The Ultimate Soft Skill for Management: EMPATHY

Want a surprising statistic? (For a hint, it has to do with soft skills.)

Eighty-five percent of management success depends on people skills.

Cynthia W. Lett, the woman who gives this statistic, has been advising companies on people skills since 1983. She developed this statistic after watching how people skills play out in actual practice.

She knows that management is the art of getting things done through others. She also knows that you, as a member of a family business, need to get others to do what you want, and you need to present things in ways that don’t cause resistance.

At the heart this involves the crucial soft skill of  being empathetic and recognizing the emotional as well as the power side of influence. It means behaving in ways that make others comfortable. It means etiquette.

To see how this works, Lett asks you to imagine that you’re a business owner with a task that’s going to be disruptive.

You’ve called together your seven-member staff, you’re all in your conference room, and you’re about to let them know that you’ve going to hire a new member of the team, a marketing specialist. You bring up the subject, and instantly, as soon as the words are out of your mouth, you notice MaryAnne’s body language.

MaryAnne is your office manager, and for years, she’s been doing your company’s marketing as a sideline. She’s just now folded her arms tightly across her chest, and you can almost see her fingernails digging into her arms.

Oh no!  Alice, who is MaryAnne’s closest friend in the office, isn’t liking things either. She’s fingering the scarf she’s wearing at her neck, and Bob is nervously adjusting his tie.

This isn’t going well. You’re getting the picture. Your team is feeling that you’ve undercut and disrespected MaryAnne. You’ve got to do something about this and fast.

You could muscle your way through this and simply announce, “We’re hiring a full-time marketing expert and that’s how it’s going to be!”

However, Lett has a more effective approach. She knows that an idea imposed is an idea opposed.  If you want your idea embraced, deal with the emotional undercurrent. Be empathetic. Use your soft skills.

This means recognizing what MaryAnne is feeling, and showing respect for everyone there.  It also means bringing them into the process.

What you’re after is dealing with the emotional needs of the situation as opposed to simply using the hard tactics of power and authority.

You start by saying, “Our employees have really done a great job about promoting our products. I’m proud of how far we’ve gotten, and MaryAnne, a special kudos to you for the great job you’ve been doing!

“Frankly, MaryAnne, you’re so good, I was tempted to direct even more of the marketing duties your way, but in fact, you are indispensable and nobody could be more effective than you are in creating our smoothly functioning office.

“That’s why I’m thinking of hiring someone whose only focus is marketing!”

Facing everyone, you say, “I’d like to ask all of you to use your expertise to help me find the right fulltime marketing person. It’s an important decision, and I’d value input from any of you!”

Lett points out that doing it this way makes the people feel valued and part of the process. MaryAnne has received validation and praise, and the whole team is involved in the implementation.

“The soft skills described here,” she summarizes, “are all-important because with them, you know how to say things in ways that don’t cause resistance.”


For more information, read Lett’s book, Modern Civility, available on Amazon,, or visit her website at:

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