The best employees are not only great at what they’ve been hired to do, they also know how to get along with people fantastically.
If hard skills can be defined as one’s ability to perform a certain task — say, the engineer’s ability to code — soft skills can be defined as the intangible traits that enable certain folks to deeply connect with their colleagues and clients on a personal level.
Strong soft skills correlate with emotional intelligence (EQ). The better your soft skills, the more you understand how to respond to the folks around you.
Soft skills include:
Hard skills can be refined over time. Think of the professional baseball player who continues to take batting practice five times a week even those he’s been in the major leagues for 15 years. Soft skills, on the other hand, are not acquired in a similar manner. Some folks possess these skills naturally others can learn them. They can remain hard, but not impossible, for others to grasp.
The better an employee’s soft skills, the more effective worker they’ll be. When staffers have strong soft skills, not only will they be able to masterfully manage their relationships with clients, they’ll also get along swimmingly with their colleagues — which is important, because as we noted in our 2015 Engagement Report, coworkers are the number one thing employees like about their jobs. The stronger your team’s soft skills are, the more camaraderie you’ll have. It’s that simple.
Soft skills are critical. So how do you go about helping your employees develop them?
The most important soft skill to have, arguably, is the ability to communicate effectively in a variety of settings — from a phone conversation with a client to a speech in front of a group of people. While public speaking comes naturally for some people, research suggests 74% of us suffer from speech anxiety.
To help your employees become better at communicating, give them the opportunity to speak in front of an appropriately sized group. For your shier employees, that could entail giving a presentation in front of the team during a regularly scheduled weekly meeting. For the more extroverted, it could mean arranging for an employee to be on a panel at a major conference.
We’ve all hand bosses who were standoffish. It’s not exactly easy to develop personal relationships with those types of individuals. When you take an active interest in the lives of your employees, however, real connections can blossom. Lead by example and show your employees how it’s done. Get to know them and make sure they get to know you. You’ll develop a tighter bond. It’s EQ 101.
Being a great orator is half the battle. To truly connect with someone else, it’s not enough to pretend to be listening to what they’re saying. You have to digest the words — and respond to them. The easiest way to teach the importance of listening is by demonstration. When your employees are talking to you, pause to absorb their words. Let your responses be dictated by what they say.
When one of your workers tells you they want to take on an additional responsibility, by all means, encourage them to do it (assuming, of course, it’s a reasonable suggestion). When employees show initiative, the last thing you want to do is discourage them. Don’t make them put up walls where none need to exist.
Employees who are interested in learning new things should work in other departments on an occasional basis — at the very least. Not only does this help employees develop new abilities, it also helps them sharpen their soft skills by forcing them to interact with folks they probably don’t talk to on a regular basis. All of a sudden that engineer you’ve never said hi to becomes your best friend. As an added bonus, employees will develop even stronger communications and collaboration skills along the way.
Studies show that millennials are very interested in holding jobs that support their professional development aspirations. Before your older employees retire, consider creating a mentorship program and pairing them with your younger staffers. That way, not only will your current employees’ knowledge be passed on to the next generation, both your older and younger team members will benefit from a fresh perspective.
Establishing a mentorship program is one thing. Devoting resources to send your employees to relevant conferences or workshops so that they can develop additional industry-specific skills is quite another.
Investing in your employees’ professional education proves that your relationship is more than just an exchange of time and effort for money. This makes the job feel less like an obligation and more like an opportunity. Your employees will meet new people, learn new things, and be greeted by new environments and conversations.
No matter the industry or company, employees won’t always agree on everything. That’s just the way it is. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to solve the most major problems that are facing your department or team. But that doesn’t mean you need to have the final say on everything. Help your employees develop their soft skills by letting teams come to conclusions and agreements on their own.
You’ve hired employees for a specific reason: you trust they’re able to get their work done. Let your team figure out the best approach to certain problems. Working toward a successful conclusion together without your help will give them the confidence — and improved soft skills — needed to repeat a similar outcome in the future.