When we think about the qualities that make a good healthcare provider, we often think in terms of training, experience, and academic knowledge. Yet what is often overlooked is the importance of soft skills.
What are Soft Skills and Why are They Important?
Soft skills are the characteristics that allow us to effectively interact and communicate with others. While soft skills are useful to have in any job setting, they’re critical in the healthcare industry, where providers must interact with patients and families who are often experiencing high levels of emotional distress.
While the majority of providers see an average of 19 patients a day, some report seeing up to as many as 50 or more per day. The oncoming physician shortage means this number will only continue to increase, making it even more important that patients receive as much value as possible from the limited time they have with providers. There is also increased pressure to deliver high quality patient-provider interactions as more organizations move toward tying compensation to patient satisfaction scores. Fortunately for providers, research has shown that developing an important soft skill – emotional intelligence – can positively influence patient satisfaction.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of and manage one’s emotions, while also being aware and empathetic of the emotions of others. In the context of healthcare, it’s the ability to identify a patient’s emotions, show empathy, and be able to communicate effectively (read: in non-technical terms) with patients no matter their emotional state. This also extends to staff, colleagues, and anyone else providers interact with throughout the day.
The ability to collaborate is another essential soft skill, as providers are often expected to lead and support teams. Good leaders are characterized by their humility and capability to listen and receive feedback from others. This was highlighted in a study that linked leaders’ altruistic behavior with employees feeling more included, innovative, and willing to go beyond the call of duty.
How Do You Assess Soft Skills When Recruiting?
Every candidate will strive to make a good impression during an interview, but not everyone will have the necessary soft skills to truly excel in their position. Expanding upon the fundamentals of behavioral interviewing with strategically chosen questions about past behaviors can help reveal essential soft skills like emotional intelligence, collaboration abilities, and leadership potential.
Examples of these questions include:
- What is the most difficult change you have encountered in your career and how did you manage it? How did you lead others through this change?
- Can you give me an example of your most difficult and emotional patient and how you developed rapport? What did you learn through that process?
- Give me an example of how you led a team through conflict.
- Tell me about a time when you failed in a work setting. What happened? How did you handle the situation? What did you learn about yourself?
- Tell me about a time you had to admit that you had made a mistake to others. How did you handle it?
You should also add in specific questions that relate to the role being filled. For example, a candidate interviewing for a surgical position might be given a situational question to uncover soft skills, such as “How would you inform a patient that an operation was unsuccessful?”
After the interview, include questions about soft skills when performing reference checks, such as how well they work on a team or whether they are skilled at actively listening and providing feedback. Managers and coworkers can provide firsthand accounts of what it’s like to work with a candidate, which provides helpful insight into how their soft skills are actually perceived by others.
Regardless of which tactics you choose to use, vetting a candidate for soft skills is essential to ensuring that they are capable of performing the requirements of their position and are ultimately a good fit for your organization.