Beef up your soft skills to retain employees, attract top candidates.
There is a lot of talk about the importance of “soft skills”—such as communication, time management, and creativity—for employees. But leaders also need these abilities so that they can engage workers, encourage retention, and promote a culture where everyone thrives. Take a minute to inventory your soft skills and think about how you use them.
1. Listening. How often in a busy day do you nod along while someone is talking, when your focus is elsewhere and you’re only getting about half of what the person says? Listening requires not only hearing, but focusing, absorbing what is being said, understanding the speaker’s feelings (beyond their words), and predicting possible problems/solutions. To be a better listener, give employees opportunities to speak with you privately without distractions; let them know that you care about what they have to say and are willing to set aside the time to hear them. Avoid the temptation to judge or make a decision until you have heard the entire story; put aside personal feelings and focus on facts. React thoughtfully and not emotionally or impulsively; avoid the urge to interrupt.
2. Verbal communication. Words can hurt, so choose them carefully. Avoid words that suggest judgment (e.g., ridiculous, crazy, silly, old-fashioned, etc.). Be courteous, and be consistent (make sure your tone matches your words). Support your statements with facts, and ask for feedback to ensure the person has understood what you said. Don’t end a conversation without the confidence that you and the other person are on the same page.
3. Nonverbal communication. Use eye contact, and maintain a proper distance to show respect. Watch your body language—crossed arms and/or legs, facing away, frowning, grimacing, etc. can suggest hostility. Watch your gestures, as they may be sending mixed signals.
4. Delivering bad news. This can be difficult for everyone. However, it’s important to have the confidence and the skills to do this right. Delaying it or handing it off to someone else can make things worse. Make delivering bad news a bit easier by sharing it quickly and in person (whenever possible). Avoid using an email or text; while this may be more comfortable for you, it may suggest to the other person that you are unfeeling or insensitive. Be as honest as possible, and give the other person an opportunity to respond or express their feelings.
5. Just say “no.” Employees are likely to come to you frequently with ideas, requests, and business proposals. You can’t say “yes” to everything, so you need to be able to say “no” in a way that doesn’t discourage your employees, make them feel rejected or dismissed, or suggest that you don’t care. To do this, consider three steps: be empathetic, be clear but respectful about why you have to refuse the request or dismiss the idea, and offer something positive or an acceptable alternative. Always let employees know you appreciate them coming to you and stress your desire to continue open communication in the future.