Everyone needs people skills.
We all accept that (even though there are plenty of jobs that require minimal contact with other humans), but what does it mean? And what skills do we need in today’s climate? Technical skills, of course, vary across jobs and industries, but people skills are transferable. And workplaces talk about them a lot, but can they define them? Here are a few descriptions that can help companies get a better feel for what people skills look and sound like:
People skills are associated with manners, time management and influence. These are basic traits that everyone needs—even if you're hired to be a hermit. Regardless of your industry or job, people skills impact your ability to thoughtfully listen, make decisions and create a warm and friendly environment.
Now that I’ve defined what people skills are, here are a few of them that are important to have—now more than ever:
Adaptability: In March of this year, this skill was tested as businesses closed, rules changed, jobs disappeared and new ones popped up due to COVID-19. If someone is adaptable, they can face change head-on. They can come up with new ideas for tackling problems. Instead of shutting down as soon as a landscape changes, an adaptable person says, "Okay, let’s try this now!" As remote work and evolving public health guidance continues to rule the day, adaptability is a critical skill for navigating unprecedented times.
Communication: Communication is about more than making people feel comfortable. This skill’s purpose is to convey information in a timely and appropriate manner. For example, if there was a fire in your company’s building, you wouldn’t send out a company-wide email to say the building is on fire. This reaction would certainly be timely, but not appropriate. You would pull the fire alarm. Someone with excellent communication skills knows when and how to speak up—and when and how to be quiet.
Writing: When non-essential businesses left their physical offices to work from home, video conferencing became central to jobs across industries. This shift has forced employees to increase their use of virtual written communication tools, like emails and work chats. People often think writing skills are reserved for public relations professionals or report writers, but 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. This is one of the reasons I use emojis—they can help express an attitude or emotion through writing. There’s a difference between a text that reads, "Did you see Jane’s email?" and "Did you see Jane’s email? :( :(" The first is a neutral question; the second indicates there is something wrong, shocking or inappropriate with Jane’s email.
Leadership: A person with leadership skills can listen to feedback, take in ideas, make a decision, and then get people to move forward enthusiastically. Evidence of leadership skills materializes in how you interact with others and the example you set through your own work.
It’s also important to note the difference between being the boss and being a leader. The two do not go hand-in-hand: You can run a company and not be a leader, and you can also not be the boss and be a leader.
People skills are always valuable, but they are especially desirable in times of change. Maybe things will calm down shortly, but perhaps they won’t. That’s why it’s best for employers and talent managers to look for candidates with these soft skills and encourage existing employees to develop them.
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