Why Soft Skills Matter

Making Sure Your Hard Skills Shine

Soft skills can help you stand out.

© iStockphoto/peepo

To get, and keep, a job you typically need a repertoire of technical skills. Dentists need to know how to fill cavities. Secretaries need to type 100+ words per minute. Accountants need to be certified.

Beyond the technical skills, though, which dentist do you go to? The one who is pleasant and takes time to answer your questions; or the one who treats you like a number in a long line of numbered mouths?

Which secretary do you retain when times are lean? The one whose attitude is positive and upbeat, and who is always willing to help; or the one who is inflexible and has a hard time admitting mistakes?

Likewise, think about accountants. The one who has a great work ethic and encourages his colleagues is the one who will, most likely, excel in his position and organization.

In these situations, and all the others like them, it's the soft skills that matter.

While your technical skills may get your foot in the door, your people skills are what open most of the doors to come. Your work ethic, your attitude, your communication skills, your emotional intelligence and a whole host of other personal attributes are the soft skills that are crucial for career success.

With these soft skills you can excel as a leader. Problem solving, delegating, motivating, and team building are all much easier if you have good soft skills. Knowing how to get along with people – and displaying a positive attitude – are crucial for success.

The problem is, the importance of these soft skills is often undervalued, and there is far less training provided for them than hard skills. For some reason, organizations seem to expect people know how to behave on the job. They tend to assume that everyone knows and understands the importance of being on time, taking initiative, being friendly, and producing high quality work.

Assuming that soft skills are universal leads to much frustration. That's why it's so important to focus as much on soft skills training and development as you do on traditional hard skills.

The Soft Skills Gap – Do You Have One?

When your workforce has lots of technical skills but an absence of soft skills, you have a soft skills gap. Soft skills are what accompany the hard skills, and help your organization use its technical expertise to full advantage.

  • If you're really good at getting clients, and not so good at retaining them, chances are you have a soft skills gap.
  • If you have lots of staff turnover and have to keep retraining people, chances are you have a soft skills gap.
  • When you have lots of managers but no real leaders – that's a soft skills gap.

In fact, whenever you are unable to capitalize on the wealth of knowledge, experience and proficiency within your team, then you should be assessing the level of communication and interpersonal skills that are present in your organization.

The workplace has evolved an interpersonal dynamic that can't be ignored. The acts of listening, presenting ideas, resolving conflict, and fostering an open and honest work environment all come down to knowing how to build and maintain relationships with people. It's those relationships that allow people to participate fully in team projects, show appreciation for others, and enlist support for their projects.

It's important for you to recognize the vital role soft skills play within your team and not only work on developing them within yourself, but encourage their development throughout the organization. Areas to examine and evaluate include:

The more of these things you see around you, the better people's soft skills are likely to be within your organization. These all have a significant impact on the attitude a person brings to interactions with clients, customers, colleagues, supervisors, and other stakeholders. The more positive someone's attitude is, the better that person's relationships will be. That's what fosters great team performance, and leads people to contribute strongly to the organization's vision and strategy.

Note:

Traditionally, people don't receive adequate soft skills training – either during vocational instruction or as part of on-the-job training. That's why services like MindTools.com are great for helping people build great people-skills.

Key Points

Soft skills are increasingly becoming the hard skills of today's work force. It's just not enough to be highly trained in technical skills, without developing the softer, interpersonal and relationship-building skills that help people to communicate and collaborate effectively.

These people skills are more critical than ever as organizations struggle to find meaningful ways to remain competitive and be productive. Teamwork, leadership, and communication are underpinned by soft skills development. Since each is an essential element for organizational and personal success, developing these skills is very important and does matter… a lot!

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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Comments (11)
  • jcoke wrote Over a month ago
    For our soft skills training, we actually did a training needs assessment and found out where our employees have learning gaps or skills they feel they need improvement on. It was a combination of survey and supervisor analysis really. They turned those things over to me and I compiled them into a spreadsheet and then started researching and writing training modules to deliver. It was a lengthy process, but I feel that if we just would have blindly established what we thought our employees need from our corporate offices, it would have been a poor decision and an inaccurate reflection of their developmental needs.
  • bigk wrote Over a month ago
    Hi


    It is early to see the results, but even just the increased morale and excitement every time I walk into a facility to work with the team is proof enough for me!


