By: Rajeev Bhardwaj
Let’s start this with a pertinent question! Among two colleagues who are equally good at their jobs, whom will you approach for help in a crisis situation – the one who is congenial and helpful or the one who comes across as unforthcoming and vexed? The answer here is quite apparent.
A sympathetic, approachable individual is what makes for a good team. Technical skills can always be improved if the employee is willing to learn and absorb. However, it is rather difficult to teach soft skills to an individual. In a highly competitive and tough to survive the corporate world, soft skills might appear to be an understated requirement. However, one cannot do without them. You might be the best programmer in your organization, but if you are unable to communicate well with your team, gel with your colleagues and fail to maintain a good equation with your clients, your technical prowess is going to get you only so far.
Why soft skills matter?
Soft skills can broadly be divided into two aspects. First is the ability to work upon yourself with endurance and determination to constantly upgrade your capacity, while second is people skills. As human beings, our entire life is comprised of interactions with other people. This is why the ability to get along with people is one of the most important factors that will determine an individual’s success as well as happiness. Soft skills are a set of skills that essentially determine your ability to communicate and get along with others. Empathy, generosity, patience, tolerance and an ability to put your point across (howsoever critical) without creating conflicts, are a bunch of very important skill sets. You must not only be able to communicate with cohesion but also be willing to listen to the other point of view and accommodate good suggestions from wherever they come.
Good people skills also comprise an ability to relate to others on a personal or professional level, a willingness to work together toward the common cause and a penchant for finding sustainable solutions to all sorts of problems. How to manage and resolve conflicts and tough situations at work is another critical component of good people skills needed among employees.
It is not difficult to understand why this critical skill set matters for an employee. Team leaders and managers invest a lot of time and energy in building cohesive and functional teams. A substantial amount of time is also spent on preventing and defusing conflicts at work. As you move up the workforce ladder and start handling more people, you come to realize that the above mentioned soft skills are a necessity. Honesty and integrity might not technically be fit to be categorized as soft skills, yet they also hold a lot of importance in christening an individual’s personality and amenability.
Emotional Quotient and Leadership
Emotional intelligence is a concept that gained worldwide attention after the publication of psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman’s book of the same name in 1995. In a world that valued IQ (Intelligence Quotient) to the core, Goleman propounded a theory that ‘of the competencies required for excellence in performance in the job studies, 67 percent were emotional competencies’. Goleman’s theory in a way turned the traditional notion of a business leader upside down – from a performance oriented and emotionally detached individual to a person who was empathetic, involved and deeply connected with emotions – his own as well as his team’s.
Emotional intelligence or the ability to be in control of your own emotions while handling interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically is highly critical for a business leader. High levels of intelligence and ability of logical reasoning are factors that tremendously help in the initial phases of your career. However, as you move up to the middle management and top leadership positions, your success becomes a function of technical prowess and your ability to connect and motivate the people around. People handling becomes part of your core job and this is where your ability to establish a bond is put to test. Gelling with colleagues, leading them with empathy and treating conflict situations with a lot of maturity is directly dependent on your emotional quotient.
In recent years, shifting workplace demographics have led to the emergence of a predominantly younger workforce in the corporate sector. Handling a largely millennial workforce comes with its own challenges and requires a high degree of interpersonal touch. The emphasis today is on how to create an egalitarian workplace and this cannot happen without leaders displaying sound people skills.
How should organizations nurture soft skills?
Unfortunately, no school or degree teaches its students how to grow into more empathetic, compassionate, generous and curious individuals. Our highly merit-oriented competition-driven education system doesn’t even place any significant value on cultivating soft skills.
Recruitment is a critical phase where organizations can identify candidates who display better soft skills. How one conducts during the entire recruitment cycle, whether the candidate handles difficult situations in a good way or makes the tough salary negotiation in a pleasing and unprovocative manner are factors that give an indication of an individual’s soft skills.
Apart from giving importance to these factors during recruitment, organizations must make soft skills an important element of all Learning and Development (L&D) programs.
Investing in training modules that not only train employees in building strong teams but also put emphasis on creating egalitarian and inclusive workplaces are important elements of nurturing soft skills in an organization.