Practicing your soft skills

Soft skills cannot be learned; they must be practiced

By taking the time to increase your self-awareness, you will be on your way to developing the soft skills which will help you become a more effective, compelling and valued professional.

Soft skills are increasingly a hot topic in the business community, with more businesses realizing the importance of improving their employees’ soft skills. While some would say that this “soft skills” craze is just a passing fad, research shows that soft skills always have been and will continue to be an extremely important part of business success.

Based on this increased emphasis, many companies have sought to improve employee soft skills with the same methods they use to teach technical skills such as project management, finance or technology. People often learn technical skills through a combination of memorization (rote learning) and book learning because improvement in technical skills primarily requires gaining new knowledge. This type of skill can be easily tested and, if necessary, quantified through a degree or certificate.

Unfortunately, companies too often fail at teaching soft skills the same way. Technical skills require learning new knowledge; soft skills require changing behavior. The difference is critical. Keep these factors in mind when planning how to improve your employees’ soft skills.

Soft skills can't be taught solely throug book learning.

Soft skills can’t be taught only through “standard” educational means like manuals or one-day training courses. They are behavior-based, so they must be learned differently. Instead of “downloading” information and following step-by-step instructions, soft skills are acquired through coaching and an employee’s conscious shaping of his or her actions.

Soft skills improvement requires a willingness to change.

Employees have to be willing to change for improvement to happen. While this seems silly to point out, a surprising number of employees simply aren’t willing to change. Many soft skills relate to both work and personal life, so they can be touchy subjects. Employees might not see anything wrong with their behavior, or maybe they just don’t want to go through the effort of personal change. Make sure you have personal buy-in from the employee before moving forward with soft skills change efforts.

Soft skills improvement takes time.

Don’t expect overnight changes in soft skills. It takes time for behaviors to change – even if the employee knows what the right behaviors look like. Improving soft skills is a personal change process that takes place as employees learn and practice their new behaviors.

Soft skills are hard to measure.

Soft skills aren’t as easily quantified as technical skills, which makes evaluating the employee’s current skills and growth more difficult. There aren’t certificates available for things like teamwork or adaptability because those skills are harder to measure objectively. Soft skills are behaviors that must be observed rather than tested for, making manager evaluations and feedback tools the best ways of measuring behavior.

In summary

To survive in the current and future marketplace, businesses must continue to focus on improving both technical and soft skills. However, it’s important to understand that each skillset requires a different approach. Changing behavior requires a different type of training than the straightforward knowledge transfer of technical skills. Those companies who get it right will earn a competitive advantage: employees who combine both technical and soft skills successfully.

Contact Daniel White using the information below to learn more about soft skills.

Daniel White

Senior Consultant
Org. Development & Family Business Services

Daniel White assists organizations with their organizational development needs, including strategic and operational planning, leadership development, and employee engagement efforts. He has worked with a wide range of industries, including construction, healthcare, manufacturing, banking, not-for-profits, and government organizations. He has also worked internationally as an organizational development consultant, serving organizations in Bolivia, Guatemala and Ghana.

Prior to advising organizations, Daniel worked in not-for-profit leadership and operations, directing projects with clients such as the US Department of State and the United Nations Population Fund. He has been published in Fast Company and several academic journals, and he has presented at a number of national conferences.

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