5 soft skills you need to succeed at work

Our emotional intelligence is what sets us apart.

5 soft skills you need to succeed at work
[Source photo: fizkes/iStock; Videvo (glitter)]

It’s no secret that interpersonal skills are the way of the future. In fact, it’s likely they will define your future. A 2018 LinkedIn global survey of 4,000 professionals concluded that “training for soft skills is the number-one priority.”


Why? Soft skills—often referred to as emotional intelligence, or EQ—are what set us apart. According to a 2015 LinkedIn report, people with high EQ make on average $29,000 more than their non-emotionally intelligent counterparts. The bottom line is that you’ll thrive in the job market if you have strong interpersonal skills. While there is a broad range of skills that can be called “interpersonal,” the following five are absolutely critical:

 1. Respectfulness

It’s easy to get absorbed in our work (or ourselves) and forget about common courtesy, but demonstrating respect for others is key to developing personal relationships. When you’re in a meeting—or anywhere else, really—wait for people to finish what they’re saying before you chime in. Thank others when they’ve shared an idea, acknowledge their contribution, and build upon it. If you’re leading the meeting, acknowledge everyone’s presence by inviting comments from each person and thanking them for participating.

Another way to convey respect is by showing up on time for appointments and meetings. (And if you come into a meeting late, don’t try to justify it by saying, “I had a meeting with our chairman,” or “I got stuck in traffic.” Just show up on time.)

 2. Interest

A just-released study by Globant reveals that 48% of employees have felt embarrassed because they didn’t know a coworker’s name. This should go without saying, but make it a point to learn the names of your colleagues (even if they work in other departments or offices) and use them. Once you get to know someone, remember what they’ve told you. If someone has given a big presentation or has a family event, don’t let that slip from your mind. Ask about it, and make sure you talk more about them than about yourself.

3. Focus

One of the best ways to make sure you sustain your focus on the person you’re talking with is to put your phone away, and use body language to keep yourself centered on the other person. Look others directly in the eye and align your body with theirs. Facial expressions, too, can help show you’re focused. These sorts of body language cues will show that you are paying attention, which will also help you stay connected.

4. Listening

Listening is a delicate art, but there are three simple ways to listen: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Physical listening means watching the body language of others, and responding accordingly. If someone has a frown or closed arms, realize you’re not getting through, and revamp the conversation.


Mental listening involves connecting with what others are thinking, and probing to get to the heart of what they are saying. So ask, “Do you think we should launch this program? Tell me more.”

Emotional listening means listening for what others are feeling, and showing that you understand and care. You might say to a team member, “Do you feel comfortable with this assignment?” Or, “Did you enjoy the conference?” Avoid the more generic, “How’s it going?” (That cliché is bound to prompt others to respond with a cliché of their own: “Not bad.”)

5. Love

While it’s rare for us to think of love in the workplace, there are absolutely grounds for doing so. Sigal Barsade, professor of management at the Wharton School, writes about the importance of “companionate love” in the office. By this she means “feelings of affection, compassion, caring, and tenderness for others.”

“Employees who reported being from a stronger culture of companionate love had more job satisfaction, more commitment, and greater personal accountability,” she says, citing a study in which she and fellow researchers surveyed 3,200 employees in seven industries.

We all need to show interpersonal skills that convey the warmth and affection we confer on our other key relationships. This means telling others when they’ve done something great, using the word “love,” as in “I love the work your team is doing,” or “I love your idea.” And show love by being affectionate and caring—give small gifts for accomplishments, make meetings joyful, and focus on finding moments of compassion.


About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She also recently established EQUOS Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical, and business sectors