    It seems this is working, or a start anyway, hope you do well here.

    Do these soft skills get added to any other training or are they just separate skills developed on an employee basis requested by demand?

    Soft skills and technical skills, I was thinking it depends on the project demand as I was recently looking at what I might expect when needing an employee based on their technical and soft skill.

    Bigk
  • jcoke wrote Over a month ago
    I accepted my position as Training and Safety Specialist in January 2009 working for an amazing company. My job is to build, write, develop, and train all of our employees in soft skill training - supervisor staff this year, and then regular employees in 2010. The company I work for has been in business for 50 years now and has only provided technical training. We are a very successful and intelligent company, future focused and not in debt, which is hard to come by. However, we do have around a 12% turnover ratio, which is more than we would like, and it is mostly within the shorter term employees because they feel there is little upward movement within the company. The board of directors initiated my position because they feel that soft skills are that important. After doing research and digging around, the determination was made that this type of training would develop employees, show them that we care about their growth, and yes as was stated in an earlier reply, these skills cross over into their daily lives at home as well. It is early to see the results, but even just the increased morale and excitement every time I walk into a facility to work with the team is proof enough for me!
  • bigk wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Heather

    Please excuse my missing off a greeting in my last message it was not intentional.
    It did also contain some general comments but I did intend to address it and ask your opinion.

    I would like to include, if at times it might be difficult to know people, it does not mean someone cannot lead people if they work to get an understanding, improving the understanding allows them to achieve.

    I will have a look at your suggestions about selling and perception.
    At present I had not used much of this although I know about this and what I would prefer to develop in this area.
    Recently I know it is something I have skill to achieve, the current situation is in change though. I can add it again and review what improvements I can add.

    Bigk
  • HeatherN wrote Over a month ago
    In response to the last comment, I would like to ad... Some of us sell our image naturally, for it fits in without make up. We don't need to sell the image of being rich if we are; nor do we sell an image of being beautiful, if we are. It is when we lack things that we must struggle to find proper images to get across to others, and at the same time divert others from our failings through focusing their attention on our strong features. This I have learned first hand,it's called experience and self-awareness...This is an important rule to remember. You can lead people away from weak points, if you have the proper tact, and this will be developed along the way with practice. But for the present, believe that you can lead people if you understand people and know what motivates them. Ralph Waldo Emerson and his son tried to motivate a calf to leave the stable. The father pushed, the son pulled. The calf balked. Then a passing servant put a finger into the calf's mouth, and led it from the stall. You see, you can lead if you're a leader.
    3 rules to sell images:
    To know what you want in life
    To find the proper image to sell to others
    To back it up with "YOU- ABILITY"

    Conclusion: Sell others the feeling of importance, people buy into that feeling. HeatherN
  • bigk wrote Over a month ago
    Hi

    I agree that leadership styles and their use do give a set of tools to help develop the situations and people in a team or situation.
    I most often use developing soft skills and technical skills together.

    I agree that people skills required sometime do get overlooked in situations but in a project if there are people and soft skills needing developed I would certainly allocate time to add this to a project.

    The other project that is always on-going is the team and it's situations or projects, the people are often the reason that development happens, the people are the important issue.
    A leader though also needs to focus attention on their own skill development and as part of the team.

    I read your comment with interest, I did some recent tests and it seems I have good skills but I find I want to develop them more.

