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Enhance Soft Skills!

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Soft skills or “people skills” are characteristics that influence an individual’s personal and professional relationships, work performance and career prospects. Technical skills are specific skills, tasks or activities that you need to be proficient in to be eligible for a particular job. However, soft skills are those that everybody has to varying degrees. Many soft skills are an inherent part of an individual’s personality, yet many can be acquired or learned. If the lack of a particular soft skill is identified, it can be addressed and one can be trained to acquire that particular skill.

To be successful in any profession or field of work, having good soft skills are as essential as having technical skills. Good communication skills play an important role in building successful relationships, whether personal or professional. Creating a stellar piece of work is of no use if you are unable to showcase it to others. Appreciation, recognition and opportunities are things that you would lose out on for the hard work you have put in.

Working on your soft skills can be extremely helpful in the long run. Here are some ways of achieving them:

  • Read Habitually: It’s never too late to start. Even if you are not much of a reader, make it a point to read at least a few pages each day and increase the number of pages each day. Reading is the key to understanding the language better. It teaches you about word play, usage and timing and will also help you write better. The ability to write crisp, concise and clear letters or e-mails can be an invaluable asset.

  • Take a Public Speaking Class: If speaking in front of an audience scares you, you can you overcome this fear by performing an exercise that needs you to do just this.

  • Develop a Good Sense of Humor: Humor can lighten any situation, whether it’s to break the stress to beat a project deadline or make a newcomer feel welcome.
  • Compliment People: Do this as it is an easy way to reach out to people around you, but be genuine and sincere, flattery is obvious. Superficiality is a thin screen that people can see through and won’t last for long.
  • Use Illustrations to Communicate: Illustrations can speak the language of the lay person and can simplify tough technical concepts into easy-to-follow concepts.

Globalization, in almost all areas of work, has made it imperative to deal with diverse situations involving people from divergent backgrounds. It further emphasizes the role of soft skills. It is not enough to be able to just do your work properly, but it’s also about being able to proactively make a positive difference to those around you in order to take the organization a step forward to achieve its goals.

Working on one’s soft skills is definitely a worthwhile exercise not just for employees of an organization but also for one’s personal progress in life.

Do share your thoughts on the same.

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  • Depending on the role offcourse, but I believe technical skills are easier to learn than soft skills. Often candidates are not aware of their lack of soft skills. You need intensive coaching to learn to use soft skills in a ‘natural’ way. The need to learn specific technical skills is also more accepted by candidates.

  • Lani Watson

    You can be brilliant and no one will pay any attention to you if you have zero soft skills. I believe you need to define the position…describe a day (or week, or month) in the life of the position. Then distill what competencies/skills the position requires. Obviously a highly technical position where the person works alone will need less soft skill than one that manages people in an empowered environment. In any case, once you have the key competencies defined, recruitment, interviewing and selection looks for those competencies demonstrated. As all have stated, both are important, but levels are dependent on the position.

  • I would suggest that Daniel Golemans Emmotional Intelligence is read and digested fully.

    IQ and technical skills are great and serve a purpose, some industries thrive on these types of automoton (Robot Worker) IT spings to mind, people that have great Skills and intelligence yet cannot communicate with their own reflection.

    As an Employer and as someone that provides expert advice to major Blue Chip companies I would suggest that a proportion of the recruitment is dedicated to a blend of both and emphasis placed on the percentage aligned to job role and level of interaction.

    A Manager or Leader should ERGO have more EQ then their subordinate as a very wishy washy statement.

    EQ is easily tested for either through Situational Assessment or competency interview, a colleague of mine today mentioned that when he was interviewing candidates for a Accountancy roles he would sit them in the Reception area a make them wait for an hour, hw would then question the receptionist on how they interacted with them did they make conversation have a personality were they able to get the best from the situation ?

    A great test and an easy way of learning more about people and the way they interact with others.

    I would suggest that the only job for a skills specific employee would be on the European Space station alone and in silence orbiting the earth.

    Recruiting for Emotional Intelligence

  • In answer to the question of which is better, technical or soft skill, it depends entirely on the role what mix of social and technical skills one requires, and therefore “best”.

    Some roles are highly social, others almost exclusively technical – a general practitioner needs a great deal of social skills, for example, whereas a surgeon may need very few. The patient is in close social contact with the GP, but may never meet the surgeon.
    A person is sales dealing with the public needs extremely high levels of social skills, but a person constructing mathematical models of structural stress may need very little in the way of social skills.

