The Soft Skills Paradox

Despite the fact that companies will frequently say that ‘our people are their greatest asset’, the reality is that many leaders and managers find emotional issues difficult to deal with.  All too often the so-called soft stuff is quietly brushed under the carpet!

The last year has been a “Coronacoaster” of fear, frustration, loneliness, boredom and sadness together with upswings of optimism, hope and admiration of others.  Like it or not, organisations are places in which people have feelings and they increasingly want them to be acknowledged.

Sorry, but if you can’t navigate all of this with a degree of skill, you simply can’t manage people …!

The usual tactics aren’t unhelpful, but they aren’t enough.  Arranging team virtual drinks or a quiz can, for some, provide an hour or two of escapism but the fundamental issue is that the emotions that folks are feeling usually won’t go away; they will just be temporarily pushed aside. 

The added complication is that we aren’t all the same!  Some characters are naturally emotionally expressive: their feelings are very apparent, and their problems are shared with anyone who will listen.  But a lot of people prefer to tough it out, bottle everything up and wear and emotional mask.  We all cope in different ways. 

Being the boss can feel tough in itself – having to be strong for others and wanting to portray an optimistic outlook, but not really having anyone to vent to.

And then there’s gender.  Expressions such as ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘man up’ are sadly still used and many men are decidedly twitchy about showing vulnerability.  Yes, women on the whole do tend to be more relaxed (and more competent) in this area but they too often carry baggage, not wanting to be seen as “hormonal”, moody or weak; sometimes even adopting more stereotypically “male” characteristics in order to cope!

If you are leading and managing people, what’s the least that you can do?

  • Be willing to show some vulnerability yourself.  It gives your colleagues permission to do the same and it’s more often seen as a strength, rather than a weakness.
  • Encourage team members to create mentoring and buddying relationships to build up their support network.
  • Ensure there is room to ‘check in’ and ‘check out’ of meetings, so that each individual has time and space to share how they really are.
  • Invest time in relationships and build trust.  Too often one to ones are cancelled, cut short or task focused.
  • Be curious about authentic emotions.  If a team member appears to be angry it may be their way of demonstrating fear or sadness.  Be comfortable digging a bit deeper, in the right place and at the right time.
  • Don’t’ feel you need to solve everyone’s problems.  Some people just want to be really listened to; they don’t necessarily need you to give them the solution.
  • Be aware of what support your organisation offers such as an Employee Assistance Programme, and signpost them to the right services.
  • Explore what people are doing to look after themselves – nutrition, exercise, sleep – these are all important here.  Model this behaviour yourself.  Be a mindful leader.
  • Remember to have follow up conversations with people who look out of sorts.
  • Create some time and space for some fun and laughter at work!

A bit of self-help?

Download our free workbook – Mood and Emotions.  You can get it here.

What to know more?  Please get in touch with us!

In the meantime, there are plenty of resources in our flagship book ‘Staying Sane in Business’ and on our wellbeing website

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