Soft skills are associated with one’s emotional intelligence quotient and are a main factor in the success of one’s individual contributions to an organizations success, either their own or someone else’s. Soft skills are related to a cluster of personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social abilities. They are a complement to hard skills; that is, a person’s knowledge and occupational skills. Soft skills are important because they deal with personal interactions, which are a major factor in today’s global market. These skills do contribute to organizational success, but more importantly, they will impact individual career success. In research from the research firm, Leadership IQ, it was found in a study of 20,000 new hires, 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill.
Soft skills are a challenge for everyone. These skills aren’t taught in college or the workplace. For the most part, society rewards those with talents in specific soft skills, such as negotiation, influence, communication, creativity, networking or cross-cultural competence. Today’s leader struggle with soft skills because of the global nature of business and the increasing demand for diversity. Every culture places a different value on each soft skill and, in most cases, defines them differently. For example, Americans love to negotiate, but the Australians don’t value it as much and are less confrontational than Americans. Therefore, a balance must be utilized in such negotiations. Too often leaders fail to regulate (or develop) their soft skills when interacting with other cultures and ideas.
In a survey by Korn Ferry last year, CFOs mentioned that the most important skills they need now are not the technical skills. It’s the soft skills, such as communication and interpersonal skills, that separate the great financial professional from the average one. Why? Financial professionals are frequently becoming key decision-makers and business leaders in organizations. They provide vital information needed for critical strategic decisions. Therefore, they must be capable of interacting with a diverse set of stakeholders – from peers to boards, investors to government officials – and they have to communicate such information effectively and efficiently.
The important part of soft skills is to understand what they are and how others define them. This can be done by a simple process, reading. In a book released in 2013, BT Consulting identified the nine key soft skills that are most important for leaders in the global economy today. These include power, negotiation, influence, cross-cultural competence, communication, self-discipline, creativity, interpersonal relations and networking. Once you understand these, you can utilize a simple 12 step plan to begin to improve your abilities with respect to each soft skill.
Here are the steps:
- Assess your weaknesses before someone else does. There are numerous tools on the web to help you identify the social skills you need to improve.
- Practice. Once you know what you need to improve practice, practice, practice. Mastery of almost any skill requires repetitive exercise.
- Ask for feedback. Get your friends, family and coworkers to assess your strengths and weaknesses. This gives you continuous feedback on your progress.
- Study the experts. We all know people who are really good at a particular social skill. Study what they do and ask them to support you in developing that skill.
- Take risks. Experiment outside your safe zone. This allows you to truly assess your authenticity, as opposed to learning specific behaviors in a common setting.
- Set specific goals. Don’t attempt to improve everything at the same time. Identify each skill you want to improve and plan it thoroughly. Then, implement the plan.
- Be active in groups and associations. There’s no better place to develop social skills than in a social setting. Be active. Participate.
- Get training where you need it. No college degree provides everything you need. You must seek continual improvement of your skill set.
- Fight your bad habits. You know you tendencies better than anyone. Learn to recognize them when they occur and change them instantly.
- Avoid today’s standard methods of communication. Don’t text, tweet or email. Engage in direct communication as much as possible.
- Focus outward, not inward. When practicing your skills, don’t focus on getting people to like you but focus on learning more about other people.
- Control your emotions. Focus on the skills you are trying to develop and avoid accepting the emotions pushed on you by other people. Building skills is tough. Maintain the proper attitude and people will respond positively.
If you’re going to work on your skills, the soft ones do more for career mobility than the hard ones. Sure, you’re likely to work for some really challenging people in your career but you must remember to focus on improving yourself. You can’t change them.