    In general terms, soft skills are no more difficult to acquire than technical skills – unless we are talking about traits, in which case they are fairly resistant to change.
    Skills are a mixed bag with some soft-skills being easy and some technical skills being extremely difficult to learn – For example, learning when and how to shake hands is a soft-skill that is relatively easily learned, whereas being able to solve problems in formal-logic or non-monotonic calculus can be a nightmare for those who don’t have the aptitude.

  • Technical skills are essential for anyone to be considered for a job because it is what we lead with when applying for a job, when listing our qualifications to a recruiter, or in boasting of our aptitude. However, I believe that soft skills (not as easy to quantify or prove quickly) are what ultimately determines how effective a person is in their given job. Only a person who doesn’t interact with other people (including email) could get by with poor people skills. I prefer people with good soft skills, but I probably wouldn’t hire them without at least adequate technical skills. I suppose it’s a both/and answer.

  • Steve Madsen

    I agree with Matthew – the key word here being traits. I was presented with something along this line when hiring a trainer for a field technician training program. I and other trainers debated about which characteristic should occupy the top need – experience with training, or field technical experience.

    To a degree, there is nothing like field experience when asked to train others on some of those same skills. Conversely, all the technical experience cannot easily translate into effective facilitation of skill acquisition that the position required.

    So, if I am a customer wanting a solution to a technical problem, do I want someone who can solve my problem, or BS their way through elementary attempts at fixing my problem? Put another way, do I want someone to ‘kill’ my technical issue with a sniper’s rifle, or a shotgun?

  • My research is the same–candidates these days need to “have it all.” They also need to present themselves in their position applications as someone who can get down and dirty with the technical planning aspects of the job while using great interpersonal skills to convince executive management of the strategic value of these plans. Newsweek had an article on the value of soft skills vs. hard skills recently, so I wrote about what Newsweek had to say: http://wp.me/pWw61-2C.

    Best,
    Amy

  • I’m with @Mark, definitely a both/and situation.

    I also think both soft and technical skills come in different flavors. On the one hand, it’s relatively easy for a person in either camp to superficially acquire skills from the other: a developer can learn to interact with non-technical clients, a salesperson can speak to technical issues just enough to engage with more technical customers. Getting by is easy enough.

    But taking it to the next level, where a skill that was absent before becomes innate – that kind of mastery takes time, often longer than e-learning (or any semi-formalized education) is designed to sustain.

    One company I think has it down is Zappos: they take employees on a learning journey over the course of 5 years (and beyond), making sure to fill in skill gaps along the way. The key is making sure that a corporate culture makes bridging the soft-technical divide a high priority – but sadly we don’t see enough of it!

  • Swati Thombare

    Person with good presentation skill can create first impression. However, over the long run, it is only the knowledge and technical skill set which counts. In my professional career, I have seen an average presentator but with vast depth of knowledge being easily taking over the meetings successfully.
    It also depends upon the organization culture and role that you are into.In case of a role which is customer facing, good soft skill is firstmost condition over the other.

  • Interesting article. Of course you know the ideal candidate is someone with both. Modern education has favored technical and industry specific knowledge at the expense of soft skill. Sadly, lack of soft skills is the deal breakers most people (especially new graduates) are unaware of…I just read multiple articles from all over the world about new grads with great credentials but no soft skills. They are unemployable in the global marketplace. As a consultant I’ve found employers and professionals unwilling to spend money of professional development in this area. At the same time they are mystified at the loss of business or career opportunities due to holes in this skill area. Thanks for bringing this topic up again!
    I just wanted to add–as a college instructor I think this is a great area for collaboration. Cultures that encourage discipline and fact based education and those that encourage free thought and creativity can work together to produce grads with the needed blend of hard and soft skills.

  • Aarti Khanna

    Combo pack of soft & technical skills will be preferred as the candidatures is incomplete without any one of the skills missing.

  • Both plays equal role in profession..can we weighed based on the career frontline.

  • surya vrat

    Earlier cos were more inclined towards soft skills. there was a time wwhen people didnt calculate service cost resulting from frequent communication due to lack of correct resoultion in first instance itself. last yr there was an article in papers that Bharti is shifting from soft skill as a criterion to “first time resolution”. COPC based on MBNQA advocates using least 3 parameters.

