The Value of Soft Skills in a Hard World
Not long ago, soft skills were viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time, and a dead end for marketing speaking engagements. Well, things have changed since the last century. Daniel Goleman’s transformational best-seller, Emotional Intelligence, paved the way for a plethora of follow ups, indicating a clear paradigm shift that affected business worldwide. A resurgence of this topic and other soft skills areas are now overshadowing hard skills. Soft skills are more popular than ever, contributing to effective communications and having a positive impact on the bottom line. Soft skills have many benefits, including:
• Seamless communication to ensure that groups and teams complete projects.
• Effective persuasion to resolve conflicts and ideological differences.
• Ensuring that associates feel their values about their work are understood, leading to loyalty and dedication to the organization’s goals.
• More effective leadership that promotes bottom-line success.
• A keener insight into the human factor involved in running a successful business.
I’ll Second that Emotion
You’re probably wondering, “How important are emotions in the workplace? Isn’t getting the job done, regardless of your mood, what really matters?” Actually, emotions are very important. Brain research has revealed that it doesn’t take much to increase stress levels that interfere with the smooth functioning of your brain. There’s a little structure called the amygdala on each side of your brain that’s about the size of your thumb. Its primary function is to warn you of impending danger. No doubt, you’ve heard of the “fight or flight” response. You attack smaller threats with fury, or you flee when you’re faced with a more formidable adversary. Think cavemen faced with a saber-tooth tiger. Would you raise your club or run for the cave? People experience fight-or-flight reactions daily, even on the job. You see, it really doesn’t take much to get stressed out. Recall how you felt when you experienced any of the following situations:
• Lack of respect or condescension
• A sense of being treated unfairly
• Lack of appreciation
• Not being listened to
• Unrealistic deadlines
Many speakers experience all five on a daily basis. Does your topic always get the respect it deserves? Are you appreciated for what you have to offer? Are you compared to other speakers who supposedly speak on your topic, but really don’t?
Soft Skills Enhance Communication
Communication trumps all other aspects of business. Soft skills, whether communicated in person or electronically, produce results, as the following statistics show:
• Sanofi-Aventis, an Australian pharmaceutical firm, enjoyed a 12 percent increase in sales after training its sales force in soft skills. • According to the Hay/McBer Group, insurance agents trained in soft skills sold policies averaging $114,000 compared to less trained associates who sold policies averaging $54,000.
• At L’Oreal, sales agents with soft skills training sold $91,370 more than their less trained counterparts, resulting in increased revenue of $2,558,360.
• Recruiters trained in soft skills save the U.S. Air Force $3 million per year, according to a General Accounting Office report. What soft skills account for these successes? Soft skills deal with three main factors: awareness, performance and outcome.
Awareness: The ability to read others well, know their emotional dispositions, and understand the interpersonal dynamics of the business context.
Performance: Presentation skills and the ability to communicate to others that we hear them and recognize their needs.
Outcome: Understand the “core group” through which goals are achieved, and identifying individuals who contributed meaningfully, as well as creating a sense of caring about them and their contributions.
Soft Skills Can Be Measured at Three Levels:
- At the personal level, tests measuring emotional intelligence are very popular at the personal level.
- At the group level, factors like trust and seamless communication can be measured in 360-degree fashion.
- At the organizational level, metrics like sales volume, bottom-line profits and even decreasing figures on turnover are used. In these days of slow economic recovery, innovation is viewed as one way to cope with struggling figures.
Soft skills may be an essential aspect of innovation by offering social support with the following challenges:
• Defining meeting goals
• Defining scope and timelines
• Preparing meeting agendas
• Assigning roles
These areas can benefit by open communication among the members of the group. By sharing their feelings and factual knowledge, group members can enhance their pursuit of options that may eventually work. According to Klaus Haasis of Stuttgart, Germany, who is a builder of innovative networks in Europe, the process of successful innovation includes building relationships, sharing knowledge, and open collaboration – all soft skills. So, are soft skills important? Are they marketable? Is the Pope Catholic? Soft skills are the new hard skills. Their contribution to bottom-line success can be measured, and their pervasive presence in leadership, team performance, and even the process of innovation is undeniable. So, the next time someone calls you a “softie” when you offer to present on leadership, communication or innovation, consider it a compliment.
What Are Soft Skills?
• Interpersonal connection
• Matching skills with challenges
• Respecting differences
• Accepting failure
• Emotional intelligence
• Taking charge of your life
Speaking on Soft Skills
- Begin by modeling. Do it on the platform to show how it’s done.
- Create a safe place for exchange, without judgment, in small groups.
- Distinguish between factual knowing and personal feeling. Start with “I feel …”
- Tell a personal story about the power of a soft skill that affected your life.
- Tell another story that reveals your vulnerability.
- Get consensus from your audience and feedback from small group interaction.
- Model openness to different opinions and engage your audience.
- Offer free counseling and feedback for the following week and give more than expected.
- Demonstrate how soft skills win in the long run with another story.
- Summarize with practical applications.