They call them “soft” skills. But I’m not sure how apt that term is.
A lot of these skills have to do with mental toughness — the intestinal fortitude that any business leader needs to weather this era and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned so many aspects of our daily lives upside down. And although the latest vaccine test results offer a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel (hallelujah!), a so-called return to normal still will be slow going.
Moreover, what will that normal even be?
Not all of the disruptions brought on by the coronavirus will prove to be temporary. The pandemic likely has shaken up the business world in lasting ways.
Better get used to business unusual.
As we look ahead to the promise of brighter days in 2021, we can’t expect to go back to doing things the way we did before, applying the same technical skills. Depending on how your business has been disrupted, some hard skills may be obsolete.
Even if not, hard skills may need to take a back seat to the soft skills that have helped us come through this thing so far. As we move forward together, here are three main soft skills to elevate on your team.
1. Creative Problem Solving
The rapid spread of a troublesome virus early in 2020 set off a chain reaction of unforeseen economic challenges. Nearly everyone was suddenly up against one or more walls that hadn’t been there before.
Silver lining: rapidly evolving technology presented many potential solutions. Anyone ready and able to examine these business challenges from a new perspective, envisioning how new tech can help, has become highly valuable.
But they’re not that easy to find. Convergent thinking, or group-think, is much more common, especially when people get together to evaluate and rank new ideas. All too often, the results are conventional solutions and incremental improvements … barely better than the status quo.
And that won’t do.
To overcome convergent thinking and foster creative problem solving, ask more questions. In his article on Better Brainstorming, Hal Gregersen suggests that instead of brainstorming for answers, we should seek new questions.
“Underlying the approach is a broader recognition that fresh questions often beget novel—even transformative—insights,” Gregersen observes.
We need these strong critical thinkers more than ever. People who challenge assumptions, digging in to ask how can we eliminate, avoid or get over this obstacle? Or even, what’s the real obstacle here?
2. Effective Communication
Communication is, of course, essential to great teamwork.
We spend up to 80% of our day in some form of communication, according to various studies. McKinsey Global Institute says up to 28% percent of our work day is spent reading email.
That’s 13 hours a week spent in an email haze!
And I’m willing to bet these numbers have risen in this heyday of virtual work.
Plus, with the rapid expansion of social media and other communication platforms — Skype, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Twitter, SMS, etc. — we’ve all got plenty of ways to share thoughts and information.
However, just sharing thoughts and information doesn’t mean you’re effectively communicating.
Sometimes it seems like the more communicating we do, the less helpful any of it is. We’re so quick to respond that we end up overwhelming each other with info that lacks context and meaning.
Certainly, responding in a timely manner is important, but not at the expense of showing you care or even just being coherent. To do that, we’d all do better to cultivate two qualities in ourselves:
- Listening — Effective communicators ask questions, gain context and find gaps that may reveal opportunities for solutions. Plus, people who feel heard are more likely to appreciate your point of view.
- Emotional intelligence — Making the effort to understand what others are thinking and feeling is an overlooked master skill. Given what we’ve seen in 2020, a sense of empathy is likely to set you even farther apart.
3. Ability to Embrace Change
If you needed any reminders about the pace of change in our workplaces, marketplaces and world, I’m guessing the pandemic has taken care of that.
In these days of continuous upheaval, being a subject matter expert isn’t much of an advantage. The equipment, software and business rules are going to change rapidly, so what’s more important is adaptability.
We’re on a long, strange trip, and who knows where the road will lead next. We have to be able to take it as it comes. With so many things new and different, we need a growth mindset — curiosity and desire to learn new things.
Are you and your team comfortable with the ongoing uncertainty? Are you ready to rise and overcome these changing challenges together?
How to Cultivate the Softer Side
Seeking out the guts, grit and gusto your team needs to thrive in a head-spinning world isn’t that simple.
But there’s plenty you can do. Here are some fundamental practices you can start working into your business today to help you build and maintain essential soft skills.
For starters, you’ve got to incorporate soft skills evaluation into the hiring process. You won’t figure it out from a cover letter or resume, so make sure you ask good questions:
- Can the candidate share stories about how they dynamically solved a tricky problem?
- Do they demonstrate a positive attitude towards change and problem solving?
Secondly, make soft skills a key element of performance appraisals. Include goals that require flexing soft skill muscles. Publicly praise any example of creative problem solving, effective communication and embracing of change.
Lead by example. Success of any worthy initiative starts at the top. As a business leader, if these skills are important to you — and they should be! — then you have to live them every day.
How can you encourage creative problem solving? By making it a point to celebrate the effort and risk taken when approaching a problem in a new way, even (perhaps especially) if it leads to failure.
How can you encourage effective communication? Well, take a guess! Practice open communication and listening in every interaction.
Need some help cultivating soft skills for you and your team? I’d be happy to discuss your challenges, so don’t hesitate to contact Cahill Consulting at your convenience.