Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Soft Skills: Contradictions in the Business World


There has been so much emphasis on emotional intelligence in the last decade or so in business and corporate America. Soft skills--being able to communicate effectively and even persuasively, can play a huge role in one's success in business. This has been good for my business--I'm a corporate speech, voice and communications trainer. Another buzz word is empathy--the ability to identify and understand another's situation, feelings and motives. Studies correlate empathy with increased sales as well as improved intra-office collaboration.

It's also important to have empathy for people who may not come to these traits or abilities so easily and may even need extra training in a skill that many take for granted or just need a little polishing in. Most of the executives I work with struggle with issues like delivering strong presentations, staying calm and cool under pressure, streamlining messages, and speaking with a strong voice and clear, confident-sounding speech.

Another of my roles, and the first one I played in my professional life, is as speech/language pathologist. That means that I work with people on the autism spectrum--people who have empathy but may show it in different and not necessarily obvious ways, or people who stutter--who may be brilliant communicators but are challenged by producing speech fluently, especially in certain contexts. I also work with non-native English speakers (in both practices) who are required to speak up clearly and confidently in the international language of English in a variety of challenging situations. The struggles my speech therapy clients deal with are similar to my corporate clients, but on a more exaggerated human scale.

If companies are going to walk the talk of empathy and of diversity, equity, and inclusion, they may also need to widen the scope of that empathetic thinking to realizing that a person with Asperger's or a stutter or a strong accent, or a communication and speech style not representative of the upper or middle classes may just need some extra support and coaching. Roles may need some adapting, on the part of employers.

Businesses won't just be showing empathy and character if they do this, though. They'll also be showing brilliant business savvy, since it's already been established that teams consisting of members of inherent and acquired diversity are smarter and produce better overall financial performance. They also understand that creating and maintaining a welcoming, inclusive culture makes talented people want to join and stay.