Interpersonal skills such as active listening and empathy are important qualities for any employee to have, but they are "rarely taught in business school or a corporate setting." Just how important is it for your people to have and to use these soft skills in your company?
Why are soft skills important?
When 2,100 American CFOs were polled in an Accountemps survey, many said that a failure to advance at work was caused by poor interpersonal skills (30%) and poor work ethic (25%). That said, 77% of CFOs consider developing soft skills to be a challenge.
This dilemma sounds like a rock and a hard place; soft skills are necessary as the foundation for career advancement, effective leadership, and strong work ethic. As CFO Magazine puts it, “there's nothing easy about mastering the soft skills they say are essential, and which seem to boil down to clairvoyance, x-ray vision, and the ability to bend time.”
The importance of soft skills was cemented in Daniel Goleman's 1995 best-seller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman accumulated and interpreted psychological research to show that "EQ," or emotional intelligence quotient, contributes to success in work and life more than IQ.
The great news is that Goleman believes that EQ can be developed and improved upon with the right training. Luckily, you won't need to have any supernatural powers in order to be an effective leader, but a mindful shift in interpersonal and management style is required.
Emotional intelligence is important to every level of an organization, and thus everyone—from computer programmers to executive management—can benefit from employing soft skills in the workplace.
Generally, soft skills refer to interpersonal communication skills such as connection-building and empathy, self-awareness in handling constructive feedback, self-regulation in controlling their emotions and reactions in stressful situations, and resilience and self-motivation in the face of change, obstacles, and failure.
In hard economic times, any soft skill training offered might be the first cut made, with technical skill training taking precedence. However, there are ways to make a smarter investment when considering soft skills training for a workforce.
Here are some tips that team members, managers, and leaders can put into practice in the workplace right away before exploring any outside soft skills training programs.
Practicing soft skills in the workplace
Active listening in teamwork
Active listening is when you have such a strong interest to understand someone that you feel the act of understanding rests as much on your shoulders as it does on the speaker's shoulders.
According to Harvard Business Review, this first step of active listening involves "recognizing all verbal and nonverbal cues, including tone, facial expressions, and other body language signals." The second step is to ensure that you are understanding and remembering what is being said by giving "appropriate replies through verbal acknowledgments, deep and clarifying questioning, or paraphrasing."
In a business setting, active listening is vital when collaborating together with work colleagues. At your next meeting with your team members, make a concentrated effort to be mindful of your colleagues’ verbal and nonverbal communication cues and to acknowledge their presence and their contributions by actively responding to what they have to offer.
For management, it's crucial to manage their people in emotionally intelligent ways to meet and exceed their needs by incorporating the appropriate soft skills into their management style. In order to show understanding to employees, it's important to take their challenges into consideration and do the best to support their good work and ambitions within the company.
According to surveys conducted by PsychTests, Over 30% of people would leave their jobs due to poor work-life balance and limited opportunities for advancement. As a way of preventing this from affecting the workforce, offering benefits such as flextime and work-from-home options may help some employees improve their work-life balance, while recognition and mentorship may help some employees advance in their careers in the way they wish.
Lead by example
For leadership, this includes applying active listening and a deep understanding of work challenges to every relationship in the workplace, from the customer support staff to the CEO.
As much as possible, leaders should be available (within reason) to any employees that you work with, as this will provide the opportunity to understand and learn from their people. Knowing when to lead and when to get out of the way can be difficult, but making the right decision will make everyone's life easier by getting projects completed on time.
Everyone brings differing levels of soft skills and emotional intelligence to the workplace. Just as technical abilities are important in the workforce, soft skill training is also a necessary investment to make, and a leader must recognize there will be a return on investment over time.