Achieving Strong Results With Soft Skills

LeaderTrip's Coaching Achieving Strong Results With Soft Skills

It might be surprising that the term ‘soft skills’ was coined by the US Military in the late 1960s. In their concept, ‘hard skills’ are required to operate machines. Additionally, they noticed that a lot of what made a group of soldiers victorious was how it is led. When the US Military started to develop specific training for that, they distinguished those skills by naming them ‘soft’. In the early 1990s ‘Emotional Intelligence’ got worldwide attention from Daniel Goleman’s book of the same title. Later, Drs. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves added the following, concise definition of Emotional Intelligence: ‘your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.’ 


Since then numerous studies have proven that the emotional intelligence of the leader directly impacts the engagement of employees, which is correlated to increases in operating income and earnings per share. Also, salespeople who received training in soft skills were able to outperform their peers. The Carnegie Institute of Technology found that 85% of our financial success is due to skills in personality, and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Only 15% is due to technical ability. Just six years ago, the World Economy Forum stated that by 2020, Emotional Intelligence will be in the top 10 required job skills. And here we are in 2020 !

Even though soft skills are not very difficult to grasp, we struggle to demonstrate them consistently and effectively. It is the stress of our everyday life that gets in our way. Constant pressure to deliver against tight deadlines, not enough wiggle room to do our job, long hours of work and too little time for relaxation. We are exposed to an environment that brings up all kinds of difficult emotions and we are overwhelmed to deal with them. Here are 4 essential habits to increase Emotional Intelligence in the workplace:


Take just 3 to 5 minutes at the end of your day to think about yourself. Write down everything that comes to your mind on any topic you chose to raise your self-awareness. How did you allocate your time, how did you show up as a leader, what caused stress for you, which emotions did you notice, how did you react, what do you want to improve ? Keep your pen moving. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, get all your thoughts on paper. Read your notes the next day, repeat the exercise and change the questions as you like. A senior leader told me once that he lacks visionary, strategic thinking. When he started to journal, he found out that he was wasting his time with mundane activities. He intended to support his people, but in reality, he was overbearing and his day good lost in 1,000 details. His insight provoked him to pull back and delegate better. For the first time he gave himself time to think strategically. This was all he needed to do to overcome his pretended performance barrier. 


We are not good listeners ! Too often we’re not paying attention to the other person, our thoughts are floating around, but are not in this conversation. At other times we don’t try to understand the other person, we are just waiting for the next best opportunity to interrupt and share our side of their story. Make an attempt to attentively listening to the people you talk to, allow this little break to process what you have heard, pay attention to the body language, try to recognize their feelings, play back the message that you received and avoid wrong conclusions. Be amazed about the depth your dialogs gain, even if they last only a few minutes. I practiced this high level of listening with a group of experienced salespeople. They openly admitted afterwards that their typical interaction with customers is different. No doubt, they all knew the processes to follow and performed well in their role. But imagine how much more successful they can be if they just listen and thoroughly understand their customer needs. 


Honest and open feedback is a gift ! Unfortunately, it is not made too often. We shy away from giving our people constructive feedback, it is uncomfortable and can cause undesired reactions. Even top executives come with an excuse ‘I don’t have time to do it’ or ‘I wasn’t in the right mood for it’. Their next best alternative is a drive-by feedback, a quick and unspecific hit followed by an immediate escape. It leaves the recipient puzzled or even humiliated. Seriously, does that motivate somebody to do things differently ? Think about it. Your feedback shall provoke the other person to change a behavior, in the best interest of that person – and most likely yours as well. You better make this a positive experience ! Spend a few minutes to plan your approach. When I asked my direct reports for their perspective, they very often were aware of their flaws and missteps. People look for constructive support to find a better way of working. Here you step in to enable personal growth !


Great business results come from collaboration! Controversial topics need an open discussion in which everybody tries to unbiasedly see the perspective of the other party. But which story do we tell ourselves in those moments? If it is ‘I am right, and they are wrong’ the exchange has almost no chance to work out well. How often do we see departments fighting with each other? They seem to forget that they are part of the same organization which needs to stand united in order to win in a competitive marketplace. I saw two teams leaving the self-limiting perspective of their local kingdom. They went to their colleagues and asked them what their reality looks like. Follow their example and let your guard down. Recognize when your original idea is not the best, have the courage to admit when others found a better solution. Those who truly collaborate make the relationship more important than their individual short term gains – and they jointly win big time on the long run!


Emotions are a natural part of our humanity. We cannot eliminate them from our professional or private lives. However, we don’t have to live on ‘autopilot’ and react to our emotions without any self-control. We can learn to improve our behavior. It is observed and interpreted by others. Emotions are not absent but demonstrated intelligently. Like a football coach during the half time break. Sometimes they shout, sometimes they praise. But they do exactly what is best for the team’s performance in this very moment. The way we show up has a tremendous impact on the people we work with. A different mindset makes emotionally intelligent more successful. They focus on their soft skills as an input to drive their business results not the output itself. Do you want to be one of them? It is entirely in your hands!

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