From Python coding to engine assembly, the corporate world banks on hard skills. Job descriptions are seemingly 90 percent hard skills, tossing in a vague soft skill (“motivated self-starter,” anyone?). But soft skills are the secret sauce for retaining consumer loyalty, great user experiences, and being a deaf-friendly business.
In fact, as COVID-19 flips the world (and entire industries) into turmoil, soft skills are even more important now. Many workers are under pressure to “skill up” on more digital tools. But don’t forget to nurture the soft skills that make up the backbone of so many teams and innovations – many are linked to being deaf-friendly.
In the Zoom era, body language is even more important
It’s not your imagination: Zoom calls and masks wear everyone out. Zoom fatigue is a reality for anyone using this fast-rising teleconferencing software. And even for people with perfect hearing, navigating a world of people who look as if they’re about to rob a bank can set off primitive fight or flight responses.
Whether you must meet your clients through a tiny box on your screen, or give customers directions to find an in-store item, our body language matters even more now – certainly for deaf people, but also for everyone else.
Call it universal design: One expert even says that nonverbal skills are more important in an era of masks and video calls. “Keep gestures high so people can see your hands,” is one guideline for this pandemic era – and it applies to everyone.
Eye contact: once mostly for deaf people, but now non-negotiable for all
Eyes aren’t just windows to our soul – they’re essential to survival in a pandemic.
With the lower half of the face obscured by masks, only the eyes remain for non-verbal, facial communication. Humans – both hearing and deaf – are always extracting visual information from faces. One research study performed eye gaze tracking on both deaf and hearing subjects, discovering that the deaf group looked at the eyes far more frequent and lengthy times than the nose. The hearing group focused on the center of the face more than the eyes.
This is why it frustrates us to no end when a receptionist stares at a computer screen while checking us in for an appointment or when a hotel front desk clerk realizes we are deaf and completely ignores us.
Eye and face contact is so essential to communication, that deaf and hard of hearing reviewers have the opportunity to check “makes eye contact” as well as other deaf-friendly attributes like “accepts Relay calls” on national review platform www.deaffriendly.com.
In a pandemic, adaptability is key
The past few months have proven that business owners are capable of massive, rapid pivots:
Distilleries set aside their whiskey barrels to crank out the hand sanitizer. Apparel makers and manufacturers shifted to using their raw goods and skills for making face masks.
Truly adaptable businesses are capable of meeting new consumer needs – in a unique situation (like a pandemic) or a unique customer type (such as a deaf person).
The pandemic will not last forever but has already caused seismic shifts in industries (like commercial real estate), and even centuries-old etiquette (such as the death of a handshake).
Similarly, it is not every day that a deaf, hard of hearing or DeafBlind customer will walk through your door or use your services. But by using your soft skills, your business will have the infrastructure in place to immediately be ready to serve them. With over 48 million people in the U.S. having some form of hearing loss, making these small changes will help businesses adapt to situations like pandemics much faster.
Empathy leads to accessible products and services, plus high-functioning teams
According to the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study, 96% of employees consider it important for employers to demonstrate empathy. Yet 92% believe this trait is undervalued in their workplaces.
The world is enormously diverse, with a staggering number of unique lived experiences and user personas to consider when we design products or market our services. As diversity and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) initiatives swell across many businesses, empathy becomes more important.
Being able to see another person’s perspective is a valuable skill – and not just for hostage negotiators or while wrangling a multimillion-dollar contract. Empathy is how hearing employees put themselves in the shoes of a deaf client or customer: imagine the frustration of ordering fries via a drive-through, or understanding why fast-paced automated voice messaging systems thwart a deaf person’s attempts to call customer service.
Patience in the time of COVID-19
In a pandemic, time as we knew it does not exist anymore. Buy a night cream online, and you may see a webpage message about delivery delays due to the pandemic. Many automated messages mention short-staffing and longer wait times. With supply chains stalled, expectations of how soon we can access products or services have also changed.
Many parents are now working full-time while homeschooling and caring for young children 24/7 – with no end in sight. Old notions of productivity have flown out of the window. While discouraging, this hopefully shines a new light on how time differs for deaf and disabled people.
In deaf culture, a unique relationship with time even has its own quirky cultural reference: Deaf Standard Time (see also: The Long Deaf Goodbye). From writing back and forth with a bank teller using pen and pencil, to white-knuckling through yet another hang-up on a relay call, to discriminatory behavior that undermines the steps we take to purchase a home or a car – many aspects of being a deaf customer simply require more time – and patience.
Honing soft skills is essential for all kinds of businesses – and for managers and leaders, the key to running a solid, high-performing team may also lie in all the qualities that deaf consumers consider excellent customer service and communication skills. How much do you know about deaf and hard of hearing people? Subscribe to our mailing list and receive monthly tips to increase your awareness of this unique and PROFITABLE demographic!