Why you need ‘soft skills’ to thrive in health care

5 facts about the U.S. nursing shortage

This story was originally published on Aug. 23, 2013.

Workplace experts will tell you that “hard” skills get you hired, but “soft” skills are more likely to determine success on the job.

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"You may have wonderful clinical skills at the bedside, but if you come across as uncaring or unresponsive, that's what your patient will remember," said Robin Henault, principal of Connect2Success, a company that provides soft skills development for individuals and organizations. "And with the advent of mandatory HCAHSPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey reporting under the Affordable Care Act, soft skills, or lack thereof, could affect reimbursement and the bottom line at hospitals."

Often described as someone’s emotional intelligence quotient, soft skills can be defined as the ability to connect and communicate with others, respect differences, work with teams and build relationships.

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With more than 30 years in health care as a bedside nurse, pharmaceutical sales educator and nursing faculty member, Henault started her company to help people hone their soft skills.

“My passion is to encourage, inspire and motivate others to meet their goals, and soft skills are needed at all levels in the workplace,” said Henault, RN, BSN, Ms.Ed. “They are even more important in health care, where consumers are vulnerable and stressed.”

Developing soft skills begins with self-awareness, Henault said. One way to discover more about your personality; your strengths and weaknesses; what motivates you; and in what environments you work best is to take a personality assessment such as the DiSC or StrengthsFinder 2.0.

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Another good self-awareness strategy is to keep a journal and record what makes you angry, stressed out, happy, engaged and how those things affect your ability to do your work.

“You might ask a friend to give you an honest, but kind appraisal of what you are good at and where you might need some work,” she said. “The better you understand yourself, the better you can manage your own emotions and relate to others.”

To relate better with others requires mindfulness and being present in the moment, Henault said.

“Communicating so often through computer screens or smartphones, we forget to make eye contact, to read the nuances of body language or tone of those around us,” she said. “Even though health care is full of distractions, we need to be mindful and fully present with others.”

When you feel stressed, it’s a good idea to take a break, breathe slowly and collect your thoughts and feelings, she suggests.

“Practice active listening with patients and co-workers. Notice their body language to be able to read the emotion behind their words,” Henault said.

If necessary, pause or count to 10 before responding.

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“I’ve worked in places where a wonderful, cohesive team helped us get through the toughest times, and I’ve worked in places where the co-workers made it much more difficult to do my job. Developing better soft skills leads to many benefits, including improved employee morale, increased collaboration, higher productivity, reduced employee turnover and exceptional patient experiences,” she said.