EQ, one’s “emotional intelligence quotient” or ability to utilize “soft skills” identifies the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication skills, personal habits, friendliness, enthusiasm and attitude that characterize how we relate to other people. By forging better, stronger relationships among staff in our school buildings, there can be positive outcomes that improve team building and higher academic achievement. Experts offer these suggestions to improve soft skills:
- Talk, Don’t Email - Writing an email instead of making a phone call or seeking a quick personal interaction may seem like an easier form of workplace communication but the more we use email, the less time you have to say hello, ask questions, and build relationships. As a general rule of thumb, try to establish relationships in person, or at least over the phone, before sending emails or texts. If you have a question for a coworker, take the time to call or make a visit in person. This significantly increases the chances for positive interactions with those colleagues in the future.
- Make Interdisciplinary Connections - While an English teacher might have a hard time imagining a sustained collaboration with an Algebra II teacher, striving to interact with colleagues from other departments and subject areas is a good way to expand student-learning possibilities while building more diverse collegial relationships. One teacher cited the relationship he established with a special education teacher – a staff member with whom he would not have otherwise interacted – that helped him relate more effectively with his regular education students. These connections need not be limited to other teachers. Effective educators can also build positive relationships with librarians, aides or school secretaries that will allow for connections that ultimately foster team building and a sense of shared success.
- Laugh - Co-workers who manage to smile or offer a joke to lighten the mood can forge bonds that make the tough days more manageable. Teaching can be a difficult and stressful business, especially in these times where the outcome of highstakes testing seems to be on everyone’s mind. An administrator or teacher who knows how to laugh can lift morale and foster a more friendly, collaborative workplace environment. • Be Positive and Enthusiastic - Building and maintaining a positive attitude/enthusiasm at work can be difficult, particularly when negative talk among staff members has become the norm. An individual with a high EQ turns negativity into an opportunity for problem solving and positive thinking.
- Show Empathy - The ability to empathize may be the number one EQ skill in an educator’s soft-skill tool kit. Empathy allows one to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings – not simply sympathize or commiserate in the face of a challenge. The truly empathetic educator listens more and talks less and asks probing and thoughtful questions to gain insight and problem solve with far greater effectiveness.\
The development of soft skills is not just for adults. The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has a curriculum for students, “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills -- Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success,” developed to teach “soft” or workforce readiness skills to youth, including those with disabilities. The curriculum is targeted for students ages 14 to 21. The basic structure of the program is comprised of modular, hands-on, engaging activities that focus on six key skill areas: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism. For information on this program, go to www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills.