Soft skills are having a rebrand.
The ever-growing importance of the skills that help us better interact with people in the modern workplace is seeing them increasingly referred to as ‘power skills’.
Initially coined by Udemy Business, the term is used with increasing regularity to describe interpersonal skills.
But does that rebrand work?
And what ‘power skills’ should leaders and managers focus on?
To answer those questions, I caught up with Dan Boniface, one of the expert tutors at The BCF Group.
“I’m not sold on the rebrand from soft skills to power skills,” Dan said.
“But I am sold on the rebrand from soft skills to human skills.
“I understand the principle of calling them power skills because we are trying to empower ourselves.
“But the terminology suggests we are trying to get control over someone else by using these skills.
“And that doesn’t sit well with the modern way of working. People don’t like being told what to do. They don’t want to work in an autocratic environment.
“They want to work in an environment where they feel listened to and can voice their concerns and ideas.
“Human skills connects better to the principle of these skills building stronger relationships.
“If we’ve got a set of human skills we can apply, we will build a strong working relationship.
“Human skills allow us to think about the interactions we are having – and the connections – as equal and not as a power trip or a control mechanism.”
One of the main factors behind the rebrand is the feeling the term soft skills undervalues their importance. And undermines the difficulty in developing them.
These skills are no longer just important – they are crucial.
Dan said: “Hard and soft skills work as descriptions in a way because they allow us to differentiate the knowledge aspect of our job role from the people component.
“But calling them human skills creates the mindset that this is about interaction and engagement with people.
“The term soft skills can underplay their value. Yes, they are skills we all have the ability to use, but we have to choose to use them, and we have to develop them.”
Whatever definition we use, there are a lot of skills that fall into this category.
Communication skills, problem-solving creativity, time management and adaptability are just some examples.
So, what human skills should leaders focus on and develop?
“Emotional intelligence has to be at the top of the list,” Dan said. “We need to understand our emotions and those of others so we lead with empathy.
“Let’s understand how people are feeling, why they feel that way and the factors behind it.
“And then think about how we can support them to overcome it.
“Leaders also need motivation and social skills. They need to be able to move people forward to a desired state and create a vision of how they will feel once they have overcome that hurdle or those negative thoughts.
“The social skills come in with the ability to ask good questions that elicit information from people. That is a great human skill that can make the other person feel cared for and that they belong.
“We all crave knowing someone cares for us and that we belong.
“If our team members feel like they belong to something, they are much more likely to perform to a high level and enjoy what they do.”
Daniel Goleman, the author, psychologist, and science journalist, has explored this in depth. He believes that while intelligence – or IQ - gets leaders the job, it is emotional intelligence - or EQ – that is crucial in whether they are successful.
Dan said: “He has done a lot of research on the importance of IQ and EQ being on a par to enjoy successful careers.
“Now, we will all have different ideas about what success looks like.
“But just having a high IQ is not enough in this working era.
“Emotional intelligence – human skills – plays a crucial part in us being able to create a thriving organisation.”
With hybrid work here to stay – meaning leaders see their team members less often – communication skills must also be near the top of that list.
“Communication is vital, and it can be difficult in the hybrid way we work,” Dan said.
“It starts with understanding the other person. How do they want to be communicated to?
“Some people are happy with emails. Others are content with WhatsApp messages or texts. And some prefer phone calls. So, adapt your communication to their needs.
“The other part of this is understanding how much support they need. Some people want to be left to it and thrive being given full autonomy.
“Others need reassurance and positive affirmation from others they are doing a good job. And you will need to communicate with them more regularly.”
Cultivating and developing these skills takes time, training and plenty of practice.
There isn’t an overnight fix.
But the good news is we are all naturally good at some of them.
So, the initial focus for leaders should be on identifying the human skills they need to develop.
Dan said: “You will have some of these skills that you are naturally good at. Some people are very empathetic. Others are compassionate. Some are great communicators, and others are great listeners.
“The ones you are good at you deploy naturally, and they come out more obviously to others.
“You then need to try and bring those other skills to the fore. If we are conscious of something, we can practice it.
“So, if you are not a good listener, learning to use the power of silence is a skill to develop.
“It may be that we don’t lead with lots of empathy. Working to remain curious and learning to ask great questions will improve this.
“We all have our strengths. But we also all have the ability to practice and use these other skills.
“It takes about eight weeks to develop our neuropathways. So, learning these skills will take time and practice. It is not something you can try once and pick up.”
Dan believes a critical way for these skills to be developed and used more often is for leaders to consider themselves role models.
He said: “As leaders, we must be aware of how people look up to us and observe us.
“As humans, we don’t necessarily like to consider ourselves to be role models. But if you are a manager, people look up to you and view you as a role model.
“The relevance of that is that every day you come into work, we must work hard to create an atmosphere where people can approach us and speak freely.
“And that is done through our behaviours. We can say, ‘I’m going to have great communication skills' and 'I’ll always leave my door open’.
“But it is the actions and behaviours that count. People will hear your words. But they want to see something happen off the back of them.
“So, our behaviours must reflect how we want to be viewed and the work environment we want to create.”
She said: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
And Dan believes it is a quote leaders should draw inspiration from.
He said: “Leaders should have this quote at the forefront of their mind.
“‘How am I making people feel’ is a good checkpoint and thought process for the start of every day.”
The BCF Group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.
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