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Leadership | 5 min

5 of the most underrated soft skills in the workplace

5 of the most underrated soft skills in the workplace

Recognising these soft skills can be a gamechanger.

Lately, we’ve been focusing a lot on training and how to build key skills and knowledge in your teams, but let’s not forget about the soft skills in the workplace that we all need to work on as well. 

Whether it’s choosing the right candidate for a role, trying to resolve performance issues, or recognising when an employee is ready for promotion – being able to recognise these soft skills (and cultivate them) can be a gamechanger.

If you’ve been in HR for some time, no doubt you’ll know and understand how valuable these skills are, but often the challenge is in actually measuring them and propagating them. This is what we’ll be exploring today. 

 

Leadership Skills

We mention leadership skills here because they are essential for everyone in your workplace – not just those managing people. Everyone in your business is leading in some way; whether it’s influencing others in their team, driving a project forward or preparing to have a team of their own in the future.

So why are leadership skills underrated? We all know they’re important in theory, but it’s easy to underestimate the extent to which these skills actually impact an organisation’s bottom line. This  comprehensive study found that the top 10% of leaders were able to drive double the revenue, compared to their peers who only had average leadership skills. Those with poor leadership skills, meanwhile, were found to be incurring losses for the company. 

 

How to recognise it:

Those with natural leadership skills will be good team players and set the right example for others around them. They are business-minded, see the big-picture and always think about what’s best for the organisation, while always seeking out the best way to achieve goals.

 

How to encourage it:

Introducing more responsibility to your team members in small increments is a great way to help them hone their leadership skills with limited risk. It also gives you the opportunity to spot any areas they’re struggling with and could use some professional development or coaching in. 

As a leader, the most significant way you can help your team is leading by example and helping them adopt your own strengths. In doing this, be sure to stay self-aware and be constantly working on your own leadership skills.

 

Emotional Intelligence

This one is huge, and although widely spoken about, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is still sometimes misunderstood. EQ is not simply having social skills or being attuned to one’s feelings. EQ helps people look beyond the black and white facts in front of them, and apply a level of human understanding to make decisions based on the full story (not just what is visible on the surface).

Studies have drawn multiple links between Emotional Intelligence and performance, finding the traits of individuals with high EQ directly contribute to handling difficult situations, better communication and higher motivation to achieve their goals.

 

How to recognise it:

High EQ should not be confused for an over-reliance on emotion in decision-making. In fact, having high EQ can make an individual better-equipped to deliver constructive feedback or have difficult conversations. Emotional intelligence and rationality are not mutually exclusive. The best decision makers possess both qualities and make choices accordingly with all the available information. Those with high EQ will often ask questions that others might not think are relevant, and look beyond the obvious. Therefore having this soft skill in the workplace is essential.

 

How to encourage it:

Encourage everyone, and in particular leaders, to think deeply and get all the information on a situation involving an individual before making a judgement call.

Imagine an employee has suddenly become unreliable or is frequently calling in sick without a serious medical concern. The average manager might become frustrated with that person or even start a performance management plan to deal with the situation. A leader with a higher EQ, however, might think to try having a one-on-one with that employee to check if they are okay, and if they need extra support. 

Why is this important? Without this extra information, it’s easy to assume the employee simply doesn’t care about their job anymore, but by asking the right questions, we might discover they’re actually being bullied at work, or even experiencing a stressful home situation, or a mental health issue. Once we understand what’s really going on we have the power to provide support and help resolve the issue effectively.

 

Proactive Thinking

There are two ways to approach any task; either by continuously doing things the way they have always been done without question (even if the process is clearly flawed) or constantly considering if there is a better way to be doing things, and innovating as you go. Now don’t get us wrong, obviously if a process is already at its peak performance, then there is no need to fix what isn’t broken, but as technology advances and learnings are made, there are almost always opportunities to constantly improve our ways of working.

Over the years, there have been multiple studies linking a proactive attitude with better leadership and job performance, including this one which found Real Estate Agents sold more houses, attracted more listings and earned higher commissions when they were thinking proactively.

 

How to recognise it:

Proactive thinking also comes into play when we think about having short-term versus long-term vision. Let’s say one of your team members has an ongoing task that they constantly feel behind on and are always rushing to get it done on time. A short-term thinker will be so caught up in hitting their next deadline that they can’t see beyond completing what is in front of them right now. A long-term thinker will recognise this is a pattern, and take the time to stop and consider if there is a more efficient way to be doing this task even if it takes them longer the first time. Long-term thinkers know how to prioritise better long-term outcomes over short-term wins, even if it may temporarily put them on the back foot.

 

How to encourage it:

Reward rather than reprimand when team members make suggestions to improve something, or give feedback on a process that they feel isn’t effective. You can also help develop this skill in your team simply by leading by example and encouraging your team to think long-term.

 

Being Open-Minded

This skill goes hand-in-hand with proactive thinking. Being open-minded is an essential skill for working effectively in a team. It’s the difference between sticking to inefficient processes, and stopping to consider new ways of approaching things. 

Open-mindedness also allows our team members to listen to their peers, take on divergent perspectives, and make the better decisions based on these insights.

 

How to recognise it:

Open-minded individuals are great team players because they’re willing to listen to others’ perspectives and truly collaborate on tasks. They’ll also be generally more receptive to feedback (which we’ll talk more about soon). 

 

How to encourage it:

When team members come to you with a suggestion, simply hear them out and show that their point of view is valuable. Over time, this will help them build confidence in speaking up about concerns. Allowing you to develop this soft skill in the workplace that benefits the person and the organisation.

Give your team as many opportunities for open face-to-face discussion as possible, so everyone has a platform to share their ideas, while listening to others and considering different perspectives. This open forum for discussion is even more crucial when teams or individuals work remotely and aren’t exposed to other viewpoints every day. This gap can be partially bridged by holding video meetings and engaging in Continuous Feedback.

 

Ability to take on feedback

This soft skill is absolutely essential for any employee to be able to improve and grow. Without this, employees can become isolated and miss out on opportunities to learn. 

We know that building a feedback culture helps organisations reduce turnover, improve productivity, and ultimately grow profits, so how can we recognise and encourage it?

 

How to recognise it:

When people are keen to learn and improve, they will not only be open to feedback, but actively ask for it! After receiving said feedback, they will take it on without rebuttal, and be willing to hear your perspective even if they don’t necessarily agree.

 

How to encourage it:

Give feedback proactively, so your people can learn that it is designed to help them.

If someone on your team is struggling to take on feedback graciously, don’t assume it is simply an ego problem. If an employee is not used to receiving proactive or constructive feedback, and a past manager has only ever let problems escalate into a performance management issue, this staff member will naturally be on the defensive. As leaders it’s our job to demonstrate proactive feedback and ensure we’re giving opportunities to improve rather than reprimands all the time. 

 

 

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