The workplace landscape has changed significantly over recent years, which makes training employees on respect in the workplace more important than ever. Once a measure of productivity was measured in a quantitative manner sufficient for manufacturing things, the production of goods in units. But now productivity is measured differently, the goal is not the production of goods but the number of customers served in a measurement of time. So easy is it to acquire goods from different suppliers, the defining characteristic that will secure the loyalty of a customer is how the customer remembers being treated. This change in the business world defines customer service as a priority above many other factors of success. The ability to work hard is now defined by a skill set not associated with the traditional blue-collar trades or the white collar business associations. What has emerged instead is a unique set of jobs defined by a worker’s soft skills training and development.
Instilling Respect in the Workplace with Soft Skills
Soft skills training is interpreted by the recipient as a show of respect in the workplace. It is a form of customer service, which seems odd at first as customer service is associated primarily with the people that the workplace provides a service to, but in any organization, there are two sets of customers. There are internal customers (those who have relationships with the workers that facilitate productivity) and external customers (those who have relationships with employees of the organization in order to receive a service or product). Soft skills training is a necessary component of ensuring positive, productive interactions. Positive interactions facilitate continued workplace functions with efficiency and courts the approval of those external to the company. This process creates and maintains a good public relationship.
What Soft Skills Training Entails
Respect in the workplace is established by providing a person the opportunity to be heard, to be understood, and to feel validated by the experience. This standard remains true even when the experience did not give the person what they might have been asking for specifically in the encounter. Respect in the workplace is unrelated to granting or denying a service or commodity to an individual. Respect in the workplace is entirely associated with whether someone received the consideration they felt they were due when defined by the receiver of the respect. Interpretation of one’s audience matters. This understanding is the primary defining factor in determining if someone felt respected, especially if the company relies on surveys from others for feedback about satisfaction of service or process. It is possible to grant someone respect through courtesy and mannerisms and to still have that person feel disrespected. This happens when people think they are understanding each other but they really don’t. Respect, because it has many different interpretations by individuals with self-centric perspectives, also can feel like it has many different meanings. The key to respect is an open secret though, as it doesn’t truly hold many different meanings but it does have many different ways to be conveyed to an individual. The individual receiving the respect in the workplace has to be able to recognize that message.
Soft Skills Training and Communication
The ability to communicate respect in the workplace to someone properly requires good soft skills training because it teaches the workers in the workplace a standard definition of respect. An employer who offers a class for soft skills training provides the following services for its employees: Establishes a common, shared understanding of what respect is and is not in the workplace setting Provides a well-communicated standard of the expected behavior of employees to other employees, including workplace relationships (internal customer service) Shows the employees the expected standard of interactions to external customers (purchasers or recipients of goods or services) Gives the employees the necessary training, tools, and understanding of concepts necessary to enact the proper use of soft skills Why is Soft Skills Training Necessary, Everyone Has Manners! There is a common misconception that most people have a basic, shared understanding of mannerisms conveying respect. It is not true that everyone understands respect in the same way. Examples of minor behaviors that most people think of as basic but are in fact culturally conditioned include:
- Space between speakers
- Eye contact
- Voice tone
- Assumptions of sex or gender
- Manner of speaking
- How to refuse or deny a request
- How to open a line of dialog
- How to close a conversation
- Control of an interaction
- De-escalation of an upset person
There are many aspects of soft skills training that can be used to offset negative associations from cultural bias.
Examples of Soft Skill Misunderstandings in Different Cultures
As an example of the above list, let’s consider eye contact between speakers. Depending on what environment someone was raised in and what culture established the norms of deference in a hierarchy, how much eye contact is made can determine if an encounter displayed respect in the workplace. In some cultures, it is disrespectful to hold prolonged eye contact but in other cultures lack of eye contact is disrespectful. In Japan, for example, eye contact is considered rude. In the USA, lack of eye contact is considered impolite, abnormal and rude. Lack of eye contact is such a precedent for normal interactions that to have a lack of eye contact is considered an identifier of a social communication disorder. If one took a worker from an office setting in California and plunked the worker down in an office in Japan, it would be very easy for the American worker to offend the Japanese worker if they lacked an understanding of cultural differences shaping respect in the workplace. Another example is space between individuals and how it is used by the speaker. Space between speakers determines relationship closeness in the USA, standing too close to someone can be perceived as aggressive or unwanted. The USA is associated with space. However, in other countries where space is not readily available, people are instead used to standing much closer without the perception of inappropriate aggression, or might even require more space depending on their cultural rules! The study of space and its impact on relationships is called proxemics. People in Saudia Arabia have a very different definition of respectful definition than someone in Argentina, as an example. These are just two examples of differences. Conveying respect is not universally understood, but can be taught inside a cultural setting such as corporate or workplace environments!
