Why Soft Skills Mean Hard Results in Business
5 Steps to Sharpen Your Soft Skills
Posted Feb 06, 2017
One might think, due to the attitude of the new Presidential administration, that “soft” is out and a hard-nosed, in-your-face, get-it-done attitude is in. That’s not true when it comes to businesses seeking the best talent in a tightening labor market; soft skills are in high demand, but low supply.
What are “soft skills” and why are they called such? Wikipedia gives a nice definition:
Soft skills are a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) among others that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.] The Collins English Dictionary defines "soft skills" as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”
People skills. Social skills. Communication skills. Character traits. Common sense. The ability to deal with people. A positive flexible attitude. There isn’t a school system to be found that focuses on helping people develop these skills alongside the basics of the 3 R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) and other technical skills. You will get an “F” if you don’t get the mathematic algorithm right, and you also won’t get noticed for your positive, flexible attitude in attempting to figure it out using a different method. In fact, in some school situations you will probably be punished for not doing it by the book! Conforming is the desired trait.
It’s a given that certain careers require a depth of technical knowledge and education. You wouldn’t want a brain surgeon operating on you just because he or she has a nice bedside manner! You wouldn’t want the person who inspects the plane you are about to travel cross-country riding in to have a winning personality but no mechanical aptitude! So, let’s assume the technical skills are strong. Even so, today’s business world, no matter what industry or type of job you are in, is constantly changing and employees need to be able to adapt, work well with others, show high EQ in dealing with and overcoming challenges, and navigate difficult bosses, colleagues and environmental factors.
What if you have never learned how to roll with the punches, overcome adversity and get along with someone you don’t really like? It’s never too late to learn new tricks. Let’s look at five steps you can take to sharpen the saw on your soft skills:
- Practice politeness. Say “please”; say “thank you”. When interviewing, write a thank you note to the person who took the time to talk with you. When a colleague helps you out, acknowledge it. Treat the person who answers the phone for your office with the same respect as the boss you report to. Your mother might have told you “you can grab more flies with honey than with vinegar” and this definitely rings true in the work environment.
- Know thyself. Every person has a behavioral DNA that drives their communication style. And everyone’s style has times where it works very well for them, and times where it backfires. If you are a docile, calm, serene person it may be great when you have a boss who is similar to you, but if you get a boss who wants fire in the belly and assertive behavior, he or she may find you too disengaged. If you are a fiery person who wants to get stuff done and your partner on a project is a thinker, they may find you to be too pushy and intimidating. There are no rights or wrongs, but it’s important to self-reflect and see where you might want to make modifications to how you communicate or come across.
- Learn to categorize obstacles. It’s so easy for most people to get stuck and feel thwarted when unexpected change happens. Problems or issues can seem insurmountable. The next time something (or many things) get in your way, consider reframing them as obstacles to your success. List what’s holding you back. Most importantly, learn to categorize the obstacles – what can you control, what can you influence and what’s out of your control? If you can learn to devote your time and energy to creating plans for those things within your control, or influence, and putting those out of your control to the side, you will find yourself much more productive and resourceful.
- Get good at managing stress. Worry, fear, anxiety, stress and other negative emotions steal your energy and your mental resources. Life is stressful. You are never going to be at a place of rest for very long – the one constant in life is change. Instead of trying to get your circumstances where you need them to be in order to be happy, work on your internal state. Practice deep breathing, meditation, positive self-talk, or incorporating exercise – or all of the above. Figure out what’s best for you and make a commitment to it. The less stressed you are, the more capable you will be of dealing with whatever comes your way.
- Always be learning. Take every opportunity to improve your soft skills. There are many different online tools, classes, seminars and the like where you can learn new ideas. Just practice with one area until it becomes natural to you, then move on to another.
While you may have technical competence in what you do, having the interpersonal, communication and coping skills known as EQ or “soft skills” could move you ahead of other candidates or colleagues.