Many brokers are experiencing their first hard market this year. Unfortunately, it’s not likely to let up any time soon.

Brokers may find themselves constantly challenged to deliver bad news to customers and suffer long wait times getting quotes from insurers — if they get any at all. In such times of agitation and stress for all parties involved, it’s helpful to know how to de-escalate conflict and navigate tough conversations. It’s time to prioritize those soft skills!

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are the non-technical skills that relate to how you work and interact in your relationships. Examples are communication, interpersonal, time management, and listening skills. They also include personal traits such as:

  • Empathy
  • Adaptability
  • Creativity
  • Dependability
  • Integrity

Maintaining positive, long-standing relationships with clients is a large part of a broker’s job; doing so ensures sales and subscription renewals, which ultimately fuel your business. But times of crisis tend to highlight the hidden fragilities in relationships — especially if these relationships have yet to withstand any tension. What do you do when they abruptly sour, or are threatened with the possibility of souring?

Why soft skills can be your greatest asset during a hard market

The consequences of COVID-19 and this year’s climate-related disasters have led to high demand for insurance payouts and low investment returns for insurers. Since insurers are no longer investing and are instead cleaning up their books, this means higher premiums for policyholders and customers. For brokers, this means your job just got a whole lot harder.

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, just like no one wants to hear that their premiums have abruptly doubled or tripled (or worse!) during a global crisis. Everyone’s in a tough position, so brokers: practicing empathy in your interactions would save you from further escalating any problems.

Possessing emotional and conversational intelligence may have been a “nice-to-have” during a soft market — now it’s essential. In the face of pushback from colleagues or managers, it’s essential to adopt an empathetic mindset and speak without condescending.

In the face of angry outbursts from customers, it’s essential to be prepared to listen without interrupting. In the face of experiencing overwhelming anxiety, it’s essential to set professional and personal boundaries, for your the sake of your own mental health. It is particularly important in this moment to help and support each other.

“The industry loses a lot of talent when we don’t prioritize knowledge sharing,” said Margo Lyons, Head of Broker Distribution at APOLLO Exchange. “[Soft skills] wouldn’t have even been discussed when the market was soft — a buyer’s market. Now the idea of conversational intelligence, negotiation tactics, and soft skills are the topics of webinars and training sessions.”

Indeed, learning how to properly wield and apply soft skills can greatly benefit brokers in their work, but not just during a hard market. Making empathy, kindness, and integrity a permanent part of your overall work approach shouldn’t be limited to times of crisis.

“I think in order to be successful in the industry, you have to seriously practice being a human,” Lyons added. “You have to speak to your clients and to your underwriters as a human being to another human being, which is so often overlooked.”