Blogger Managing Children's Services Committee

Developing Social Skills . . . in Your Staff

How are your social skills post-pandemic? Not your party repartee; no doubt you still sparkle there! We’re talking about your ability to listen and to communicate clearly, respectfully, and often as you lead your team at work. And about that team . . . how effective are your staff’s social skills?

As a new professional and first-time manager, I learned about being an effective leader and good employee by watching and emulating experienced colleagues. How did they speak to and about their bosses, colleagues, staff, and patrons? How did they prepare for and handle a sensitive interaction? What workplace behaviors were appropriate – and effective?

The erosion of workers’ social skills, sometimes called soft skills, has been an identified casualty of the pandemic. Experienced workers saw their skills decline. New first-career workers had fewer opportunities to observe and learn workplace norms. For managers leading teams, the resulting inexpert behavior can present a challenge to team success.

What types of challenges are managers seeing? The inexperienced staff member who gives her supervisor detailed feedback on his work with suggestions for improvement. The coworker who always shares very personal information in team meetings. The long-term colleague who no longer masks their feelings of disdain for administration. Each demonstrates unskillful social navigation in the workplace. Each diminishes team effectiveness.

Teams that work have trust. Workplace trust means a culture of shared values, honesty, psychological safety, and mutual respect. Managers have an essential role in fostering this culture – which includes helping employees develop the soft skills they need for work success.

Here are a few ideas for managers:

    • Model high level communication by being present. Focus on the person you’re talking to. Use your phone during meetings only for its calendar when scheduling, or at the request of the meeting leader. Turn on your camera for virtual meetings.

    • In staff meetings, include a brief presentation on one aspect of work social skills. Or provide articles in advance of a staff meeting, and hold a discussion about the content.

    • Demonstrate empathy. Circulate a greeting card when someone has a good or challenging life event. At a staff meeting, lead a round of applause for a person who has announced a happy life event.
    •  

There are so many more. How are you helping your staff to develop or polish their soft skills? Please share your strategies with us in the comments section!

Today’s blog post was written by Mary Fellows, Manager, Youth and Family Services at Upper Hudson Library System in Albany, NY, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. She can be reached at mary.fellows@uhls.org.

This post addresses core competencies six, Administrative and Management Skills, and seven, Professionalism and Professional Development.

3 comments

  1. Amy

    One strategy I have used and shared with others at times (especially when we discuss challenging interactions that have happened with guests or fellow staff) is to take a deep breath/ wait a beat before forming your response and use that moment to recognize your current feelings and how they may factor into forming your response in a GX- compatible way (guest experience). In (especially hard) conversations, it’s okay to take a moment instead of rushing a response.

  2. Chelsey Roos

    One thing to be aware of is that many of the things that may come across as “social skill” errors are actually simply staff who have diverse neurotypes, communicating in a way that may seem different to those around them. We want to develop mutual empathy and understanding when communicating across neurotypes and cultures.

    To use one of your own examples, it is perfectly fine for a staff member to give their supervisor feedback with suggestions, and any performance appraisal ought to have a dedicated time for this discussion. Many autistic folks can have a very positive relationship with their supervisor this way, because many autistic people speak openly with others instead of observing social hierarchies that are often heavily structured in the work place. This is not a lack of social skills, but rather a neurotypical social norm (it’s important to show deference to your supervisor) coming up against a neurodivergent social norm (it’s important to speak honestly and give others information they may be lacking). If hurt feelings arise, it is up to both parties to resolve their differences, not simply one side dictating that something is inappropriate.

    Something wonderful neurotypical managers can do is learn about neurodivergent communication styles, and work with staff to find the communication methods that work best for them.

    1. Mary Fellows

      Thank you, Chelsey, for taking the time to teach us.
      Your last paragraph nails it!

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