Are you soft enough? Hard skills are the foundation of a successful career. But soft skills are the cement. According to a recent study, almost half of the executives surveyed think Americans lack the soft skills needed for the job. What are these soft skills? We’re talking about communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. Traditionally, companies focused on hard skills, which are basically the skills you need to deal with things. Soft skills are what you need to deal with people. Big difference. Major gap.
Humans are the biggest asset and the biggest liability for all organizations. Any candidate can look great on paper. That’s easy to do. But what about when they’re hired and have to deal with other humans every day? Can they work well on teams? Do they bring toxic energy? Do they create a domino effect of chaos due to ineffective communication? Are they just plain cranky? Soft skills used to get a bad rap. And why wouldn’t they? The term “soft skills” sounds rather pathetic. I vote to re-name them “human skills.”
Why Soft Skills?
More and more executives and leaders are realizing the importance of hiring for soft skills, not just hard skills. You can have the most amazing skills to do the technical side of your job. But, if nobody can work with you, how valuable are you to the bottom line?
Part of the reason for the soft skills gap is that we really don’t get taught these skills. For the most part, we pick things up along the way based on those we look up to or those we don’t want to be like. Sure a college communication course may offer some insights into soft skills. But, there’s no substitute for real-world experience. Unless you’ve experienced dealing with someone who severely lacks soft skills, you have no idea what you’re working with.
Here are 5 tips on how you can rate, improve and promote your own soft skills.
- Take an honest inventory: This is the hardest part. It’s not easy to admit to ourselves what areas we might need some work in. For this part it is a good idea to ask a few people that know you (or more if you like) to give you feedback on your communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills. But, don’t ask your mom. She’s going to tell you how amazing you are at all of them (hopefully). Barriers to digging into our own soft skills and improving them are our own fear of bragging, arrogance, and overall lack of self-insight.
- Stop reading books: I know this sounds absurd. When it comes to soft skills don’t get caught up reading leadership books alone in your bedroom trying to figure it all out. You have to be in the trenches with people actually doing it. Get involved in organizations, committees or clubs where you have to collaborate and communicate with others. You can do all of this outside of your workplace if you like. Choose one of your hobbies, join a group, or get on a board. There are millions of opportunities for you to collaborate with others in large or small ways to practices.
- Ignore your own rules: We all have developed, in our own minds, how things should be done. We think we know the best ways to communicate, collaborate, etc. So often, if others don’t do it our way, we think it’s wrong. It’s easy to slip into this mindset because we base our “rules” off of our own experiences. This is very important when it comes to collaboration. The forming, storming, norming and performing stages of groups can die out in the storming stage if everyone wants to do things their way.
- Don’t leave your personal life at the door: I don’t know when the trend of “leaving your personal life outside the office” and acting like an emotionless robot became popular, let alone expected. But, it’s BS. It’s not possible. The more people push for it the less possible it becomes. People are human (surprise!!!). Don’t expect them to leave their “human” at the door when they come to work. Don’t encourage that. Embrace the human side of life! It’s what makes us truly successful when leveraged productively.
- Let your human shine: Our genetic behaviors also play a big role in what soft skills we will naturally be got at. Learn what your strengths are in these areas and leverage the heck out of them. There are no “right or wrong” behaviors. But there are different strengths we can showcase more easily based on our innate behaviors. Combine those behaviors with the awareness and constant improvement of your communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking and you’ll be in a continuous state of success generation. Link your hard skills to your soft skills throughout all cycles of your career – applying, interviewing, and each and every day.
Soft skills get little respect. But, they will make or break your career. There is a large gap between what employers want, and what we are taught. We have the power to change that on our own.
“There is no accomplishment so easy to acquire as politeness… and none more profitable.” – George Bernard Shaw