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What Are Social and Emotional Skills?

What Are Social and Emotional Skills?

Interpersonal interactions are an important part of everyday life. Learn about the social and emotional skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.


The professional world is all about connections. 

Yes, having the required hard skills — like coding or coaching — is important to succeed in your career. But developing the necessary social and emotional soft skills to navigate workplace and client relationships is just as crucial. After all, people are an integral part of business, no matter the industry.

Socio-emotional skills allow us to process complex situations, make others comfortable, and build trust. These abilities are as critical in professional settings as they are between friends — and like hard skills, they can be adopted and practiced. Read on to learn all about social and emotional skills and how to harness yours for professional success. 

What are socio-emotional skills?

Socio-emotional skills (or “SEL skills”) are essential for connecting with yourself and others. They help you develop self-awareness, manage emotions, create healthy relationships, and practice empathy — all of which are skills essential in any workplace. In other words, your interpersonal abilities inform both social interactions and professional outcomes.

Unlike hard skills, SEL skills aren’t specific to your job — they’re the traits that equip you to thrive in the workplace. For example, a physician needs to be proficient in diagnosing illnesses but must also possess the self-control and compassion to have a good bedside manner. 

Here are some examples of soft skills and emotional coping skills necessary for success in the workplace: 

  • Responsible decision-making 
  • Conflict resolution 
  • Strong communication
  • Integrity and honesty 
  • Self-confidence
  • The ability to ask for help
  • Emotional self-regulation
  • Perseverance

What is social-emotional development?

No one is born with robust social skills — developing them is a lifelong journey. Through each new experience, you better understand your strengths, insecurities, limits, and emotional reactions. 

If you struggle to connect with others or manage your feelings, don’t worry. Cultivating these skills takes time and patience, and their gradual development is a natural part of life. To speed up the process, you can hone your SEL skills with practice, patience, and self-awareness.


Why are socio-emotional skills essential at work?

Strong socio-emotional skills lead to healthy and productive professional relationships. Without them, you might rub people the wrong way, dismiss valuable perspectives, hurt others’ feelings, or have an inappropriate outburst. 

Here are the ways SEL skills can benefit your career:

  • You understand others: When you have strong social skills, you can empathize with others’ needs and points of view. This is an essential trait for collaborative professionals and those who work directly with clients, as it promotes understanding and reduces conflict.
  • You understand yourself: In the workplace, you need to be able to sort through your feelings and self-regulate appropriately. Professional environments can be stressful, but harmful outbursts are unacceptable. Self-aware people develop techniques to remain calm, focused, and empathetic while at work, even when they don’t feel their best. 
  • You’re a strong collaborator: Collaborative projects are a common occurrence. When everyone involved displays empathy, strong communication skills, and an ability to problem-solve, group members can work more efficiently toward the goal and mitigate tension. 
  • You learn from peers: Everyone you work with has something to teach you. So, if you can’t connect with them, you miss out on valuable knowledge. Strong SEL skills allow you to create fruitful and healthy relationships with your peers and reciprocate support.
  • You feel better about your work: When you feel connected to the people you work with and your professional mission, you’re more likely to feel satisfied at your job. After all, no one is excited to clock in if they have an awkward relationship with peers or feel like they don’t make an impact.

How to practice social-emotional skills in professional contexts

No matter how proficient you are at navigating social and emotional situations, there’s always room to improve. Here are four essential SEL skills to practice at work:

  1. Active listening: When practicing active listening, you make a conscious effort to hear out another person’s perspective and use body language and verbal cues to demonstrate you care. This type of listening is crucial to professional relationships because it builds trust, encourages collaboration, and facilitates learning. When talking with a peer or client, maintain eye contact, use appropriate facial expressions, and incorporate a nod or two. Avoid interrupting, and when they finish speaking, show you were listening by quickly recapping what was said or asking a follow-up question. These actions show the other person you paid attention.
  2. Acknowledging the emotions of others: You may not always understand others’ reactions, but don’t invalidate their feelings. Doing so may damage your professional relationship and exclude important perspectives. For example, if a colleague is nervous about a presentation, offering them support and encouragement is far more valuable than dismissing their anxiety. Even if you’re a confident public speaker, it’s kind and empathetic to respect your peer's experience.
  3. Setting realistic goals: You don’t want to over-promise on a project and under-deliver — this might make your manager or colleagues apprehensive about your abilities. Self-awareness and control help you set achievable goals. When you understand your capabilities and don’t let emotions, like stress about impressing your boss, inform your goal-setting, you set yourself up for success. Managers must also create realistic expectations for others. Those who set out-of-reach goals for their employees will only end up with frustrated and discouraged teams. On the other hand, learning and empathizing with your team members’ strengths and abilities helps everyone involved feel adequate and productive.
  4. Staying positive: Everyone has a bad day here and there, but it’s important to approach each day at work with all the positivity you can muster. Morale decreases when team members have a negative attitude, and others may not appreciate you bringing personal conflicts into the workplace. Of course, it’s normal and healthy to have lingering feelings after a troubling experience — consider asking for the day off to recover so you can return to work feeling refreshed and rested. It’s equally important to manage your emotions among colleagues and know yourself well enough to take time when you need it.

Build productive professional relationships with Practice

Successful professionals make time to grow their emotional and interpersonal skills. Practice’s blog is an excellent — and free — resource for self-improvement in and outside of work. Read up on client relationship management skills, emotional intelligence in the workplace, the best practices for professional communication, and more.

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