Today’s job market is competitive; every advantage counts. While students tend to expend considerable resources honing their industry-specific skills with a college or graduate degree in their respective fields, the development of soft skills — particularly emotional intelligence — is often ignored.

Jody Michael, who has been engaged in coaching C-level executives at Fortune 100 companies for over 20 years, knows that people who rise to the top of their careers possess both technical and soft skills. “More and more employers are looking for candidates who demonstrate emotional intelligence because not only are they most likely to achieve success, they also make the best employees,” she says.

As such, she emphasizes these proficiencies in all of her executive and career coaching engagements, particularly when working with high school and college students.

Why is emotional intelligence important? In addition to an awareness of — and the ability to regulate —one’s own feelings, another core element of emotional intelligence is empathy. The capacity to view situations from various perspectives sets the stage for effective communication and collaboration.

As Jody explains, “Breakdowns occur when people become so caught up in their own thoughts that they can’t view a situation from others’ perspectives. When this happens, they are unable to synthesize input from other people and often miss nuances in the environment.”

Fortunately, emotional intelligence — and the skills that accompany it — can be developed. Parents, you can help.

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Career Coach Strategies to Help Foster Your Student’s Emotional Intelligence

Model It — The saying, “children learn what they live” remains relevant throughout adolescence. As they progress through middle school, high school and college, your students become even keener observers of you in your more sophisticated interactions. They overhear your conversations and notice how you say and do things. How do you handle frustration or anger? Do you avoid or thoughtfully engage in crucial conversations?

Identify It — Parents can raise an emotionally intelligent child by teaching them how to name their feelings starting at an early age. (“Look at that big smile; are you excited to see Grandma?” or later, “I can remember feeling frustrated when I was learning how to use fractions, too …”)

As they get older, you can still help them articulate their emotions with comments like “You sound really overwhelmed right now,” or “Wow, I bet that made you angry.” Jody points out that helping your student make sense of their feelings when they seem irritable or stressed, for example, can help them fine-tune their awareness — a pivotal first step in managing their emotions.

Showing empathy for their situation is different from telling them how they ought to feel, and can be a good conversation-starter; especially in the adolescent years, your assumptions might be quite different from their actual feelings.

Reinforce It — Take advantage of those proud parent moments when you witness your student handling a situation with finesse. Catching them when they’re doing something right is a great way to reinforce a skill. Tell your student that you appreciated her ability to quickly adapt when plans changed at the last minute, or that you noticed how well he listened as his younger sister told him about something that happened at school that day.

Coach It — Emotional intelligence is learned, requiring both training and practice. “Coaching your student how to become more adept at recognizing, expressing and managing their emotions will help them refine these skills,” Jody says.

As a great starting point, she recommends encouraging your child to use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements. Show them that they can create a much more compelling argument with “I feel angry that I’m not allowed to drive the ‘good car’ even though I’ve had my license for over a year now, I have a perfectly clean driving record and I always come home on time for my curfew” rather than “You never let me take the ‘good car.’”

Discuss It — On those rare occasions when you have an opportunity to watch TV or a movie with your student, use fictional characters and their situations as neutral grounds for conversation: What do you think they might be feeling? How would you react if you were in that character’s shoes?

At the dinner table or on the phone, include references to emotional intelligence when you tell your student about one of your own experiences. Highlight soft skills that allowed you to manage a situation well — or toss around ideas about what you could have done differently. You might be surprised at the insightful feedback you receive from your student.

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Recent research released by the Hay Group shows a disconnect between the skills that recent graduates think employers want versus the proficiencies that leaders actually identify as most important in a job candidate. According to the study, 91 percent of leaders said that employees with refined soft skills have a greater chance of advancing their career, while 70 percent of graduates believed that their technical skills were more important.

While parents can start cultivating emotional intelligence in their children at an early age, it’s never too late. You can help your student develop and improve the ability to recognize and manage their own emotions, as well as listen, communicate clearly and collaborate with others, giving them a competitive edge in their career — and their life.

What strategies have you used to help develop your student’s emotional intelligence?

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