Develop Your Soft Skills As a Pathway to Success

In the 1970s, Harvard PhD and New York Times science writer Daniel Goleman coined the term “emotional intelligence” (EI or EQ) to describe the interpersonal and communication skills that underscore human relations. Unlike the intelligence quotient (IQ) which measures cognitive ability as a discrete number on a scale, EQ is more nuanced, covering 25 different abilities in two major classifications: personal competence and social competence.

Goleman’s research discovered that C-level executives are hired for intelligence and experience but are fired for their lack of people skills. Further, Goleman found that up to 90% of top executives’ success is attributable to the skillful handling of relationships with other people. Knowing how to work well with others is a more accurate predictor of success than being smart and capable.

The traditional picture of an effective leader is hard charging, decisive and directive, a definition which attributes business success to an individual, while research clearly demonstrates that the most successful leaders marshal the diverse talents of a team. It is also widely believed that IQ is fixed, while EQ can be learned. In light of this, it is curious that “soft skills” have a connotation of weakness, while a hardline approach is thought to achieve results.

However, having well-developed “soft skills” does not mean being agreeable, compliant, or backing down. People with a high level of EQ are able to maintain and articulate their own ideas and standards, while effectively communicating with others. It is a dance of maintaining principles while being flexible, an art unto itself. This delicate balance between the hard and soft skills brings to mind a quote attributed to Confucius: “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”

It seems logical that it is not just C-level executives who can increase effectiveness with soft skills. Strong EQ skills could also enhance the relationships of anyone who works with other people. (Which is…everyone.) For example, sometimes an entrepreneur must interact with employees of a hiring company to deliver a product. Capturing the ideas of the employees, combining them with the expertise of the entrepreneur, and delivering a product on time and on budget can be a communications headache. Mismanage that relationship, and next time, a competitor may get hired for the job.

Whether you work for a big company or for yourself, incorporating EQ into business relationships requires more time, effort and practice than a traditional directive approach. The benefits, though, are clear as a well-functioning team delivers results greater than the sum of the talents of each individual. Working to develop your EQ will make you stand out, regardless of where you work.

Ready to increase your effectiveness by mastering EQ? Here are five things you can do to start:

  1. Spend an hour defining your principles and standards.
  2. Clearly articulate standards to teammates, clients and customers.
  3. Consistently reinforce your standard by behaving to your standard.
  4. Develop top notch listening skills.
  5. Learn about the 25 EQ competencies. Think about which you excel in and which could use practice. Put together a plan to explore one of the behaviors.

Developing the complex set of “soft skills” encompassed by the term EQ is a lifelong pursuit, a journey to a destination never to be reached. The ingenious person with a desire to have effective and satisfying relationships will make it a point to incorporate soft skills into their everyday life.

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Jennifer Mallory
Jennifer Mallory founded New Tea Coaching and Consulting on principles from performance coaching and human potential research. She coaches thought-leaders to brilliance by helping them marshal their unique abilities to “skate where the puck is going.”