Although many ambitious employees focus on developing their technical skills in their quest for career growth, the reality is, to really get ahead, the differentiating factor is interpersonal skills.
In fact, a recent survey suggested that although 87% of new college graduates were confident that they were adequately prepared to succeed in the workplace, only 50% of hiring managers shared this optimism. And, the area they were deemed to be most lacking in were soft skills, such as communication, leadership, and teamwork.
Leadership guru, Seth Godin, makes this point even more clearly by suggesting that we should get rid of the term “soft skills” altogether. He argues that calling them “soft” makes them seem as though they are somehow less important than “hard” skills like understanding finance, managing projects, or completing our other job responsibilities. Instead, he contends, we should consider interpersonal skills to be real skills that we all need to maximize our effectiveness in our roles.
In my work as a corporate psychologist and executive coach, I couldn’t agree more. It typically isn’t a lack of technical skill that causes ineffective leadership, organizational inefficiencies, or toxic cultures. It’s poor interpersonal skills.
It’s the leader who doesn’t know how to communicate in a way that influences and inspires her people. It’s the employee who hasn’t developed the ability to manage his stress, and as a result, lashes out at co-workers. It’s the team that operates in silos because they can’t get past their individual differences to collaborate effectively.
The bottom line? Employees who lack solid interpersonal skills can stall their professional growth, diminish teamwork, and negatively affect the organizational culture.
So where should they start? Here are four interpersonal skills all employees should develop:
Self-awareness is an essential soft skill that acts as a foundation to emotional intelligence. If employees are self-aware, they know their strengths, opportunities for growth, triggers, values, drivers, and everything in between. This knowledge enables people to utilize assets to their advantage, exert caution at the times when they may be triggered, and develop in the areas that they need it most.
At some point, most of us have worked with someone who had blind spots, and as a result, we saw first hand, how a lack of self-awareness could harm not only the individual but also the organization as a whole. Without insight into their strengths, employees may underachieve relative to their potential. Without an understanding of their areas for growth, employees can stall their development, inadvertently have a negative impact on others, or even derail their careers.
Self-awareness is best developed through self-reflection and feedback. In my 21- Day Crash Course in Emotional Intelligence on Udemy for Business, I provide practical tips and exercises to help employees increase their level of self-insight.
While understanding one’s self is a critical interpersonal skill, an equally important one is empathy – the ability to understand others’ feelings. Having empathy helps employees build better relationships and address the needs of those around them, because they are attuned to what’s important to them. Empathy also enables people to better recognize the impact they are having on others. Armed with the ability to gauge how they are coming across, employees can adjust their approach accordingly, and ensure they are communicating with impact.
I’ve heard many well-intentioned managers express that they lead others based on the way that they would want to be led. While on first blush, this might sound reasonable, the more emotionally savvy ones understand that the best leaders lead with empathy by considering the individual needs of each of their employees. Not only does this help them to foster an environment in which they increase the odds of motivating their employees, it also helps them to be more effective when managing conflict, influencing, and coaching.
Life can be stressful. On the work front, ambitious goals, disagreements with colleagues, and large workloads can create pressure for employees. On the home front, stresses from relationship challenges, financial strains, and work-life balance issues can often trickle over into the workplace.
The best employees are those who have learned how to manage these stresses and any negative emotional displays that may come as a result of them. While self-awareness enables them to recognize when they are irritable, anxious, or feeling threatened, for example, their ability to regulate these emotions helps them to maintain their composure, and prevent any behaviors they might later regret.
Now, more than ever, listening can be a challenge. We live in an age in which constant digital distractions make it more difficult to stay present with those around us. Our general cultural climate also seems to be one in which people are more concerned with expressing their points of view than trying to be receptive to listening to, and understanding different perspectives. Combined with the sense of urgency that often accompanies the pace of business, these factors can contribute to a workplace in which employees lack the patience and motivation to truly listen to one another.
Workers, who despite these challenges, exhibit strong listening skills have a number of advantages. They can be more efficient, because they are better able to absorb and utilize the information to which they are exposed. They can develop greater empathy, because by being receptive to what others are saying, they are better able to understand what’s important to them. They build stronger relationships, because others respond positively when they feel they are being heard. And, as leaders, they can create greater buy-in, because they understand their team’s concerns and address them accordingly.
In closing, companies with employees who have good interpersonal skills give themselves a competitive leg-up over their peers. As opposed to wasting time with politics and unnecessary posturing, they create cultures based on mutual respect. This contributes to better leadership and collaboration, which in turn, has a positive impact on the bottom line.
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