4 ‘soft skills’ every leader needs to retain employees

There are tons of recommendations for how to improve employee retention, but none of them will work if your leaders aren’t effective communicators – especially in a one-on-one environment.

The key to engaging and retaining good people relies on soft skills that don’t always come easy.

Here are five leadership skills to practice that can help you retain good employees.

Soft skill 1: Listening

Good communication depends more on a person’s ability to listen than on his or her ability to speak.

Anyone can hear and repeat back information. Good leaders listen so they can process the information.

Follow these tips to better listening:

  • Keep yourself clear. When employees, colleagues, clients or customers need their managers, it’s important to give them undivided attention by talking privately at an arranged time with no distractions (e-mail, phones, paperwork).
  • Take notes. This serves two purposes: It helps leaders remember what’s been said and keeps track of the most important facts and emotions. Taking notes also shows people you care and are listening wholeheartedly.
  • Hold your tongue. Avoid interrupting speakers, especially in one-on-one conversations. Let others get through the facts and emotions. Often, just spilling their guts is enough to make them feel better – and you’re a hero for listening and not saying a word!
  • Be open to opinions. Leaders sometimes don’t agree with what employees, co-workers, clients and customers say – and stop listening because they’re focusing on their rebuttal. Instead, they should continue to listen and note their points when it’s their turn to talk.

Soft skill 2: Communicating

Communicating well is the cornerstone of good relationships. Whether leaders are talking to employees or colleagues, writing e-mails, training or speaking in front of a group, these communication essentials will help:

  • Create a commonality. Leaders should share information about themselves that they have in common with workers (for instance, a hobby, past experience in work or life, an interest in events or sports, etc.). It makes them more approachable.
  • Be courteous. People will listen, and things will get done if managers communicate with courtesy instead of commands.
  • Clarify. When the topic is important, it’s vital for managers to make sure they’re understood. Ask if anyone has questions, and make sure to answer thoroughly.
  • Show confidence. Back up statements with facts. Leaders should avoid tentative language such as might, maybe and possibly.

Soft skill 3: Delivering bad news

Nearly every leader has to deliver bad news sometimes, and it’s never easy.

Doing it carefully will help managers go down in company history as a well-liked professional.

Here’s how to deliver bad news so it’s a little easier on the people affected by it:

  • Make it fast. Delivering the news as quickly as possible gives people a chance to plan their next move. But avoid delivering bad news at the end of the work week so the news doesn’t fester with people for days.
  • Visit or call. Deliver bad news personally to show your care about how the news will affect people. Delivering bad news via e-mail or a memo suggests leaders are distancing themselves from the situation.
  • Take responsibility. Leaders don’t want to blame themselves, their bosses or the company if they aren’t to blame. But if you had a hand in what happened, acknowledge your part in the situation without being defensive.
  • Respond. Give employees, co-workers, clients or customers a chance to discuss how the bad news affects them. Offer suggestions on how to deal with the situation.

Soft skill 4: Saying no

Leaders have to say no to people and ideas, or they’d never get anything done. However, it’s best to give a no answer in a way that doesn’t make the person with the request feel rejected.

Here’s how:

  • Empathize. When leaders and managers can’t do what people want or can’t give employees permission to do something, they need to let them know they understand the situation.
  • Clarify. Leaders should explain why they have to refuse the request.
  • Offer something. It’s best for leaders to end the denial on a positive note by telling people how they’re willing to help.