  • I think there should be a balance of technical skills and soft skills. A person may have soft skills, but in the absence of technical skills, he may always feel that he has to depend on another, and hence even though people may think that he is a nice guy, but, they wouldn’t appreciate him with respect to the technical requirements of the job.

    Similarly, a person may have technical skills, but in the absence of soft skills, maybe he is unable to work as a team, or take on the role of a leader, or be able to resolve conflicts.

    So ideally, it’s a mix that we should want in an employee.

  • steve b

    You can always learn the technologies and the technologies are always changing requiring relearning. Soft skills such as communication, influence, negotiation, meeting moderation, information gathering, facilitation, etc. are much more difficult to master, however, these skills do not change and neither does the need for them.

  • Great article. In my experience, I think employers hire on the basis of technical skills and aptitude to the detriment of soft skills. Soft skills, I think are viewed as being unimportant, when in actual fact without them the technical ability is near pointless. Having enhanced soft skills,in a work environment, is crucial and indicates an ability to be able to maturely relay information, communicate with those around you and indeed generally get on with people in your environment. We have all been in scenarios in the workplace, where the person nominated in a technical position, for instance, is actually the last person that you would approach for assistance in that area. As their ability to relate, makes extracting the information from them, near impossible. This should not be the case, although I do wonder how often this is spotted at a senior level.

  • It largely depend on the Independence of jobs. General speaking, the soft skill would be more and more important when you get a higher and higher position. exspecially,when you are at senior management positions. Coordinational Ability would be key to success.

  • Excellent discussion.

    Both hard and soft skills are, indeed, very important, and in the ideal world the perfect professional would possess them equalized. In the real world, however, we see and have a greater focus on technical skills. People aren’t taught to develop their behavioral skills but to be average-to-excellent technicians. These behavioral skills aren’t something you can teach or learn in the same way you teach or learn Earned Value Management or how to use a driller, these soft skills must be developed.

    Behavioral skills are the core set to any professional and will drive its performance, productivity, set and use of hard skills and compliance to an organization’s values. Although they can’t be measured, they can be evaluated.

    Which behavioral skills are the core set depends on the profession and work field, as already stated in previous comments. Using Project Management as example, the core set of behavioral skills for a Project Manager would be (from most influential to least influential):

    1. Ethic
    2. Leadership
    3. Pro-activity
    4. Communication
    5. Anticipation
    6. Negotiation, Conflict Resolution & Decision Making

    Please feel free to comment.

    Best Regards,
    Giovanni Giazzon

  • The answer to the question is really dependent on the situation. If I’m a watchmaker and my main purpose is to make the best and most precise watch, then technical skills would be critical. If I’m an individual who oversees a group of watchmakers, I need to understand their craft, however, it’s more important for me to motivate and engage the watchmakers in their work.

    For most leaders, having strong interpersonal skills or as was previously mentioned, being high in emotional intelligence is critical. That being said, it’a assumed that individuals in mid-management positions have an above average Intelligence Quotient. Studies have shown that leaders or managers with high EQ ( Emotional Quotient) out perform their counterparts significantly. We also need to understand that this idea crosses all cultural and ethnic barriers. There is no less a need to have strong EQ in Africa as their is in Germany or Brazil, we are still dealing with people.

    Emotional Intelligence measures personal and social competence.

    Personal Competence

    SELF-AWARENESS
    Emotional Awareness:recognizing one’s emotions and their effect
    Accurate Self-assessment: knowing one’s strengths and limits
    Self-confidence: A strong sense of one’s self-worth and capabilities
    SELF-REGULATION
    Self-control: Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check
    Trustworthiness: Maintaining standards of honesty and integrity
    Conscientiousness: Taking responsibility for personal performance
    Adaptability: Flexibility in handling change
    Innovation: Being comfortable with novel ideas, approaches and new information
    MOTIVATION
    Achievement drive: Striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence
    Commitment: Aligning with the goals of the group or organization
    Initiative: Readiness to act on opportunities
    Optimism: Persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks

