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Why there’s nothing soft about soft skills

Source | LinkedIn : By Alistair Cox

Why are soft skills, called ‘soft skills’? This is something I’ve never really understood. In my experience, they’re anything but soft and are often the hardest skills to attain. After all, the best technical skills and qualifications in the world can be taught, but they will have limited impact unless your business is equipped with managers who understand what motivates their employees, can communicate with their team effectively and listen. What frustrates me is that these so called ‘soft skills’, or what some label emotional intelligence (EQ), are often underappreciated and in some cases even ignored by many organisations.

In my opinion, the term ‘soft skills’ completely undersells their fundamental importance. Strong soft skills enable a leader to better understand, motivate and direct people, and as a result their teams are often more focused, productive and happier. Research from Rutgers University found leaders with higher EQ delivered greater profits – 139 per cent higher in one study – as well as higher customer satisfaction levels. I therefore find it staggering that while there is so much focus on technical skills, developing these crucial soft skills is not a higher priority for many in the business world. Recalling my own time at business school, precious little time was spent on developing these skills and while that may have changed in the last 25 years, it still does not get the attention it deserves.

So here are four ways I think leaders can ensure they are keeping on top of their softer skills and promoting the value of high EQ within their organisations:

  • Prioritise visibility – It’s all too easy for staff to hide behind email and shun face-to-face interactions, but everyone in your team should be seen to be accessible (including you) – this promotes better team working and heightened communication skills. As a business leader, you should set an example and actively demonstrate that interpersonal skills carry as much currency within your organisation as technical knowledge. I was once told by my boss at the time “It’s not about who you are, it’s about how you are, that makes a difference in a team”. I’ll never forget that advice. Ensuring you and your managers are visible and accessible, by simply walking the floor to discuss issues with staff face-to-face or dropping into the office canteen to join a team for lunch, for example, motivates and encourages employees to do the same. I’ve always believed that it’s often these unplanned face-to-face connections which prove most valuable in understanding the real mood of the business too.

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