Revisiting The Importance of Soft Skills
May 10, 2018
I have written and talked about soft skills a fair amount because they are so important in the workplace. The term “soft skills” refers to those skills that are qualitative, such as: writing, attitude, communication, problem-solving, team building, empathy, ability to self-reflect, adaptability, and ethics. They are harder to measure than technical or quantitative skills such as accounting, interpreting data, accounting methods, investment strategy, and knowledge of marketing or economic theory.
While most job descriptions state the technical skills required for a position, Monster.com reports hiring mangers are also looking for the following soft skills in new hires:
Oral and written communication
- Attention to detail
- Customer service
- Personal drive
- Problem-solving capacity
- Organization teamwork
- Troubleshooting ability
Soft skills are interpersonal skills. They are the skills that allow you to interact, engage, and collaborate with fellow human beings to foster a relationship. Without these skills it is much more difficult to function within a team, listen to a colleague with empathy, or to evaluate policies, let alone lead. Leaders who lack these interpersonal skills are unable to inspire, build, support, and encourage their team. In teams where leaders lack these soft skills, there is often high turnover. According Shannon Geison, 50% of employees leave their job because of a bad manager. In her article entitled, “Why Soft Skills Training is Crucial to Create Better Leaders,” she cites a report by iCMS Hiring Insights, which surveyed 400 HR professionals. The data shows that “94% of HR professionals believe that workers with strong soft skills have a better chance of being promoted at a company than an employee with more experience but weaker soft skills.”
Too many recent graduates are arriving to new jobs eager to analyze data and apply specific theories, but are relatively incapable of drafting an effective email, managing conflict, or are incapable of any form of self-reflection. In an article in Transforming Education, Robin Doss writes, “Professional organizations and businesses alike are all lauding this new crop of employees as qualified, innovative, ambitious, and skilled; however, their shortcomings in soft skills are impeding their success in the workplace.” But it isn’t just impeding these new employees, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates that for companies with 100 employees, the cost of poor communication can average $420,000 per year and companies with 100,000 employees, they estimate the loss is $62.4 million per year.
You may not have been born a people person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop these soft skills to better communicate, see your own shortfalls, pay closer attention to detail, be an active listener, maintain more professionalism, compliment others, be more flexible, take criticism better, and build morale.
Begin by honestly rating yourself on the following soft skills:
For each skill rank yourself as follows: 1 = weakness and 10 = excelling. Then give the same list to a trusted colleague and ask them to also honestly rank you for each of the skills. Then compare the numbers, they should be in line (within a point or so) with one another. When the numbers diverge, discuss with your colleague to gain more insight. This will give you a fairly accurate assessment for you and the soft skills you posses or lack. Once you have this information, then you can then focus your attention on further developing your weaker soft skills. For example, if you are weak when it comes to attention to detail, then take the time to develop a checklist so you don’t forget the little details, such as a final edit or final calculation of the numbers, etc. If your written communication skills are lacking, then take a course on business writing (the company might even pay for it).
By taking time to focus on improving your soft skills, not only will you be bettering yourself, and thus making yourself more promotable, you will be actively improving the bottom line for your company.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies