Recent years have seen the dawning realization throughout the human resources and management professions that soft skills – employees’ abilities that go beyond the technical knowledge needed to do their jobs – play an important part in setting a workplace up for success. The term “soft skills” encompasses a wide variety of different types of empathy and emotional intelligence. Companies that invest in training specifically aimed at increasing proficiency in these areas may find they have an advantage over competitors who haven’t set the same priorities.
The following are a few valuable soft skills in the workplace. These competencies make a helpful window into the world of soft skills training and the value you gain from ensuring workers’ interpersonal abilities are as advanced as their technical knowledge.
When individuals don’t get their ideas across clearly – or actively choose not to engage with their coworkers – teamwork and overall organizational progress can suffer. Leadership expert M.S. Rao specified via his LinkedIn blog that when professionals haven’t been given the means to express themselves, their miscommunications can easily lead to workplace conflicts. When people aren’t paying attention or learning from one another, they can end up unable to form real teams, and therefore missing out on the productivity benefits of teamwork.
Forbes contributor Kate Hayes pointed out how sometimes employees don’t realize they have communication problems because they are hesitant to examine their own style of speaking and interacting. While it’s common to have an aversion to hearing one’s own voice played back, a little self-reflection can reveal areas where individuals could improve their clarity of expression.
Diversity and empathy
Interacting with others who have diverse backgrounds and perspectives is another part of modern workplace existence that falls in the general realm of soft skills. While it’s possible to assume this is simply something a person can or cannot do, empathy for others can be imparted and enhanced through training. The Harvard Business Review noted that perspective-taking is one of the most effective ways to encourage workers to see through one another’s eyes. This means making individuals imagine how their experience would change if they came from different backgrounds.
Another method endorsed by the HBR is goal-setting. Employees decide on concrete actions they’ll take to improve interacting with diverse coworkers and clients, as they would for more technical or hard skills. HBR authors Alex Lindsey, Eden King, Ashley Membere and Ho Kwan Chang observed improved behaviors and mindsets after giving pupils short-term goals such as speaking up against biased comments when they hear them, instead of letting them pass unchallenged.
While many areas of soft skills are explicitly focused on the ways in which people interact with one another, others are more general. For instance, finding out the solution to a challenging task falls into this category of expertise and learning. Whether working in teams or making progress on their own, employees can specifically learn about the best ways to solve problems and overcome tough tasks.
ELearning Industry contributor Erin Boettge gave an example of teaching problem-solving as its own discipline to improve a company’s help desk efforts. This entailed teaching workers to better define the issues they are facing at any given time and think of other ways to handle the situations. These thinking exercises are valuable because even as the circumstances facing employees change over time, the principles will help them think their way through new issues.
Adding up to leadership
All of the aforementioned capabilities add up to help workers take charge of their teams and embrace the responsibility of leadership. Individuals moving up the chain of command should be able to communicate their ideas to coworkers, empathize with people from diverse backgrounds and take on problems confidently. With a background in soft skills, an employee can step into more important roles and clearly demonstrate a suitability for leadership. Promoting solely based on subject matter knowledge may leave workers unsure of how to direct their teams.
Of course, there are a few soft skills that are especially suitable to leaders and managers. Boettge pointed to delegating as one of the cornerstone abilities training can impart. People who rise through the ranks without realizing how to effectively and fairly pass tasks onto others may end up burdened with too many things to do in a given day, which makes for an overburdened and ineffective leader.
Investing in training
A mindset that only focuses on training in hard, technical skills may balk at using time and budget to educate workers in the finer points of soft skills. However, considering the wide range of important, value-focused issues that are included under the umbrella of soft skills knowledge, the path to success is clear. Employees of all kinds may benefit from refreshers in such vital tasks as communication, empathy, problem-solving and delegating. These topics adapt to many different situations and workplaces and can turn employees into well-rounded team members.