Opinion: why soft skills are important for good mental health

When it comes to mental health, soft skills can be a gamechanger, writes Melaney Doyle of IOSH’s Staffordshire Branch committee

Soft skills have the power to improve our personal relationships and mental health. They are all about human interaction, connection and communication. They are the personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people in the workplace.

One way to explain it is that hard skills are things like qualifications and occupational requirements. Soft skills include leadership, self-awareness and being aware of your influence on others, communication skills, emotional intelligence, being a good team player, working under pressure, good decision-making and staying flexible.

They involve changing the way we speak to people and adapting our body language to communicate with people in a way that makes them feel comfortable and valued, as well as having the intuition to know how someone would like to be spoken to. 

Nurturing good communications is essential in supporting people with mental health issues in the workplace, as everyone is different and has very different personalities and needs. Soft skills enable us to focus on the person and make interactions supportive and non-judgemental.  

Four soft skills that can help

Developing the following soft skills can help us to connect with colleagues and others in a caring and supportive way that enables them to talk about stress, anxiety, depression, feelings of being overwhelmed, panic attacks and other symptoms of mental health that they otherwise might keep bottled up.

Listening – This means listening actively to the other person to give them space to speak up and build trust. Remember the 80-20 rule? Active listening is about listening 80% of the time and only speaking 20% of the time. Ask follow-up questions and make it all about the person you’re with. Get comfortable with silences in the conversation and don’t jump in and fill pauses, as the person may need time to express themselves. The most valuable thing that you can give someone is your attention and you can encourage people to talk to you with guiding open questions like “Tell me more about that.”

Being accountable – This means doing what you say you will do, which builds trust. So, if you promise to follow something up, do it.

Having emotional intelligence – This is about being self-aware, knowing what you’re feeling and being aware of how your behaviour impacts on and is perceived by others. Developing emotional intelligence helps us to stay flexible and ‘flex’ to people and situations to meet them in their comfort zone. It also builds resilience, which is key to our mental health. A simple question that we can ask people is ‘How are you feeling?’ We can all learn to practice checking-in with ourselves by asking ‘what am I really feeling?’ and learning to be kinder to ourselves. Sometimes we need to take time out to pause, re-centre and remind ourselves what’s important.

Having empathy – This means taking time to understand those around us who may have different viewpoints, tolerance to stress and pressure at work and who see things from a different perspective. It teaches us how much we have in common with others and increases our ability to be comfortable with, and relate to, others.

Mental health issues can cause people to feel isolated. Using soft skills can enable them to talk and feel supported and have a positive effect on their thoughts and feelings. In this modern age the ability to connect on a human level is critical, and we can all make a difference to our workplaces and colleagues by taking time to develop our soft skills and thinking about how we can use them to support one another.

Originally published in Networks news

Marcus Boocock
Communications Officer +44 (0)116 257 3139
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