Why These 6 ‘Soft Skills’ Are so Important Right Now in the Workplace, According to a Therapist and DEI Expert 

Photo: Getty Images/ Luis Alvarez

Between the shift to a more flexible remote work model, employees leaving their jobs left and right (aka the Great Resignation), and burnout on the rise, it’s safe to say many changes are happening in workplaces right now. Soft skills can help navigate these shifts and create a safe and inclusive work environment where everyone thrives. 

In case you’re not familiar, hard skills are the job-specific technical skills you need to, well, do your job—think project management, writing, programming, bookkeeping, etc. On the other hand, soft skills include interpersonal skills that focus on how people relate and communicate with others. While soft skills aren’t typically listed under requirements on a job description, they are equally as important in any workplace for both workers and managers. 

Below, Kim Crowder, a DEI expert and founder of Kim Crowder Consulting, and Jenny Maenpaa, LCSW, EdM, the creator of the evidence-based workplace wellness program FIREwork, share the soft skills workers and managers should focus on bringing to the workplace right now. 

3 soft skills workers should focus on mastering

1. Trust other people’s perspectives

According to Crowder, one of the most important soft skills to embody in the workplace is trusting other people’s perspectives about their own experiences. “This is especially important when it comes to believing the experiences, emotions, and interpretations of those who have been historically ignored [such as BIPOC, LGBTQ, and disabled communities],” Crowder says. “This allows each of us to move from asking people who are already carrying the burden of discrimination to prove that they are experiencing it and instead, trust them and validate their experiences.”

2. Pay attention to your emotions

“Many employees think they should be emotionless robots at work, but your emotions can actually be beneficial if you can apply them strategically,” Maenpaa says. To do this, she recommends being more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to better recognize if you’re reacting to a work situation in an inappropriate way or if something else is clouding your judgment. Before responding to someone, she suggests taking a moment to pause, take a few deep breaths, connect with your body, and release any tension.

3. Learn to take criticism constructively

Receiving feedback is a big component of any job, and Maenpaa says it’s essential to learn how to take constructive criticism without feeling like your worth or value is attacked. However, she adds, this can be easier said than done. Her advice: “Reminding yourself that these criticisms are given with the intention for you to learn and grow can help you not see them as personal failings.” 

3 soft skills managers should model at work

1. Humanize team members

With retention rates low and turnover rates high right now, Crowder says it’s a manager’s job to recognize when employees are withdrawing and do their best to re-engage them. “Employees are not just a means to an end or an avenue to productivity; they are human beings worthy of respect and individual attention,” she says. 

Furthermore, she adds that part of humanizing employees also requires staying tuned into what’s happening around the world as many employees feel the weight of those social injustices in their daily lives. “Managers who are keyed into current events can offer support without team members having to ask for it,” she says. 

2. Regulate your emotions and help others do so too

In addition to managing their employees, Maenpaa says managers must also manage their emotions at work. “[Remember] that even if others come to you with a sense of urgency, most tasks are not urgent,” she says. “They may be timely or important, but rushing to answer something will induce a sense of panic, which in turn will make your employees feel panicked and rushed.” Instead, before responding, she recommends pausing, evaluating the task's urgency, taking a deep breath, and thinking about how the task fits into your larger ecosystem. 

Maenpaa adds that managers can also help their employees regulate their emotions by using the “yes, and” strategy to validate their feelings while also redirecting them to take action. For instance, “when an employee is complaining, and your first inclination is to jump to a solution, remember that most people just want to feel seen and heard,” she says. “Taking a few minutes to listen quietly to their complaints and then say something like: ‘I hear you. Since we still have to make this deadline, what can we do to make this less frustrating for you?’”

3. Make cultural competency a priority

For managers, Crowder says integrating cultural competency into the workplace is vital now and moving forward. “Our workplaces are becoming more and more global and diverse, both of which are necessary for the longevity of any organization,” she says. “Managers need to be highly aware that cultural differences are naturally going to show themselves. Being sensitive and seeing the value of that without asking individuals to assimilate or conform to the dominant culture is a golden skill for any leader.”

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