As more and more of our lives become digital, distanced and distracted, more learning leaders are talking 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 with one another.
Skills such as empathy, listening, receiving feedback, flexibility and being a team player hold tremendous value. However, gaps in soft skills continue to be a problem in today’s work environment.
Employers know they can’t overlook the lack of these soft skills within their workforce, and employees know they may need help improving in these areas. Mentoring can help.
At its core, mentoring is about people coming together and learning from one another. It’s about having real conversations, being open with one another, showing vulnerability, and building relationships. In a nutshell, mentoring relationships help people improve soft skills such as listening, receiving feedback and being empathetic because they use those same skills in the relationships themselves. People can practice those skills during mentoring, even if the main focus of the relationship is not centered on the soft skill itself.
Here are three examples of how learning leaders can use mentoring to support soft skills development:
- Communication skills: Mentoring relationships allow people to share their feelings about different topics; they create 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. This prompts people to dive deeper into their own thoughts, feelings and opinions.
- Listening skills: Mentoring relationships rely heavily on good listening skills. People need to listen to what is being said, and to what may not be said. Deep, intuitive listening — and the requisite follow-up questioning to gain understanding — can lead to learning opportunities, breakthroughs and moments of personal and professional growth. Mentors should focus on the thoughts, ideas and feelings being communicated by their mentoring partner. Really try to be present for them and concentrate on what the partner is trying to convey instead of simply preparing a response.
- Empathy: 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 another person’s situation, and imagine how they would feel and react in the other person’s shoes. As people practice and build this skill within the safety of a mentoring relationship, they can apply it in other work situations. Empathy can be used to build better communication and listening skills. So, when others are talking, mentoring partners should think about what they’re saying, their motives, experiences and feelings. A lot of what a person communicates is not on the surface, so one must tune the senses to intuit deeper messages being sent. Empathy will help 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 a 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 their employees have soft skills to address a variety of client issues.
Google had its 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. Start helping employees develop their soft skills through mentoring relationships.
Laura Francis is the director of marketing for River, a mentoring software company. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.