Are you hiring at the moment? Perhaps you’re looking for your next opportunity or gunning for that promotion with a view to skilling up? On the road to leadership we are often encouraged to gain hard skills, like becoming a pro at certain processes or learning how to use the latest software, but research shows it’s a strong set of soft skills that make a leader truly exceptional.
Soft skills are defined as personal traits that shape how we work, alone and with others. Some examples are communication, empathy, optimism, resilience, integrity and organisation.
They are closely related to your emotional intelligence, or EQ. This is the ability to recognise, understand and manage our emotions, as well as the ability to recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others. Skills that are tantamount to creating good working relationships and compassionate, effective management.
Recruiters will often discourage applicants from including soft skills on their CVs - apparently, the ability to communicate well, work hard and be adaptable is generic. But this seems not to be the case: according to a study conducted by Business Solver in 2017 85% of employees agree that their employer undervalues empathy .
By hiring individuals with a solid set of soft skills, overall engagement and productivity increases. When a reciprocal relationship between employee and employer is established individuals to perform at their best: people care about companies that care about them. Indeed, 77% of employees would be willing to work longer hours for a more empathetic employer according to a Business Solver’s aforementioned study. Not that we encourage working late unless absolutely necessary (boundaries are key to good mental health), but this statistic presents us with an example that compassionate leadership inspires enthusiasm and dedication from employees.
Not taking interpersonal skills into account when assembling teams can impact the wellbeing of both the individual in the role and that of the whole workforce. If the leader is unable to establish trust and influence their staff, or navigate conflict and disagreements at work, this can lead to stress, unhappiness and fragmented ways of working.
So, when sifting through that pile of resumes it's important to look at the 'whole person' and put forward the candidates with a good balance of skills: hard and soft. If you see key words like collaboration, communication or problem solving on an application, be sure to ask them about it at interview.
Despite their name, soft skills can be some of the hardest to learn. Developing a soft skillset is about prioritising your team’s (and your own) wellbeing and forming habits to ensure that this is always the case. We can do this by working on our self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management.
Self-awareness is an ancient philosophical concept, with us since Socrates said, ‘know thyself.’ However, with all the demands and distractions of modern life we can easily neglect the quiet, contemplative time self-knowledge requires. By regularly making space to slow down and reflect we can get closer to ourselves and come to understand our feelings and behaviors. This has ripple effect – if the version of you you’re bringing to work is calmer and happier, this is likely to come across in your attitude and your actions. By being considerate to yourself, you are being considerate to others.
Getting external feedback from close friends or family members can help us become more socially aware. Ask a group of people you trust and know well the following questions:
We do not exist in a vacuum so getting some insight into how our actions affect others can help us identify negative behaviors. Then, once again, take some time to pause and think about what in particular triggers us to act this way, can we avoid these triggers or choose to respond differently to them.
Relationship management can be improved by practicing empathy and actively listening to others. These actions help us view our relationships from a different perspective.
Active listening is careful and accurate listening in which you give the speaker your full attention. Listening in an intentional way helps us understand the speaker better and makes them feel acknowledged and appreciated. This is done when we ‘RASA’: receive, appreciate, summarise and ask about the information we are receiving. 
A useful empathy exercise (it may be helpful to privately mind-map this) is to think of someone we have a slightly difficult relationship with and then try to understand their story: their motivations, their stressors, what else might be going on at work or at home. Once written down, practice acceptance. We do not have to agree with the subject of this exercise, we just have understand where they're coming from.
Luminate offer webinars and workshops (keynote talks and interactive sessions) on developing emotional intelligence, building confidence and building health relationships at work.