    Bigk
  • HeatherN wrote Over a month ago
    Hello Everyone, I could not be more pleased than I am at the moment to see that finally "Soft Skills" finally has the spotlight. There has been such punctuation and push on upgrading technical skills to keep in tow, such a push on getting the newest programs, newest resource manual, newest buzz word on the Technical Digital Dirt Sheet, etc. that soft skills have gone by the wayside somehow. In my teaching life success skills and building people capabilities for life for over 30 years now, I still am motivated by " the simple word" , that tool we use to teach others how to communicate effectively. I am so amazed at the number of times that I have witnessed individuals in "leadership" roles and managers lacking in the basic people skills when it comes to building and keeping a team , department or a company going. Sometimes they just don't seem to get it. I do a lot of workshops on "winning from the inside out" for that very reason. Performance always outsells promises to my way of thinking, therefore, I always try and bring the message home. The most successful leaders have core strengths in several emotional intelligence areas including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Furthermore there are six basic styles of leadership with each making use of the key components of emotional intelligence in different combinations. The best leaders are familiar with all the leadership styles and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate. That requires soft skills savvy. HeatherN
  • bigk wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Midgie

    Excuse my earlier reply looking a bit confused looking.

    Thanks for your comments I can see I did not present my best human communication skills, but your comments will be useful to assess some issues.

    The human being "factor" (yes it is certainly good to employ people).
    I was not overlooking this but I do value human skills as much as technical skills.
    Forgiving human skills can easier than technical skills, but technical skills also need support similar to soft skills.
    Perhaps the issue there is to not use only these specifically in assessing contribution and performance but they are part of it.

    I did originally mean it was immediately difficult to get company data about skills development from a broad cross section of specific companies with country and HR data for this (even on the web).

    I also forgot to write my reply in English.

    I would still expect that technical skills although valued could give good morale but so would soft skills be equally as good, this might depend on the business.
    Or interview.
    If skills are in customer relationship do these become a technical rather than a soft skill?

    Although I would agree that technical skill are what gets the job done when there is a large element of soft skill then the connection between them can become more in focus, or is this competitive edge?

    I'm sure I could make several decisions on this even with my strategist but here are just a few suggested views (maybe these don't need discussed or answered)

    Do you feel I have got the balance wrong?

    About the focus on technical rather than soft?
    Perhaps technical skills are just the part that allows an employer to know that the job will get done until the employee has some more understanding of the business and also what developments are likely to the job itself.
    Although I was also considering the job area to include when a specific skill is required as much as when a style or personality might be recruited.
    Soft skill would very much be worth looking for in this area but again might only be secondary to technical or specific skill or performance based level.

    My underlying assumption might be I expect (demand) technical skills (specific project areas though) and might be overlooking this slightly in my earlier reply. I was trying to look at the general pattern though. But this is from my employing view point.. I am also working on refining it and getting it right again.

    Any suggestions?

    Bigk
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi bigk,
    The culture within an organisation will have an impact on whether soft skills are skills that should be encouraged and developed by employees.

    As a broad generalization, companies who are only concerned about technical skills of their employees are companies whereby morale and turnover are higher than companies that also value the soft skills, and their employees as human beings.

    In these tough economic times, companies need to have everyone 'on board' and pulling together to ensure they remain profitable. And, to get everyone 'on board', they have to have some sort of people-centered focus.

    And yes, interpersonal and communication skills developed in the workplace can also benefit relationships outside of the workplace!

    Midgie
  • bigk wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Midgie

    I need more information to assess this.
    But in an estimate of this there are some factors that would need considered and some of those could be from the culture of the organization but if the people can take the initiative and ask for development to include this then there can be good value in adding it to an employers list of skills to be got for it's people.
    I could see that some employers might miss this off their list as sometimes the focus on the tasks and jobs required might assume that these are already well developed skills and their employees have good grasp of the skills.
    But if an overlooked item it needs more attention in stressing that it provides better employee development and is no reflection on the quality of the employee at whatever level but is something to be used as a reminder for development in employee skills.

    Most employers are likely to assume that they already help to develop their people.

    In real terms, without more information it is difficult to assess if there is any current trend that needs more work in this area, but I suspect there could still be improving on employee skills and time spent on this. There are likely to be times these could be used to help employees and employers develop their people and their company more.

    It could also have a use in areas of life outside of work.


    Bigk
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