How to Bridge the Divide of Culture and Convey Respect
When one understands that the definition of respect is shaped by culture, that the conveyance of respect in the workplace is a matter of overcoming cultural barriers, it is easy to see the solution. Because respect is conveyed not only by words but by non-verbal language, the best way to overcome the language divide is to teach people entering a workplace the cultural expectation in the workplace. Teach the language of respect as spoken by the workplace environment. Customer service training is a necessary tool to teach workers that respect in the workplace is a high priority to the company. Respect makes people feel valued and validated, it improves morale and associates the workplace with positive feelings in a person’s mind. Teach a common language of respect and establish an expectation that everyone is deserving of respect within the culture of a company or organization and the retention of employees will be more secure.
Soft Skills Training and Its Impact on Cost to the Company
To train employees in how to be respectful through both verbal and non-verbal methods requires an investment of time. This time investment is worth the opportunity cost to the company, especially if the company has difficulty retaining employees or if the company has poor public relations. Employee retention is often seen as a cost of doing business. Some companies have such a high turnover, such as call center environments, that business operations proceed as if the attrition will be so high that constant training and hiring takes place every year. It is normal and expected that some seasonal hiring occurs to ramp up the ability to operate during a time period such as the holidays. The gain from the additional employees if often measured in profits high enough to carry the company through slow seasons. For example, before Black Friday in the USA, which occurs after Thanksgiving in November, the holiday sales start to persuade people to make purchases before Christmas in December. Increasing staffing levels for call centers that work in the financial industry, such as credit cards and banking, will, of course, be necessary to maintain adequate service levels to answer phone calls and process transactions.
The Non-Seasonal, Normal Workplace Environment
For other call centers, though, that exist to provide a service to people such as passing on information, handling bill inquiries, or activating a utility service, or selling an item not specific to a season, these environments must maintain staffing levels all through the year regardless of seasonal influence. People leave jobs at call centers because the culture of a call center can be very lowering in morale and stressful. Call center metrics and constant hiring means that employees feel disposable and unimportant compared to the statistical demands of a service-oriented industry. To a lesser extent, one can see the same effect in other workplace environments such as fast food providers with the 30-second timers at the drive-thru windows. Any environment that has service criteria measured in performance metrics can discourage employees and make them feel disrespected. The quantitative performance metrics become the yardstick of which employee behaviors are measured against, leaving the employee to feel that the most important aspect of the job is how fast can they speak and convey information without putting the caller on hold, using the call center example. When the call center employee calls the support line for help, and the support line must also have minimal call time, the call can be curt and feel rude. Each person in that workplace interaction is concerned about time and how it will affect their performance measurement.
The Quality of Experience Metric
There is another metric, called quality, in the workplace. Often this is measured using surveys with a range of numbers (1-5) or (1-10). Most companies use it to measure customer satisfaction and the surveys have such an effect to the detriment of the employee that employees will ask people to rate them 10 so they don’t get fired. This effect happens to waitstaff at restaurants, sales representatives at stores, and to call center employees, to name a few. Despite the impact of quality upon an employee’s ability to keep a job, most companies do not take the time to train these employees in soft skills. An employee who is an expert in soft skills might not have to ask the question of someone to please rate them a 10 because the employee’s natural interaction would be so confident and adept at handling the interaction, they wouldn’t need to do so!
How to Define Soft Skills
Soft skills greatly shape interactions between internal and external customers. Words that describe soft skills include:
- Wise to non-verbal indicators
- Able to calm others down
- Good at controlling the interaction to minimize negative impact
- Skilled at directing the energy toward a good conflict resolution
Where to Find Resources to Teach and Improve Soft Skills
Serviceskills is an organization that provides learning materials for companies to integrate better soft skills into the corporate culture. Serviceskills excels in understanding customer service and also in providing the training necessary to impart that understanding to others. For a demonstration of how Serviceskills pairs soft skills and customer service training together to improve a workplace environment, please check out the free demonstration of the company’s services. Serviceskills helps companies create a corporate culture that instills an attitude of mutual respect and consideration as key components to the workplace. Incorporating soft skills into the workplace will raise morale, help retain employees, foster goodwill, and improve shared understandings in communications between internal and external customers.