When Lorna Hall was working as a cub reporter in England, she was sent out alone to interview Nobel Prize-winning Lord of the Flies author William Golding at his home. Aged just 20 at the time, Hall had not read any of Golding’s books, and was vividly aware of how unprepared she was: “I do remember the terror.”
Golding’s house had a long driveway with a turning circle at the end of it. When Hall arrived in her scruffy company car, the temptation to turn around and leave immediately overcame her.
“I drove up, went round in a circle and drove back out. I thought, ‘Maybe I can tell them he wasn’t home.’”
Many young people these days are immersed in technology and don’t often encounter situations in which they’re forced to develop “soft skills” by overcoming social anxiety, Hall says. She believes people don’t naturally have the kinds of skills which smooth their introductions to intimidating strangers (or customers), so in the future, those who take the trouble to build these skills will be in demand.
Hall says that increasing automation in retail, and many other industries, will make “the human element” a more valuable part of customer service and executive management.
“You’ll employ less people, but the type of people you’ll employ will be the people with these soft skills.”
The best way to combat social anxiety, Hall says, is to face it. She has found that often, others can be sympathetic to somebody who’s clearly nervous: “People will give you a break.”
After fleeing Golding’s residence, Hall says, she spent some five minutes driving home before bravely changing her mind and returning. She felt very apprehensive when knocking on Golding’s door, but in a stroke of luck, Golding’s wife answered it.
“She basically said, ‘William, you’re going to talk to this young reporter.’ He was a bit standoffish but his wife made sure I got what I needed.”
This story originally appeared in NZRetail magazine issue 744 June / July 2016