‘Soft skills’ have often been overlooked or taken for granted in the past, as they are hard to measure and just as hard to explain. Recent studies, however, point to an interesting trend: it is these skills that are being increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications. As psychologist and expert on emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman, argues,

“Soft skills have hard value because they are catalytic for whatever other abilities we have: they allow us to make the best use of them, to apply them, and to leverage them.”

Even though some cultures might not explicitly value things like empathy or other elements of emotional intelligence, implicitly it is what makes people highly effective regardless of what they do. It affects their decision-making and critical faculties, as well as their ability to process information and retain memory, even if they are not conscious of it.

Emotional Intelligence explained…

A common misperception is to think of emotions as impulsive behaviour while conflating intelligence with IQ scores or rationality.

What we now know as emotional intelligence (EI) is the result of extensive research, conducted by Professors Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer back in 1990. The concept, however, was further developed and brought into the public eye by Goleman, who published a book on the subject, called "Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ”.

The central argument which all of them put forth is that emotions matter in multiple aspects of our life.

Why do soft skills matter to employers?

It is believed that people with good soft skills, meaning a high EQ (emotional intelligence quotient), are more skilled in cultivating positive relationships with clients and colleagues. Also, they are adept at communicating with clarity and diplomacy to individuals from diverse cultural and organisational backgrounds. Acting as a harmoniser in the workplace by defusing tense situations and resolving conflicts (a result of their ability to empathise with others ), they create an environment conducive to teamwork. Such people remain calm when faced with adversity because they are aware of their emotions and are able to exercise self-control as opposed to indulging in negative thoughts or self-sabotaging behaviour. They embrace criticism and use it constructively to improve their performance rather than thinking of it as an attack on their personality.

Showing your soft skills to employers:

Studying the various nuances of emotional intelligence, Goleman provides us with the fundamentals that we need to learn first before we can dive into the grit of the subject matter. Here is an overview of the five pillars that underpin EI, and how mastery over each and every one of them is essential to our success in the workplace.


Self-Awareness

Being aware of our emotions and recognising their impact on our personal performance is critical to decision-making, both at work and in our personal lives. It implies that we are able to take an honest look at our strengths and weaknesses, and reflect on how our emotional states affect our communication with others, our productivity and general well-being.

Tip: If you are lacking in the self-awareness department, you are running a serious risk of misrepresenting yourself at work. Therefore, it’s a good idea to reflect on the experiences from your university group work or volunteering gigs after you are finished with them. This will help you even beyond answering the dreaded “What’s your biggest weakness? question in a job interview.

 

Self-Motivation

Having a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money and status gives us a valuable advantage in the job market: it’s what helps us to remain goal-oriented, even when faced with obstacles and frustrations. It makes us better equipped to take those life-altering decisions, such as enrolling in a study programme or choosing a career path.

Tip: Invest some time into finding out what drives you to do your best work. That will not only help you to get your point across when interviewing for a job but would also make you more resilient to rejections that everyone receives every once in awhile in their professional lives.


Self-Management

Our emotional state influences the way we do our job, there is no doubt about it. However, it’s not just about being aware of those erratic impulses and the crippling effect they have upon us, but about the way we manage them because, ultimately, this is what will reflect on the quality of our work and our relationships with colleagues. It also moulds the perceptions people form about us.

Tip: Maintaining a firm grip over our emotions enables us to keep our composure in trying circumstances (just think of how confusing job interviews can be), and prevents us from getting sucked into a petty argument, or worse, retreat into our shell to passive-aggressively brood.

 

Empathy

Being able to tune into the feelings of others enables us to relate to them in a more effective manner. What it reveals about us is that we are emotionally responsive, and that makes us excellent communicators!

Tip: Empathy shows to a great extent in our communication skills. In a business context, it is what helps you listen to and understand the needs of customers. Empathy also translates into being able to leverage networks (official and unofficial ones), as well as understanding cultural differences and using that to our advantage.

 

Social Skills

In today’s business world, being mentally astute but emotionally cold and distant would not get us far in terms of career progression. In any field of endeavour, we need to possess a certain technical expertise to be able to make a meaningful contribution, yet to push our professional game to new heights we also need people skills. In fact, many experts now believe that a person’s EQ is more important than their IQ and is certainly a better predictor of success.

As Rosemary Haefner, a vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, notes: “Technical competency and intelligence are important assets for every worker; but when it comes down to you and another candidate for a promotion or new job, dynamic interpersonal skills will set you apart.”

How does EI relate to the hiring process?

EI is increasingly being factored into the hiring decisions employers make. Recruiters would assess applicants’ emotional intelligence by asking so-called behavioural interview questions during the interview stage aimed at shifting the spotlight onto their personality. Some companies have also incorporated EQ tests as part of their candidate assessment process.

The bottom line: employers look for candidates who know how to listen and how to communicate effectively - both important aspects of EI. It is not just employers, however, who would require that extra special touch - being able to function in a team environment, once hired, you would need to display an authentic concern for the welfare of your colleagues (empathy) and an ability to keep interactions pleasant (social skills).


Are you emotionally intelligent? Find out!