The Value of Soft Skills

Relational wisdom can produce major benefits in any setting where people work together, whether in an office or warehouse, on a church committee or nonprofit board, or as a mission team in the field.

These benefits include improved productivity and team cohesiveness, better balance between work and family life, less conflict, reduced staff and volunteer turnover, higher customer satisfaction, and increased growth and profitability.

These benefits have been well documented in the workplace, although it took managers a while to see how closely connected they are to relational skills.

For years companies typically hired new employees on the basis of their “hard skills,” which generally included their technical expertise, education, certifications, and experience—qualities that are usually related to IQ and can be listed on a resume.

Over time, however, corporate executives and human resource managers noticed that employees with impressive resumes were often difficult to work with, disappointing performers, and a detriment to the unity and productivity of their coworkers.

In contrast, employees with only average technical skills frequently proved to be the most respected, valued, and productive workers in an organization.

This pattern (and many related academic studies) led companies to realize that what often proves to be the primary factor in employees’ value to a company is their “soft skills.” These skills include abilities such as listening, empathy, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and conflict resolution–the fruit of relational wisdom.

This principle applies to churches as well. What makes most pastors (and other ministry workers) successful and able to serve a church for a long period of time is not the excellence of the exegesis, hermeneutics, or sermon delivery but rather their ability to relate to their people with genuine humility, love, gentleness and compassion.

To see some of these qualities in action–and the career-changing impact they can have–watch how Will Smith handles a disastrous work interview.

Biblically Commended

The Bible repeatedly highlights the value of well developed relational skills and their beneficial impact in group settings. For example, Proverbs 22:11 says, “He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.”

In other words, when we come to the workplace or any group setting with a sincere desire to look out for the interests of others (instead of looking out only for ourselves, Phil. 2:3-4), and communicate in ways that encourage and build others up (Eph. 4:29), we will usually gain the respect and appreciation of those we serve (Prov. 17:2).

The Multiplication Effect

What makes relational abilities so valuable to working with a group is that every team member’s soft skills have the power to magnify—or diminish—the value of not only their own hard skills but also those of the people with whom they are working.

The interface between these two sets of skills is illustrated by the following diagram, in which the operand is not a “+” sign but rather a “x” sign, which signifies the multiplying (or diminishing) effect of every worker’s relational skills.

For example, if one member of a team is arrogant, insensitive, or insecure, and tends to discount or criticize others’ accomplishments or ideas, the cohesiveness and creativity of an entire team can be undermined (100 x 0 = 0).

In contrast, if a worker (or better yet, an entire team) learns how to read others’ emotions and interests (Prov. 20:5), encourage the inexperienced or insecure (1 Thess. 5:14), applaud others’ innovation and accomplishments (Rom. 16:1-2), and prevent or quickly resolve conflict (Prov. 15:18), the unity, energy, creativity, and productivity of an entire team can be magnified (James 3:17-18).

Proven Performance Benefits

The value of strong relational skills is revealed by the corporate world’s growing emphasis on teaching “emotional intelligence” (also known as “EI” or “EQ”) to their managers. EQ is a secular version of relational wisdom. It does not address God awareness or engagement, but instead focuses on the four other skills of the relational wisdom paradigm, which EQ writers refer to as self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Even without a God-ward focus, increased EQ has proven to produce significant, measurable improvements in professional advancement and team productivity. As Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves write:

How much of an impact does EQ have on your professional success? The short answer is: a lot! We’ve tested EQ alongside 33 other important workplace skills, and found that it subsumes the majority of them, including time management, decision-making, and communication.

Your EQ is the foundation for a host of critical skills—it impacts most everything you say and do each day. EQ is so critical to success that it accounts for 58% of performance in all types of jobs. It’s the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.

No matter whether people measure high or low in EQ, they can work to improve it, and those who score low can actually catch up to their coworkers…. People who are low in EQ and job performance can match their colleagues who excel in both—solely by working to improve their EQ.

Of all the people we’ve studied at work, we’ve found that 90 percent of top performers are also high in EQ. On the flip side, just 20% of bottom performers are high in EQ. You can be a high performer without EQ, but the chances are slim….

Naturally, people with high EQ’s make more money—an average of $29,000 more per year than people with low EQs. The link between EQ and earnings is so direct that every point increase in EQ adds $1,300 to an annual salary. These findings hold true for people in all industries, at all levels, in every region of the world. We haven’t yet been able to find a job in which performance and pay aren’t tied closely to EQ (Emotional Intelligence 2.0, pages 19-22).

Others studies have resulted in similar conclusions.

“The highest performing managers and leaders have significantly more ’emotional competence’ than other managers…. The single most important contributor to the feelings of employee engagement, empowerment, and satisfaction is based on the relationship they have with the leaders of the organization…. Management practices that affect employee satisfaction can have bottom line results on productivity and profit.” (Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D., Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Employee Engagement)

“A multitude of studies suggest that EI is a strong predictor of job performance…. A study found that partners in a multinational consulting firm who scored higher than the median on an EI measure produced $1.2 million more in business than other partners did.” (Natalie Shipley, The Effects of Emotional Intelligence, Age, Work Experience, and Academic Performance)

Click 100 additional articles to learn more about the documented benefits of emotional intelligence in a variety of settings, including business, health care, education, athletics, and the military.

Workers Inspired by the Gospel

If the corporate world is consistently observing these kinds of benefits to be associated with high emotional intelligence, Christians should be especially motivated to develop their relational skills.

By building on the foundation for all relationships—God himself—and drawing inspiration and power from the greatest model the world has ever seen for relationship building—the gospel of Christ—we have the potential to be highly productive members of any group or organization the Lord calls us to serve.

–Ken Sande

See 100+ articles on the benefits of relational skills

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