30th January 2017

How to coach your employees on the soft skills they need to develop

Your team’s success depends on much more than individual knowledge and hard skills.

It relies on their ability to work together, engage with others, and solve problems that aren’t always their own.

Nowadays, when relationships matter so much in business and the workplace, it’s not enough to be an expert on the ‘hard skills’ your career needs. So, if your team truly wants to succeed, each member needs to work on developing their “soft skills”.

As you know, soft skills deal with the intangible elements of our thinking and behaviors that are hard to quantify like communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. As the importance of soft skills in the workplace has never been higher, we’ve had to come up with plenty of soft skill development techniques over the past 13 years in order to improve the performance of our teams.

Here are four techniques (of many) that we’ve found to help develop our clients’ employees soft skills:


1. Get them to become more self-aware

Self-awareness is the number one most important soft skill you (and your team) must develop. Think of it as looking at yourself from the viewpoint of others. How you see yourself is rarely the same way others see you.

And being aware of this difference is vital in being both a leader and a contributing member of your team. That’s why when trying to make your employees more self-aware, you need to go on the same journey as them.

With each decision you make, try to put yourself in your team members shoes. Ask yourself how they feel, what external factors in their lives that could affect the quality of their work, and for every decision they make, ask yourself how they could have done better.

Doing so helps you gain a clearer understanding of how other see you and what they think of your decisions. You should also sit down with your team and discuss those principles to make them more conscious of how they affect others.

Try this exercise:


Next time you sit down with your team to discuss performance, try asking them to do the following:

  1. Write down three things they feel that they’re good at, and rate themselves out of 10.

  2. Write down three things they feel that they need to improve at and rate themselves out of 10.

  3. Make a list of roles they feel they’re a part of in both their team and personal lives

  4. Get (and give) feedback on those answers within your team.

It’s important you participate in this activity just as much as your team because this helps them see you as ‘one of the team’ instead of just their ‘manager’.

Becoming more self-aware brings forward issues which you may have ignored otherwise. They can be anything from being inconsiderate of others to realising that you need to communicate more. It can also help you focus on building on their strengths and weaknesses by giving structured insights to your team.


2. Get your team to become more trusting of each other

When it comes to coaching employees on their soft skills, you need to build trust within the team. Whether it’s trusting that we’ll be honest to each other, that we’ll stick to our commitments, or that we’ll help each other out when the occasion arises.

Trust at this level only comes from knowing each other as people — not as colleagues. As a team, you need to get to know each other personally, and that means learning about their hobbies, interests, fears and challenges. The better we know the person, the more we trust them. As their leader, you need to build an environment where trust is spread across the team.

The easiest way to build trust is to lead by example. Show your team you trust them by giving them projects which don’t need to be micromanaged by you. Confide in them what your plans are, and just be transparent and open about your decisions. You can even ask them to help you with a problem you’re facing.

If your team can’t trust you, or you can’t trust them, how can they trust each other?

Another way is to show interest in their lives. Ask them how their weekend went, what they got up to last night, and keep in mind their answers for the next time you speak. Hopefully, this will get your team to ask each other the same questions.

You could even set aside some time each week for informal speaking. When you group up for your Monday morning meeting, go around the group and get everyone to share what they did on the weekend — you’ll find people will become much more open with each other.


3. Encourage your team to work together and build on each other

Great contributors (aka. your team members) make the effort to test clarity, address concerns, and understand other people’s perspective to establish a shared view and align their focus.

Coming from the point made above – lead by example – it’s up to you to facilitate this. This means encouraging them to ask for more details, picking out holes in strategies and giving your own recommendations to the problems your team is facing; as long as you make it a comfortable environment for them to dispute your suggestions.

You must also be transparent and open about your intentions. Make sure they know you’re trying to improve communication within the team as this will encourage your team to work with you to achieve this goal.


4. Coach them and work on developing those skills together

Most employees aren’t fully qualified for their job. There’s usually a few areas where they’ll need extra training and development when they start out. And that’s no different when it comes to soft skills. Almost everyone needs to improve their soft skills in at least one or two areas.

Where we’ve previously spoken about development techniques to improve their soft skills as a whole (which mostly falls under communications), there are certain times when you need to sit down one-on-one with your employees and discuss the areas where they lack.

They could be lacking conflict resolution skills, work ethic, or they may even be unable to adapt to changes in the organisation. But if you bring those issues forward, they’ll now be aware of them, and they’ll keep these issues in mind if and try to fix them.

How you manage this is up to you, but we suggest being transparent about why you’re bringing this issues up and helping to create a plan to develop those skills.


Next time you conduct an employee performance review, you may want to discuss coaching them to develop their soft skills if they’re struggling to hit their KPI’s. You can do this using our One-Page Job Description Template. So if you want your employees to smash their KPIs, then download it by clicking here.

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Greg Cox

Greg Cox

With more than 35 years in Senior Human Resources and consulting roles throughout Australia, Asia and Europe, Greg is highly sought after for his wise and pragmatic counsel. His is depth of understanding around how businesses succeed, has played a major role in some of the world’s most respected companies including; Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes, Thorn EMI, Telstra, AAPT and UGL Limited.
Greg Cox

Categories: Developing Talent

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