ll become better able to encourage and motivate your friends and family.

“Today, soft skills are having a breakout moment. These enduring, essentially human skills are increasing in value in part because they cannot be replicated by machines.” (Khalid Kark, Bill Briggs, Atilla Terzioglu and Minu Puranik, Deloitte Insights)

In five days, you can start to break down limiting beliefs and learn the basics of ethical influence, including storytelling and presenting.

  • Day one – Reflect on your self-limiting beliefs about your capacity to inspire, and reframe them in a positive way. Choose three inspiring famous people and imagine having a conversation with each of them. Imagine asking them about how they inspire others and listening to their answers.
  • Day two – Learn about the various personality types and the influencing strategies they tend to respond to. Draw a network diagram of the people who matter in your professional life, and choose two people from it to focus on. For each, select a key action in developing the relationship, and start working toward it.
  • Day three – Learn about the three Ps approach to ethical selling and influencing, which focuses on asking questions to create a Pull, citing facts to create a Push and describing the Potential value of the item. Practice this approach by choosing a book you like and attempting to influence people to read it.
  • Day four – Boost your ability to use storytelling to inspire by watching David J.P. Phillips’s TED Talk on the subject. Then write a brief story illustrating your own purpose, beliefs, self-concept or principles.
  • Day five – Applying everything you’ve learned so far, write down information about your audience – the people you want to inspire – and how you want to inspire them. Then write down your core message, your story, the three Ps of your message and a list of ways you can make your message memorable. End with a call to action. Use these notes as the basis for a presentation. Rehearse it and ask for feedback.

To develop your skill set, first adopt a growth mind-set.

Your mind-set will have a strong influence on your ability to achieve professional and personal development. If you have a fixed mind-set, you believe your abilities and intelligence can’t really change. With this belief, you’ll struggle to learn new skills; trying to improve will feel like a sure path to failure. For people who hold a fixed mind-set, making a mistake or receiving constructive feedback can seem like a nightmare, because these individuals feel helpless to improve.

“Everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” (research psychologist Carol Dweck)

In contrast, a growth mind-set means you believe you can change things about yourself by learning and practicing skills and by seeking input and help from others. For someone with a growth mind-set, making a mistake or receiving feedback might still feel uncomfortable, but it’s not the end of the world. These individuals regard mistakes and constructive criticism as opportunities to develop and grow. In areas where you struggle, a growth mind-set will enable you to improve. Just imagine what applying a growth mind-set to skills you’re already good at could make possible. You have the power to change your mind-set. Adopting a growth mind-set will increase your resilience – and your attractiveness to employers. So whenever you feel that something isn’t within your capabilities or just “isn’t you,” try shifting from this fixed mind-set to a growth mind-set.

Take responsibility for your own learning and development.

Many businesses don’t have the resources to fully support their employees’ learning and growth – and change in the work world happens so fast, it’s hard for organizations to keep up. You’ll have to take charge of your own development. You can start by working through the exercises to develop skills in engaging with people, listening, empathizing, collaborating and inspiring. As you proceed, be gentle with yourself – don’t beat yourself up for mistakes or failures. Solicit feedback only from people you trust, and if it’s negative, don’t take it personally – instead, apply it for your growth.

“People who seek constructive feedback adapt more quickly to new roles, are higher performers, are seen as more committed to their work and…stand out.”

Push yourself to stretch. The exercises will require you to take steps outside your comfort zone, and in the process, you’ll see that you really can change your thoughts and build your skills. Take time to reflect on your efforts, successes, discoveries and challenges. Keeping a journal of your development will help reinforce your growth mind-set.

About the author

Debra Stevens is the founder of Dramatic Training Solutions, specializing in communication, behavior, leadership and other soft skills. She is also the author of Brilliant Customer Service.

Debra Stevens is the founder of Dramatic Training Solutions a specialist soft skills training company covering all aspects of communication, behaviour and leadership. Debra has over 25 years of experience working with large companies globally across 6 continents. She has trained 10’s of thousands of people in soft skills and has worked with companies such as Coca-Cola, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Royal Bank of Scotland, Pearson Education and Stena Ferries. Her style of training is always immersive, real and human and her coaching is compassionate and honest. She is passionate about helping people find authentic ways to connect with others, which she believes have always been important but will become, essential for survival in the new workplace.

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