Kutchins, Robbins & Diamond, Ltd. Certified Public Accountants and Advisors

Soft Skills Are Hard Work

I am not sure who it was that first decided to call certain critical people skills: abilities like communication, empathy, and connection “soft”. 

That label, intended to differentiate non-technical skills from more traditional technical ones, downplays the importance of skills that are critical to success in today’s highly automated world. A better title is “Emotional Intelligence” or what he calls “EQ”. Daniel Goleman, who wrote the 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence”, defines EQ as “the ability to identify, assess and control one’s own emotions, the emotion of others and that of groups.” Goleman cites research from the Harvard Business School that concludes that EQ counts twice as much as IQ as a determining factor in success.

While accountants have traditionally been perceived to have low scores on many emotional intelligence metrics, both the perception and the reality is changing at a rapid rate. Where accounting firms like ours used to focus primarily on technical skills in their hiring and evaluations of staff performance, today that focus has shifted to a broader set of skills that allow teams to leverage their technical acumen in ways that make a bigger impact for their clients.  Our goal in hiring is to find people who can apply the rules of accounting but can also help interpret them, seek out new insights, and guide teams in producing the desired results. Where consistency used to be a primary requirement, flexibility and agility are now more important for accountants who are dealing with new and evolving technologies, working with people, and reviewing processes on behalf of their clients.

Likewise, organizations of all kinds are changing the way they hire, evaluate, and reward their teams, especially in light of the new demands on people resulting from remote working arrangements.  EI has become a key factor for leaders who need to keep their teams connected and engaged across video screens.  So how can we help our leaders and teams evaluate and improve their own EI?

Goleman’s original EI concept was refined and updated by authors Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves in their book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” which offers insights on both measuring (there is an assessment link included with each copy of the book) and improving the four aspects of EQ which include:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Management
  3. Social Awareness
  4. Relationship Management

While it might seem like hard work to improve our emotional selves, the good news is that EQ, like many other skills can be taught.  With awareness and a desire to improve, people can strengthen their skills in these areas and be more successful in their work and ultimately, their lives.    

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