The Hard Facts about Soft Skills

by Stew Bolno

Performance/Management Consultants have heard all of the jokes about consultants. Some of these jibes even make me laugh. Perhaps the most enduring criticism is that of referring to seminars regarding Individual/Team Development Communications Training as “Soft Skills” training. This critique no longer bothers me. I have observed that those individuals and teams, that have mastered the art of understanding themselves and connecting with others, generally perform at a higher level of effectiveness while experiencing more enjoyment at work.

Take a moment to think about the challenges of your job. What causes you more stress; the knowledge and ability that it takes to do your work or the challenges of interacting, communicating, and getting the best performance from your associates? If you are like most people, you recognize that doing your job is the easy part. For most of us, it is our effectiveness to work with others that either creates enjoyment or aggravation. If you need further proof, reflect on your own work experience. Your work history probably reveals that the bosses who obtained the highest performance from you were those who demonstrated trust building and communication skills; not solely technical competence.

A person and/or organization that is “people smart” encourages communication, obtains personal loyalty, and facilitates the creation of productive teams. These characteristics have a result of increased sales, higher levels of customer retention, lower employee turnover rates, and less absenteeism. Each of these factors translates into a stronger bottom line by increasing revenues or lowering expenses. You see, technical competence is the minimum expectation customers and co-workers have of you. You will be a more effective leader, manager, or team member when you learn the simple concept of treating people they way they need to be treated, not the way you need to be treated.

Achieving “people smart” status will net out a number of benefits for you:

  • You learn to understand your own behavioral tendencies; this enables you to recognize how your greatest assets when overused, or used in certain situations, become liabilities.
  • You learn to appreciate that people are different in their perspectives and actions; this enables you to broaden your approach to problems while yielding more effective solutions.
  • You will learn to be more flexible in your communications with others; this will strengthen relationships with clients and co-workers providing you with increased levels of candor and trust in your discussions.
  • So, the next time you hear someone speak disparagingly about “soft skills,” perhaps they should be reminded that obtaining a strong bottom line requires the hard work of being able to gain loyalty, commitment, and performance from team members.