Soft skills for tough times

When times are tough, being smart is the minimum.



Sure, our aptitude and intellect are necessary to deal with mounting work demands, but if we can’t pull through as a united team to make the right things happen, our individual know-how is of little use. Let’s admit it, when it’s no longer business as usual, we need each other even more.

Yet teamwork isn’t as easy as it sounds, and no one understands this better than the leader or manager given the dual responsibility of keeping an eye on the goal and keeping the team together.

Enter soft skills—your personality and communication traits, which other people refer to as emotional intelligence quotient or EQ. EQ is not about being Mr. Nice Guy; it’s about being able to manage our emotions and being sensitive to those of others. It’s about being creative, flexible, even resilient in times of increasing pressure—soft skills that make you a better team member and an even more effective team leader.

Here below are some soft skills to help us keep our teams intact in times when we need them most.

a. Criticize without humiliating

Tough times compel us to toughen our work standards to sift outstanding ideas from the ordinary, and rightly so—if the business landscape has changed, so too must our ways of thinking and doing. But not everyone gets it right immediately; some don’t get it right the first time. When shortcomings like these surface in the face of tougher measures, some experts say it’s better to call a spade a spade but never to the point of humiliation.

Humiliation is tricky because while a good dose of it keeps us on our toes, psychologists say it is a poor motivator in the long run. Employees who are often humiliated feel belittled and diminished; they not only lose self-esteem, but they also tend to disengage from the team’s goal and keep good ideas to themselves.

So if you are quick to curtness because of a bad idea or work, take some personal time-out before communicating with your team member. Some people practice “tactful assertiveness,” which means that being tough about work standards doesn’t require that you be nasty, only that you be firm.

b. Face up to poor performance

We all have our bad days; even star players fall short of expectations sometimes. If we make bad days the default excuse for hiding behind our weaknesses, we’re not only being insincere to our teams, but we are also being unfair to ourselves—as if we don’t have the ability to improve.

Facing up to poor performance doesn’t just mean admitting a wrong decision, which admittedly requires some maturity to do, but it’s also about recognizing that we can be better and that we are open to opportunities for improvement. It’s not just owning up to a limitation, but also welcoming the prospect for personal and professional development.

c. Listen first and emphatically

Listening is arguably the most important element in the communication process, but it is often the most neglected. We pass over it in our rush to find the answers and in our excitement to get quick results, only to realize that we didn’t get it right or we overlooked the core issues. If only we listened well.

We think we listened enough if we hear the message and paraphrase it in our own words, only to realize that sometimes, the most important of messages are best not said at all. If only we listened well.

Listening is also about being open to other people’s ideas and not sticking to our own as the only best, thinking we are always better than others. Sometimes we get surprised by creative ideas that come from the most unlikely of team members. If only we listened to them well.

d. Energize the team 

Tough times doesn’t mean that meetings have to be a drab, and we become all too stiff and dreary. We’re not saying let’s take things lightly because we shouldn’t—it’s our jobs, our organization, and our collective future that are at stake; it’s just that tough times doesn’t necessarily mean that work and working have to be uninspiring.

Energizing the team means keeping the spirits high and alive, working on the side of optimism, continuing team traditions and rituals, and celebrating team accomplishments when called for.

Some experts say innovative thinking thrives in an environment where creativity is given enough elbow room, and so we can perhaps balance hard, serious work with the joy of camaraderie and opportunity for individuality to get the best out of our teams. Sometimes all it takes is not new technology like social media but a dash of humor and a box of chocolates.

Do you have other suggestions for a soft skill for the tough times?

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