People skills – why they matter now more than ever

Business 31st August 2020

Have you noticed? We tend to take people skills for granted. We assume that they’re important in the workplace. We know that, in order to foster a positive and fruitful workplace, it’s important that everyone gets on. But what does this mean in today’s climate? With so many people working from home, do social and personal skills matter as much? Should we now be happy to employ extreme introverts or even hermits?

Companies talk a good deal about people skills. But what do they mean? Maybe it’s time to take a closer look.

We associate people skills with good manners, time management and influence. These are, of course, important traits. It doesn’t matter where you work or the nature of your role. Your people skills affect your ability to listen, to respond, to act, make decisions and to create a warm and friendly environment.

Here are a few of them that, especially during today’s difficult times, are important to have more than ever –

Communication isn’t just about making people feel comfortable. It’s about articulating information in an appropriate and timely fashion. For example, imagine there was a fire in your company’s building, would you send out a company-wide email, explaining that the building is on fire? Possibly not! This reaction might be timely, but it wouldn’t be appropriate. More likely, you’d set off the fire alarm. A person with good communication skills knows when and how to speak up, as well as when to stay silent.

The past six months have tested this skill more than ever before. Businesses closed, company rules changed, employees were furloughed, jobs disappeared, and new ones emerged – all because of the COVID-19 virus. People who will survive a crisis such as this are those who can be adaptable – people who face change head-on. They are more likely to come up with fresh ideas for addressing challenges. Some people will just shut down as soon as difficulties arise. An adaptable person responds with “Okay, we can get round this. Let’s find out how!” Remote work and evolving public health guidance continue to be the norm. So adaptability is a critical skill for navigating a way through.

Someone with leadership skills is able to listen to feedback, absorb ideas, take a decision. They can then inspire people to move forward with purpose and enthusiasm. Evidence of leadership skills materialises in how they interact with others and the example they set through their own work.

There is, of course, a difference between being a leader and being the boss. The two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. You can run a company and not be a leader. Alternatively, you can lead without being the boss.

When lockdown first kicked in, and employees left their office desks to work from home, they needed to use certain new skills or at least polish up on skills, which had been previously under-used. These might include their use of virtual written communication tools, such as emails and work chats. People often think that writing skills are only important for public relations professionals or report writers, when, in fact, good writing skills are critical now more than ever.
Without the presence of body language, employees must be sure that every text, slack or email sent is communicated clearly. Emojis certainly have a role to play here  – they help express an attitude or emotion through writing. Look at the difference between these two text messages –

“Did you see Jane’s email?”

“Did you see Jane’s email? 🙁 :(”

The first is neutral. The second suggests there’s something wrong, shocking, or inappropriate with Jane’s email.

People skills are always valuable, but they are especially desirable in times of change. Maybe things will go back to ‘normal’ soon, but it’s looking increasingly likely that the concept of ‘normal’ is changing permanently. That’s why we encourage employers to look for candidates with these soft skills and encourage existing employees to develop them.

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