    Social Competence

    EMPATHY
    Understanding others: sensing others’ feelings and perspectives, taking an active interest in their concerns
    Developing others: Sensing others development needs and bolstering their abilities
    Service orientation: Anticipating, recognizing, and meeting customers’ needs
    Leveraging diversity: Cultivating opportunities through different kinds of people
    Political Awareness: Reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships
    SOCIAL SKILLS
    Influence: Wielding effective tactics for persuasion
    Communication: Listening openly and sending convincing messages
    Conflict management: Negotiating and resolving disagreements
    Leadership: Inspiring and guiding individuals and groups
    Change Catalyst: Initiating or managing change
    Building bonds: Nurturing instrumental relationships
    Collaboration and cooperation: Working with others toward shared goals
    Team capabilities: creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals

  • Dan

    Technical skills are learned behaviors that improve with experience. It can be extremely tough to teach someone to have good people skills, but when you have this type of person it makes operations easier. Training, team building, promotion, and of course daily duties. From a customer relations standpoint, people skills are absolutely essential. Having good people skills are also great for professional relationships with co-workers too. In conclusion, I suggest that having good people skills is more important than the technical aspect, as long as the individual can quickly learn the technical skills over time.

  • Niall

    Depends on whether you want the person to do the job, or just talk about it. Too much in the soft skills department means that the work takes a lot longer because everyone is always seeking consensus and trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Technical people either make, or want decisions made on the spot, and don’t want to wait for everyone to reach a consensus.

    Each position has its advantages and disadvantages – if you’re in a job where tech skills need to be foremost, then there is no sense hiring the person with strong soft skills but weak tech skills, and vice-versa.

  • Michael Derby

    Soft skills by far. Technical skills are things that can be taught. Although it may take a new hire a period of time to acquire them, they will gain the understanding and proficiency necessary for the position. Soft skills, on the other hand, cannot be taught, you either have them or you don’t. And in todays environment where we are all being forced to do more with less this is the skill that would be vital to an organizations long term health.

  • Tom D

    Professional success is similar to riding a bicycle – you need a rear wheel to move (technical skills), but you also need a front wheel to steer around other riders (people skills).

  • Both are important, however I would value the critical interpersonal and leadership skills over technical skills. I can more easily get someone up to speed on the technical skills (assuming they have some base level) and the critical skills are necessary to work effectively with others. I wrote a blog post regarding the need for leadership (critical) skills for project managers in addition to the necessary technical skills. You may find it interesting: http://www.ginaabudi.com/pmleadership/.

    Best regards,
    Gina

  • The old mantra ‘hire for attitude, train for skills’ is still valid in this fast-moving 21st century world.

    It’s usually easier to help people develop technical competence and skills so long as educators focus on experiential learning and follow the ‘experience, practice, conversation and reflection’ approach to enable the behaviour change necessary for skill and capability development rather than simply filling heads with information.

    ‘Attitude’ is bound up with what we tend to call ‘soft skills’ (‘core skills’ is a better term). Changing ‘soft’ attitudes and behaviours is a much more difficult proposition than developing professional and technical skills. ‘Attitude’ tends to be bound into life-views and perspectives and have been developed during childhood and teenage experiences.

    That said, all jobs require a degree of technical skill. Some greater than others. I’m sure that all of us would prefer our surgeons, pilots and train drivers to have the necessary technical skills before we engaged their services. However, a pilot or a surgeon with ‘attitude’ can be as dangerous as one lacking technical skills.

    My approach has always been to hire for attitude, but to ensure that the new hire displays the enthusiasm and drive to learn and unlearn both rapidly and continually.

  • Glenn Rowe

    “Since this is about Coaching Leadership, and since leadership is all about influencing people, the answer has to be “People Skills”. Unfortunately, most people get promoted into leadership because of their technical skills which, though quite important at the front-line level, actually have little impact on their ability to lead/influence people. In fact, the higher up the leadership ladder one goes, the less important one’s technical skills become.

    “And I enthusiastically agree that we should do away with the term “soft skills”. Particularly in the more technical circles (engineering, for example), it is a pejorative term that frequently causes people to discount, undervalue or even ignore their importance. It is also quite inaccurate — IMO, if done right, people skills are just as “hard” as technical skills.

    Regards as always,

    — Glenn Rowe

  • Sujeet

    I agree with Mathew. It depends entirely on the role. However, in my experience, the person who usually gets ahead is the one with soft skills. Technical skills alone will not get one very far in the workspace of today where negotiation and relationships are required for giving a person that little edge to display his skills or to get his own ideas approved. Skills can always be learned, so I go with Charles on the “hire for attitude, train for skills”.