As more and more of our lives become digital, distanced, and distracted, I find it telling that many HR folks have been talking a lot about soft skills—or the lack thereof within their employee populations. We’re all obsessed with being connected, but we don’t seem to do so well when it comes to actually connecting.
Skills such as empathy, listening, receiving feedback, flexibility, and being a team player hold tremendous value; however, as studies from DDI and others show, gaps in soft skills continue to be a problem in today’s work environment. We’ve lost our ability to connect with people on a human level, and instead focus most of our attention on the screen in front of us.
Employers know they can’t overlook the lack of these soft skills within their workforce, and employees know they may need help improving upon these skills. So what can we do to address this? The answer is mentoring.
Yes, I know…you’re not surprised I said that. But here’s why I think mentoring is the answer. Mentoring is about people coming together and learning from one another. It is about having real conversations with one another, being open with one another, showing vulnerability with one another, and building relationships with one another. In a nutshell, mentoring relationships help people improve their soft skills like listening, receiving feedback, and empathy because they use those same skills within the relationships themselves. People can practice those skills within the context of their mentoring relationships, even if the main focus of the relationship is not centered on the soft skill itself.
Want to try this yourself? Here are three examples for how you can use mentoring to support building soft skills.
1. Communication Skills
Mentoring relationships allow people to share their feelings about different topics at hand or other critical aspects of the mentoring relationship, creating a safe place to explore and express emotions. These relationships also encourage discussion through open-ended questions that require more descriptive answers than just yes or no, which in turn makes people dive deeper into their own thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Try this yourself by asking open-ended questions of your mentoring partner and by probing into some of the opinions and feelings being expressed.
Mentoring relationships rely heavily on good listening skills. People need to listen for what is being said, but also for what is not being said. This can lead to learning opportunities, breakthroughs, and moments of personal and professional growth. To try this yourself, focus on the thoughts, ideas, and feelings being communicated by your mentoring partner. Really try to be present for them and concentrate on what your partner is trying to convey instead of preparing your response.
Good mentoring relationships help people build empathy, often by forging a bond and connection between partners that helps them learn how to put themselves in one another’s situation and imagine how they would feel and react. As people practice and build this skill within the safety of a mentoring relationship, they can then begin to apply it in other work situations. In fact, empathy can be used to build better communication and listening skills. Try this yourself: When others are talking, think about what they are saying about their motives, experiences, and feelings. A lot of what a person communicates is not on the surface, so you must tune your senses to intuit the deeper message that is being sent. Empathy will help you make sense of these subtleties.
The need for soft skills will continue to grow as humanity rebels against the removal of human elements in our lives. For example, people want to talk to an actual live person when they call a company with a problem. They want to speak with someone who will understand their issue and who will express empathy for the situation. As a result, businesses need to ensure that their employees have these soft skills to address whatever client issues arise. Heck, even Google had their artificial intelligence engine consume thousands of romance novels in an attempt to become more conversational and human-like. You know the pendulum has swung when we start trying to teach computers soft skills. Get on board now and start helping your employees develop their soft skills through mentoring relationships.