Attend any leadership conference, and someone likely will bring up startling statistics regarding how employees and leaders lack something they refer to as soft skills. This term is used to describe many qualities that include interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and other personality-based issues. The problem that many organizations have experienced is that people are hired for their hard skills, or in other words, for what they know (knowledge). Then later, are often fired for their lack of soft skills, or what they do (behaviors). If employers recognize the importance of soft skills, they can avoid costly hiring and training mistakes, improve turnover, and boost productivity.
Most leaders do not think graduates have the soft skills that businesses require for success, and 75% of newly hired executives have difficulty with these core competencies. Soft skills are critical for interpersonal relationships and communication. One important reason to develop these skills is that most employees do not quit because of companies; they quit because of leaders. Stress from working with leaders who have poor soft skills costs American companies $360 billion a year.
Some of the most problematic areas for employees and leaders include difficulty with listening, communication, team-building, listening, negotiating, problem-solving, decision-making, time management, motivation, and emotional intelligence, which includes interpersonal skills. The Millennial generation often gets bad press for having less-than-stellar soft skills including lack of patience. The use of too much technology may cause a breakdown in interpersonal relationships. Instead of interacting before meetings, many individuals embrace their cell phones. This lack of interaction has led to issues with listening and poor two-way communication.
The good news is that individuals can improve their soft skills. Authors like Daniel Goleman have found that emotional intelligence, which includes things like interpersonal skills and empathy, can be developed. Having a baseline measurement of emotional intelligence levels may be an important part of monitoring improvements. Seeking a mentor may be helpful as well; it is important that employees and leaders are open to feedback. It is important for individuals to consider ways to overcome their personal weaknesses and threats. Identifying the problem is only the beginning; having a plan to improve with measurable goals may be critical.
Employers face a financial burden if employees do not have proper soft-skill development. With the increase on reliance on technology, some basic interpersonal relationship skills may not have developed well. Employers can help employees and leaders develop these important skills through training programs and education. The first step is to realize there is a problem; only then can individuals set measurable goals to improve.
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