The world’s spinning with change and chatbots, and businesses are responding by developing the soft skills that will keep them relevant. The best part is, it’s working! Employees with high emotional intelligence (EQ) are better performers1, and organizations that foster soft skills like collaboration are outperforming2 those that don’t.
So, you’ll just make sure that all new hires are soft skill superheroes, right? Hmm, not exactly. You see, a recent study by LinkedIn found that almost 60% of hiring managers in the U.S. struggle to find candidates with soft skills. The good news is that developing soft skills in the workplace is possible, and we’re going to tell you how.
How to develop soft skills in the workplace
Developing soft skills is a (sometimes uncomfortable) process, because employees must first engage in a little self-reflection before they’ll know which soft skills training they need. This can be tough, but also rewarding. Let’s explore how to improve soft skills at work with a few simple strategies.
1. Develop a learning mindset
Developing soft skills like resilience, emotional intelligence and agility is a great way to make your workforce change-ready. But first, how can you prepare employees for the very personal change that comes with learning soft skills?
After all, you can’t force employees to be self-aware, or to accept their ‘softer’ shortcomings. And you certainly can’t force them to engage in training. What you can do, though, is to explain the importance of soft skills in the workplace.
Help employees understand that soft skills will improve their performance, and that soft skills can be learned. Give them simple examples of soft skills in the workplace, like active listening, and ask them to consider how these skills impact their employee experience. This will open their minds to the soft skills training to come.
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2. Encourage self-reflection
You won’t know how to improve soft skills in the workplace until you know which soft skills need improvement. So, before you start assigning training to employees, it’s important to figure out which soft skills development training each employee needs most.
Encourage employees to reflect on the soft skills they’re already good at, and to be honest with themselves about the skills that could use some work. Often , a combination of self-assessment and 360-degree feedback is the best way to identify employees’ soft skills gaps.
3. Expand knowledge and understanding
Sometimes, all it takes is a little education to get employees to realize that they aren’t being as sociable, communicative, or positive as they could be. Seminars and training programs offered at local events or conventions can be a great way to teach employees what soft skills development is, and why it matters.
Or, if your employees are tech-savvy Millennials, remote workers, or frequently on the move, offer them online training. Trade the boardroom for a learning management system (LMS) that makes the development of soft skills fun and engaging (more on that next).
4. Leverage powerful LMS software
There’s no reason to leave the office (or go to the office) when your employees can learn from anywhere. With the help of powerful Learning Management Software, soft skills training courses are accessible, engaging and fun no matter where the learner is, or what device they’re using.
eLearning has proven to be one of the most effective options there is for developing soft skills in the workplace, and has helped countless companies to train busy, dispersed teams. All you need is the right LMS!
5. Provide opportunities for practice
Practice! This is how to develop soft skills in employees. After all, it would be pointless to develop employees’ collaboration skills and then isolate their work responsibilities. Instead, give them the opportunity to take their new skills for a test drive.
Outdoor retreats provide a fun and risk-free environment to practice soft skills like teamwork, collaboration and communication. Opt-in assignments give employees the chance to practice problem-solving and creative thinking skills. Or, leverage the features of your LMS, like simulations and branching scenarios, to give employees life-like settings without the usual risks.
6. Offer feedback, often
Once your employees are on track towards developing their soft skills in the workplace, the best way for you to help them as a leader or manager is by offering periodic feedback.
Soft skills development is an incredibly slow process, because it requires a change of personality and habit, rather than a change of knowledge. So, gently guide your employees down the right path and don’t punish them when they veer away every now and then. After some time, they should be well on their way towards possessing a set of effective soft skills.
If you’re not sure how to identify soft skills in practice, don’t panic. We’ll be looking at that next.
What are soft skills in the workplace?
Unless you’ve just found the internet, you’ve probably heard of soft skills before. The question is, do you know how to identify them, both in others and yourself? Soft skills are about how you think and act rather than what you know, and there’s many of them! Here are some of those that we think are quite important for the workplace. (Head to this blog post for more soft skills to train your staff on!)
1. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
This is all about understanding your own emotions and the emotions of others. While an employee with low EQ might openly criticize a colleague in a meeting, a high-EQ employee would wait until after the meeting to provide criticism in private, and avoid embarrassing their colleague. (The second employee probably had emotional intelligence training!)
High-performance teams are often characterized by collaboration and teamwork. This is why employees must learn to accept others’ perspectives, listen to feedback and delegate work.
Confidence is apparent in everything you do and say – your appearance, your behavior, even the work you submit and the simple ways in which you hold yourself. It can be easy to confuse confidence for arrogance, but the line is very clear: confidence is the ability to recognize one’s own abilities and flaws; arrogance is when you exaggerate your abilities and deny your flaws.
Anyone who follows the old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage is definitely going to struggle in any modern workplace. Adaptability is being able to say “Yes!” when a manager asks you to use new software, complete a task that you’ve never done before, or take on any new challenge.
Developing soft skills in the workplace relies entirely on this. Listening might sound simple, but it’s tough in practice. You’ve met the guy who interrupts you mid-sentence. How about the woman who waits for you to finish speaking just so that she can start telling her own story? Without true listening, other skills like collaboration and adaptability are impossible to achieve.
If you’re wondering how any of these skills make a difference in the workplace, keep reading!
Why are soft skills in the workplace important?
Developing soft skills at work is critical for so many reasons. On the whole, research has found that employees with soft skills training are 12% more productive than those without them. This translates into a whopping 256% ROI for companies!
If that doesn’t convince you, then maybe the findings from Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report will. Over 90% of respondents rated soft skills as critical for fostering employee retention, improving leadership, and building a meaningful culture.
But developing soft skills in the workplace also helps companies to avoid costs, not just make money. Why? Because when soft skills are lacking, employees become prone to conflict, suffer from low self-confidence, feel unheard and misunderstood, and ultimately, become unhappy.
Do you know what the consequences of unhappy employees are? Increased absenteeism, poor performance, bad customer service, low quality work, and eventually (drumroll, please), decreased profit.
Developing soft skills in the workplace isn’t an easy task, so is it necessary? Definitely. A workforce rich in soft skills is like a brand new car engine working at maximum efficiency. And remember, like any car engine, soft skills can gradually diminish over time if left unattended. With ongoing corporate training, you can leverage soft skills for workplace success.
- Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review, 2004: “What Makes a Leader?”, https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader
- Melissa Suzuno, Udemy, 2019: “Top 10 Soft Skills for 2019 in the Workplace”, https://business.udemy.com/blog/top-10-soft-skills-for-2019-in-the-workplace/