The Importance of Social Skills in Finance: Expectations vs. Reality
Luis von Ahn, co-founder and CEO of language-learning app Duolingo, shared earlier this month in the BBC CEO Secrets series that he wished he’d concentrated more on social skills earlier in his career rather than purely academic success. Von Ahn was a full-time computer scientist before Duolingo took off and as he says his job nowadays is dealing wholly with people problems and he views social skills as essential management skills.
Cultures of work, collaboration, and team building are changing, and financial professionals are finding new ways to work together, and for clients.
The renewed importance of social justice, equality, and equity of opportunity, especially in essential services such as finance, cannot be underestimated. These changes have ushered in new cultures of communication, purpose-led employment and how people treat each other. These changing expectations are expanding what work, and what a workplace, could and should be.
Much has been made of the importance of “soft skills” and social intelligence being integral to creating meaningful cultures of management. But we want to take this idea and expand it into our realm – that of the importance of social skills in finance.
What are social skills?
“A social skill is any competence facilitating interaction and communication with others where social rules and relations are created, communicated, and changed in verbal and nonverbal ways”.
In short, social skills are tools to create relationships between people in any interaction, and good social skills consider the full range of human interaction: verbal, and non-verbal communication, decision making, and behaviours delivered through empathic consideration, collaboration, and compassion.
These skills are the foundation of good behaviours, societal harmony, trust, and fairness, and serve as the basis of any positive relationship between people or groups of people.
A deficit of social skills creates anti-social behaviour. Social skills, or a deficit of social skills, are developed and learned over time, and can change and augment based on positive and negative inputs such as destructive or abusive relationships, positive social and workplace interactions and dynamics, or a lack of interaction or education from peers, colleagues, friends, and mentors.
Development of good social skills has been credited with how people effectively negotiate or persuade others, how people “evolve compassionately and grow psycho-socially with people”, and how people react to stimuli with compassion and empathy.
Social skills are often conflated with soft skills, but both are simply different descriptors of the same thing: how you consistently deploy social intelligence in the context of your work, friendships, relationships and community.
Why are social skills in finance so important?
- The client comes first, and away from the digital or accounting tools you employ to make sure you’re both an agile financial professional and diligent service agent, social skills are integral in creating that most ephemeral of professional connections – a bond of trust.
- No matter your line of work in finance, you need to be able to communicate succinctly, react appropriately, and confidently advise and persuade your client base. Social skills are essential in creating clear lines of communications, which in turn creates a more trusted relationship. This, in turn, improves your return on investment, improves your clients’ returns and makes you (in a perfect world) more revenue.
To sell with creativity
- Having well developed social skills provides a latticework of understanding on when, and how, to market and sell your service or product.
- Social skills are the vehicle on which you sell your service, and they provide context to your industry knowledge. Potential clients need to see, feel, and know that you provide a diligent financial service – that takes nuance, good sales technique, the ability to rapidly adjust your approach to answer any questions, and a confident and coherent sales approach that gives your client what they want to see, not what you feel they should.
- Good social skills create successful sales cultures because it values the relationship over intangible KPIs and provides context and personal meaning to dispassionate data.
The basis for ethics
- Good financial conduct and best practice, together with internal control processes, HR, and disciplinary actions, are only as effective as the people operating within the parameters of them or directing them.
- Social, communication and empathy skills – including more leadership-focused traits such as the ability to manage, train and direct teams, apply disciplinary actions, and adhere to complex regulatory limits – are equally important in creating a cultural framework of diligence and rule following and integral to creating trust with financial stakeholders across your business and wider network.
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