Soft Skills matter – here's how to improve them

2 years ago   •   3 min read

By Anne Taylor

Soft skills balance intellectual intelligence (IQ) with emotional intelligence (EI); having the heart-smart compliment the head-smart. EI does not replace IQ, abilities, hard skills and capabilities. Organisations need to ensure their people exhibit both, explains executive coach and author, Ann Taylor.

What are Soft Skills

Soft skills are people skills (as opposed to hard or technical skills like accounting, building a house, assembling a manufacturing line).  If you are running a project to build a piece of infrastructure or design a new car, you’ll need hard skills: engineering, planning, cost-estimating, scheduling. These are the skills that will enable delivery of the output. The skills associated with whether the process towards that output is successful are largely soft: working with the client or suppliers; negotiating changes to the scope of the project; agreeing solutions to address unanticipated risk; managing conflict; keeping everyone committed to the project; motivating people to hit deadlines.

They are the behaviours we use when interacting with other people. You might not think of them as skills though.  You might feel they are just what you do to communicate and relate with others, be it your family, friends or work colleagues. 

How do Soft Skills Link to Productivity

When we think of productivity we think of what needs to get done at pace.  Soft skills are HOW we get that WHAT done.  How well you interact influences quality and rate of what they produce.  Studies show that by becoming more skilled in soft skills, your organization will:

  • Improve employee engagement and retention,
  • Generate innovative ideas (every corporation lists innovation in its mission),
  • Foster an open, collaborative working environment,
  • And hence improve productivity and bottom-line results1

You might find interesting: Lean service: the secret of a valuable business

How to Improve Soft Skills

There are simple soft skills that leaders can put into practice quickly and there are some more long-term ones to start working towards.

Short term:

  1. Communicate – not chatty fluff.  Ask people how they feel about the situation or their work or passions or worries. Listen to what they say, what they don’t say, listen for to the words or content and listen for the emotions.  When an employee asks you what to do on a project pause and ask, “what do you think?”  Share honest things about yourself (without eroding their confidence in your ability to lead), how are you juggling work and home now, what excites you, what matters about what the organization does.  Be in dialogue, weave together with the other person; it’s not meant to feel like a tennis match.

Pausing after an employee asks you what to do on a project and ask, 

  1. Give (and ask for) feedback – use a model to give feedback (like COIN here) and start by giving positive feedback first, not constructive/developmental.  Focus on behaviours.  Catch people doing things well and articulate what you see (thank you or good job is not feedback).  Don’t assume they know when and what they are doing well, or that they don’t appreciate you knowing or that because it’s their job that should be enough. 

Longer term:

  1. Increase your self-awareness and self-management – notice your habits and preferences when dealing with people, how do you like to communicate, how often, what topics, what pace, what medium.  Notice people or situations with which you are most comfortable and those which are uncomfortable.  What’s behind the comfort/discomfort?  What are your feelings in each case?  From what you’ve learned, what is your comfort zone and what is your stretch zone?  Try something outside your comfort zone with someone less like you.
  2. Increase your social awareness and social management – often this starts with developing a deeper understanding and comfort with emotions.  Sensing people’s emotions and feelings gives you ‘data’ about where they are and what matters to them.  This is in addition to noticing how they think and what they do.  Observe.  Pay attention.  Put yourself in their shoes to understand better.  When you know you’re in Toronto and the other person is in London you can navigate the mutual trip to Paris. 

What improvement in soft skills would make your organisation more productive?

Soft skills Hard results Anne TaylorIf you’re not sure where to start or feel something is holding you back, contact me here about a complimentary coaching session for your, if not your peoples’, benefit.

You can also get the books Soft Skills, Hard Results in different bookshops.



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