Since the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, and non-essential workers were instructed to work from home, people skills have never been more important. Companies have now also realised that not all jobs require employees to be physically present in the office but a simple virtual attendance over internet is more than enough.
The top three picks for people skills that are in high demand are communication, adaptability and empathy, and will continue to be so by employers in the foreseeable future.
Effective communication builds trust, long lasting working relationships and solves problems quickly. Ineffective communication can lead to failures of projects and even closure of business processes or even organisations. Communication is a two-way street; not only does it involve an employee's ability to efficiently transmit information but also the ability to properly understand the information received. According to Raiyan Ahmed, compensation and benefits manager at British American Tobacco Bangladesh, employees must be able to communicate with impact and also be able to utilise different methodologies and modalities to customise the communication depending on the stakeholder.
According to him communication operates on three different levels: Strategic, interpersonal and personal communication. In each level, employees have to communicate with different audiences while ensuring that that the intended message is being received by the intended receiver. Shayaan Seraj, director of Elite Group, went on to add that instant messaging applications such as Whatsapp have really increased ease of communication, "It seems to be that go-to platform for real-time dialogue. A skill, if acquired two/three years ago, would have kept us ahead of the curve."
An interesting observation was also put forward by Tasnin Khair, HR professional at World Food Programme, "Millennials have become very comfortable with non-formal mode of communication. It is being reflected in the workplace where formal mode of communication should prevail." Of all the people skills, communication tops the list and is the most sought-after by employers.
Following and developing intonation--the rising and falling of vocal pitch to convey grammatical information or personal attitude-- is a good way to start developing communication as a skill. To perfect intonations, individuals can record themselves and listen to it to further improve their speeches. Then comes body language--the unspoken element of communication. Individuals can also use this to their advantage to appear more positive, engaging and approachable. Body language includes facial expression, movement, postures and gestures, eye contact, touch and space. A brilliant way of developing proper body language is to watch public speaking videos or even movies and then practicing in front of a mirror.
One key factor to effectively communicate is to be able to change the method and modality of communication. It is wise to get to know coworkers outside a formal setting to know more about their personality. In case of presentations and meetings with clients and stakeholders, it is a smart move to read up on the meeting attendees on social media, newspaper articles or profiles on websites.
This skill was put to the test for everyone around the world with the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Fear spread like wildfire, policies were changed and new guidelines of operations were rolled out within a span of weeks. Tasnin Khair highlighted the fact that willingness to adapt to changes is as important as possessing the skill to adapt. She also added, "Adapting to not only the changing environment but also to the opinions of others are vital to every organisation" to which Raiyan Ahmed went on to add that employees need to be able to adapt to not only incremental changes but also transformative changes.
Adaptability is not only about adjusting to changing situations but also the capability to successfully alter a course of action without any major setback. In Raiyan Ahmed's view, "Being able to adapt to transformations is what differentiates an average performer from a successful performer." Instead of packing up at the first sign of a hurdle, an adaptable person would take it as a challenge and say, "let's try something different!" Tasnin Khair also went on to add that adaptability is often fueled by a person's career aspirations. Hence employers must be careful and hire employees whose goals align with that of the company. Tasnin Khair also added that one must always know the limit of adaptability within a workplace and not facilitate or engage in any wrongdoing.
To develop adaptability skills, an employee must always have a contingency plan mapped out no matter what task they are involved in. This helps individuals adapt to changing situations much quicker and efficiently. It is necessary to constantly learn and develop new skills and that path is not always easy. In today's changing world, it has become increasingly difficult to survive in the competitive industry, thus individuals need to be resilient in the face of adversity. It is not about failure, but about response to failure after failing.
One of the best ways to improve adaptability is exposure to different situations. Taking on responsibilities helps to learn new skills or even brush up existing skills. Being responsible not only in terms of taking tasks but also in terms of owning up to mistakes builds character, trust among peers and positions individuals as a skilled and valuable asset.
Empathy is a person's ability to get a bird's eye view of situations with multiple perspectives. "To be able to empathise does not mean to submit to another's point of view but to be able to analyse situations in a manner where all perspectives are understood and a mutually beneficial result is reached," said Raiyan Ahmed. According to Tasnin Khair, there is a very thin line that separates empathy from sympathy and it is very easy to confuse the two.
Shayaan Seraj highlights a current situation in the workplace, "Empathy is often viewed as a softness/naivety and taken advantage of. As a result, managers resort to aggression and intentional demonstration of apathy. There is also the added fact of the generation gap, older managers tend to be more comfortable with using the traditional tried and tested way of work as opposed to the millennial way of thinking."
During conversation, one should sincerely listen with the intent to understand the perspective of the speaker instead of rushing to respond. It is important to pay attention not only to the message, but also to the tone of voice, volume, pace, and emphasis on certain words. This is vital as the true message is not always found in words, but in how the words are being expressed.
It is very easy to get emotionally involved and that lowers the ability to be perceptive. Individuals must remember that everything is information and nothing is personal. Taking things personally clouds judgment and often increases the risk of being aggressive. This can be practiced by engaging in conversation with friends, family, coworkers or even strangers while travelling or in waiting rooms.
Part of being an empathetic person is to be genuinely interested without being judgmental. Curiosity expands empathy when talking to people outside the usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews that are very different from one another. Attending seminars and other events is a great way to meet and connect with people and it helps to brush up on becoming emphatic.
It will always be necessary for individuals to have a set of specialised skills to secure employment or to start a business. But the perfect blend of people skills along with the specialised skills are what leads organisations to become successful and progress smoothly. In many cases, talented candidates are unable to shine during the recruitment process due to lack of people skills. Even professionals may face stagnation in their career and find it difficult to juggle between social and professional life.
The writer is working as talent acquisition lead at Oval HR Solutions. He can be reached at [email protected]