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The Hard Case for Soft Skills

By Laura Sweeney

As traditionally "corporate" cultures become more horizontal and intimate, soft skills are becoming essential to the success of businesses. Employees must be able to work as part of a team, find and communicate solutions, and be effective managers.

"There's more empirical data coming out all the time to show that such skills as listening and building consensus really do affect the bottom line." -Hendrie Weisenger, The Power of Positive Criticism
In the past, when companies stuck to strict hierarchies, it wasn't so important to have soft skills-the skills that let us interact with other people, such as listening, negotiating, and developing relationships. But now that VPs and interns take lunch together, and staff members and managers work side-by-side, soft skills are becoming essential to the success of businesses. Employees must be able to work as part of a team, find and communicate solutions, and be effective managers.

What's Your EQ?

Not until recently was there evidence that soft skills actually make a difference in companies' performances. Emotion intelligence-a person's ability to manage him or herself and relate to other people-is at the center of this new research. In 1995, Daniel Goleman published a best seller that shows that emotional intelligence (or "EQ") matters twice as much as IQ or technical skills in job success.

Goleman explains that emotions influence our behavior in all situations, including professional ones. According to his research, corporations that seek MBAs look first for three qualifications: communication skills, interpersonal skills, and initiative.

A study of nearly 500 organizations worldwide found that the people who scored highest on emotional intelligence evaluations rose to the tops of their companies. These star employees were more outgoing and self-confident than employees who received less favorable performance reviews.

Add EQ to Your Resume
While you're stuck with your IQ, which is fixed at birth, experts say that the skills that contribute to your EQ can be developed through practice. These findings have persuaded many companies to train their employees in soft skills-through courses that focus on trust, empathy, adaptability, and self control-in addition to the usual technical skills.

What does this mean for you? If you are able to express yourself effectively, you are more likely to excel in your job than the person who doesn't listen carefully, engage in a discussion, ask intelligent questions or, in short, demonstrate his soft skills.

Getting In Touch With Your emotions
There are different models of emotional intelligence, most of them a combination of abilities that let a person manage his or her emotions as well as respond to the emotions of others. One model distinguishes the following four elements:

  • Self-awareness: Are you emotionally self-aware? Can you assess your own skills without over- or under-valuing your abilities? Are you self-confident?
  • Self-management: Do you have self-control? Are you trustworthy? Conscientious? Flexible? Do you have initiative? Are you goal-oriented?
  • Social skills: Do you have leadership capabilities? Are you a good communicator? Can you manage conflict? Build social bonds? Contribute to a team? Cooperate?
  • Social awareness: Are you empathetic? Do you try to develop the skills and contributions of other team member? Are you service-oriented?

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