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Words from pros
03 Sep 2020

The secret to help managers develop the soft skills of their teams

For a long time, hard skills, i.e. business expertise and technical skills, were the only ones considered in the world of work. However, in order to innovate or improve well-being at work, soft skills have gradually been recognized for their value within organizations. Psychologist, coach and author on the subject, Christophe Deval offers his expertise and advice to help managers develop these human skills within their teams.

develop your teams soft skills

There is a lot of talk about soft skills today. But what is it concretely?

Christophe Deval, Psychologist, coach and author on the subject
Christophe Deval, Psychologist, coach and author on the subject

C.D: Initially, soft skills referred to behavioural competencies, such as management skills, public speaking and negotiation skills. In recent years, however, the concept has broadened to include creativity, empathy and emotional intelligence. Soft skills therefore include psychological, behavioural and interpersonal skills. Human skills in short. 

In your opinion, are there any soft skills that are particularly necessary for good inter-professional relations?

C.D: Two seem essential to me in business: cooperation and empathy. The first qualifies the ability to work together for the common interest, as opposed to overly individualistic behaviour. The second, empathy or our ability to understand others. 

And on the management side? What are the essential soft skills for a manager?

C.D: In my last book, I listed the human skills or soft skills that are indispensable to any human being whatever the context. First, it is the ability to control one’s attention. They are also mental flexibility, emotional intelligence, the ability to share meaning and values, empathy, cooperation… 

These soft skills seem to me necessary for everyone. On the other hand, they can manifest themselves in a more specific way when you are a manager. Empathy will be a driving force to help others to better manage or live their emotions. Shared meaning and values will not only allow him to be in tune with what he is driving, but also to bring a vision within the collective. 

How can a manager help his employees to develop soft skills? 

C.D: Many managers outsource, through training or coaching. Often it is a trap: you might think that sending an employee for two days of training will allow him to come back transformed. However, it is in this post-training time that the manager has a real role to play. 

He can first be an example himself. A manager who shows emotional intelligence or is a real driving force for cooperation will tend to influence his team in this direction. 

It can also put its employees in a position to develop their soft skills. Often in organizations, the imperative of productivity and performance encourages people to put their skills to work. But to develop skills, you must face new situations. 

And it should provide regular feedback. Beware of too high expectations, however: too often, the feedback given tends to underline what is wrong. This is disheartening and does not allow you to become aware of what you have already acquired and what you are in the process of acquiring.

Is it necessary to have a group vision or to act on a case-by-case basis? 

C.D: It will depend on the context. If everyone performs well except one person, he or she will have to be helped individually to develop the soft skill(s) that he or she lacks. On the other hand, if we want to develop a team’s sense of cooperation, for example, we will be able to discuss collectively the expected behaviours and the levers to help each other. 

However, we should not want to change things without changing the context around us. To develop a team’s creativity, we can, for example, adopt new ways of working, arrange the physical work environment differently or allow employees to evolve in a place that is totally foreign to the company. 

How can a manager help his team members develop soft skills when working from home?

C.D: In a number of situations, working remotely does not make much difference. We continue to exchange information, but by videoconference. Everyone’s behaviour will not be identical, but it is still possible to observe and give feedback collectively or individually. 

However, since relationships are more relaxed, I think it would be appropriate to include a point focused on soft skills. The manager will then take the time to find out how an employee develops his or her soft skills in the context of teleworking, how he or she manages to get organized and how he or she experiences the situation. 

From a distance, you must imagine new ways of relating, developing and demonstrating your skills. And periods of upheaval are ideal because our usual ways of doing things can no longer work. 

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