BBB: Danielle Kane

Danielle Kane

I recently watched a year-old clip from “CBS This Morning” where anchors interviewed LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. The interview was part of a series focusing on issues facing the American workforce. I played this particular clip several times because its message is powerful.

Weiner was talking about interpersonal skills and the power of empathy in the workplace, both of which are on the backburner for many companies. But Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific knows these skills are becoming increasingly important amid today’s war for talent and emphasis on company culture.

“A lot of people are fixated on technology, and rightfully so,” Weiner said. “It’s an increasingly important part of most companies and how they do business.”

But Weiner said it’s the interpersonal skills – communication, reasoning, team coordination, customer service, business and sales development – that are hard to find. And Weiner’s not just speaking anecdotally as the CEO of a staff of more than 11,000. According to LinkedIn research, employers across 100 major U.S. cities reported the number one skill missing among workers is interpersonal or soft skills.

In fact, 40 percent of U.S. employers are having a hard time finding employees with the skillsets they need. So, Weiner insists, employers need to dedicate time to helping employees cultivate those soft skills. He even told CBS This Morning anchor John Dickerson that interested employees can go ahead an acquire them on their own – anyone can.

Dickerson quipped back, “You say anyone can acquire these skills, but where do they acquire them?”

Like much else, these interpersonal skills can be found on new websites cropping up dedicated to teaching these soft skills. Jobseekers would be smart to begin cultivating such skills themselves as they hunt for new opportunities. This is because the American job force demands them now, more than ever, in a world where we progressively rely more on technology, automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Speaker and author Ryan Jenkins echoed this sentiment.

“In the A.I.-abundant world of tomorrow, where technology will do much of the heavy lifting, a doctor’s ability to deliver compassion and empathy to a patient will become much more valuable,” Jenkins asserted in a recent article. “While the technical hard skills of doctors will remain important, their emotional intelligence will take on new significance.”

After reading this and watching Weiner’s interview, I decided to delve a little deeper. I looked for as many definitions of “interpersonal skills” as I could find before bedtime. Here’s how Investopedia defines those intangible aptitudes: Interpersonal skills are the qualities and behaviors a person uses to interact with others properly. In the business domain, the term refers to an employee’s ability to work well with others while performing their job.

So, what does that mean for business owners? Emotional intelligence and competency are critical as you look to bring on new hires. The good news is emotional intelligence can be cultivated. Weiner is an outspoken advocate of a style of management called compassionate leadership.

“It’s about taking the time to put yourself in another person’s shoes,” he said.

Weiner didn’t always lead that way though. He is the first to admit he used to be intense and didn’t always channel his passion kindly. He found help in books about empathy; he rediscovered the value of having fun, even at work.

It’s laughter, interpersonal skills, and compassion that have ushered in an era of rapid growth at LinkedIn and the favorable workplace ratings from employees to back it up. It’s emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills that give humans an edge over AI and make LinkedIn such a great place to work (example: Weiner gave his $14 million stock bonus back to his employees in 2016 and institutes regular team building days centered on fun and learning).

Luckily, at BBB NW+P we really do understand and are in a position to help because our culture is like this, too. We have a CEO who is an empathetic leader. Though he steers a full ship, he remembers the small details about employees that sow big morale returns. He has a sense of humor when tackling problems. He espouses an “open door” policy and reiterates the need for honest company feedback, where no one fears the repercussions of speaking up, nor do they fear failure and making mistakes.

We, too, have “fun days” and team retreats that allows us to connect and develop new skills sets, or enhance others.

Our leaders encourage a culture of innovation and collaboration because they know these truths: Empathy matters.

Working alongside colleagues to develop outstanding interpersonal skills matters. It matters for longevity. And it matters for your customers.

Danielle Kane is the Better Business Bureau marketplace manager for Portland. She can be reached at danielle.kane@thebbb.org.

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