I have to admit I strongly dislike the term ‘soft skills’. I think it is because the word ‘soft’ sounds weak and to me doesn’t communicate the real impact that ‘soft skills’ have when they are well developed. They are frequently seen as second best to ‘hard skills’.
With that in mind, why do they matter? Fundamentally, having strong ‘soft skills’ versus ok ‘soft skills’ is the difference between someone who is more likely to fulfil their potential and feel fulfilled in their job role and someone having a perfectly adequate career but never really achieving what they could do. At the extreme, when ‘soft skills’ are very limited, then this is likely to lead to a barrier to career progression in many industries. Yet sadly, many think they are something you either have or don’t have, or that they are far less important than knowledge and expertise.
However, ‘soft skills’ are all about differentiating ourselves and using them to build the relationships we need to, to work well with others, whether they be clients, prospects, suppliers, partners or colleagues. I’m sorry to tell you but ‘hard skills’, that is technical knowledge and expertise can only take you so far. Think about an accountant who has flown through his/her exams and is fully qualified. In his or her early career years, he/she comes to work and carries out the technical work they are asked to. Of course, good ‘soft skills’ even at this early stage will have helped that person get the job and facilitate their day to day working with colleagues, but it’s not as pivotal as further down the track. This is the point at which more client contact is required, there are fewer roles available at more senior levels and perhaps business development becomes an expectation.
I was talking to someone recently who is mid-career in the finance sector. He has had feedback from 2/3 companies that he lacks empathy and appears cool at interview (he’s fortunate to have received such candid feedback; at least he knows what to work on!). He is really struggling to get a role because of this feedback. What struck me as I talked to him is that he sounded thoroughly depressed about this situation, fundamentally he feels it’s unfair. Unfair as he has good experience and expertise and unfair as he said he isn’t as they describe in his personal life. What I explained to him was that he has two fundamental things stopping him from getting a new role.
Firstly, he is not differentiating himself; potentially these interviewers are meeting several people for this role in a day or matter of days. They probably broadly all met the criteria in terms of knowledge and expertise, so they are looking for someone to stand out from the crowd. Even if someone has extraordinary experience or knowledge, they will need good ‘soft skills’ to communicate this.
Secondly, these skills help them build rapport to make sure the interviewer is engaged and to build a connection with them. They will then get more of a feel for your personality and how you might fit or not into the team/role at hand. If no rapport is built, they are at best likely to have a neutral opinion on your fit for the role. At worst, as with the guy I mentioned, they will see you negatively.
This need for ‘soft skills’ is of course present in any scenario where we encounter others and need to work with others as part of our role – that is pretty much every role. Of course with seniority comes the need for advanced ‘soft skills’ as interaction externally increases and you represent your organisation and you become a leader and role model for others.
In fact, people with strong ‘hard skills’ need ‘soft skills’ to make sure these get seen and used to their full potential. It’s no good just deciding ‘soft skills’ are not your thing if you want to progress.
The good news is ‘soft skills’ are learnable, it may be harder for some than others but everyone can advance from where they are. As Dr. Carol S. Dweck, the psychologist and author of ‘Mindset’ says, “Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training.”
So, have you been neglecting your ‘soft skills’? Is this holding you back in your career? If so, there are many areas I can help you with, click here to find out more.
Perhaps you work in a knowledge heavy sector and can see that some of your team are not reaching their potential as their ‘soft skills’ are not what they might be, click here to see how I work with groups and individuals in organisations.
Image courtesy of freeimages.com/BarunPatro