You are on page 1of 12

The importance of soft skills What are soft skills?

Soft skills refer to a very diverse range of abilities such as: Self-awareness Analytical thinking Leadership skills Team-building skills Flexibility Ability to communicate effectively Creativity Problem-solving skills Listening skills Diplomacy Change-readiness

Many people often refer to 'soft skills' as 'people skills' or 'emotional intelligence'. Hard skills are the technical abilities required to do a job or perform a task: essentially they are acquired through training and education programs. Importance of Soft Skills According to psychologist Daniel Coleman, a combination of competencies that contribute to a person's ability to manage his or herself and relate to other people-matters twice as much as IQ or technical skills in job success. Results of a recent studies on the importance of soft skills indicated that the single most important soft skill for a job candidate to possess was interpersonal skills, followed by written or verbal communication skills and the ability to work under pressure. A constantly changing work environment - due to technology, customer-driven markets, an information-based economy and globalisation that are currently impacting on the structure of the workplace and leading to an increased reliance on, and demand for, soft skills.

Soft skills are not a replacement for hard- or technical-skills. They are, in many instances, complementary, and serve to unlock the potential for highly effective performance in people qualified with the requisite hard skills. Soft skills make the difference in the workplace: Knowing how to get the job done isn't enough anymore. How an employee interacts with his or her coworkers is just as important to employers.

Ninety-six percent of executives rated communication and interpersonal skills as the most valuable employee trait, according to a poll of 330 employers conducted by the University of Phoenix. Rounding out the top four skills were learning aptitude and desire to grow (95 percent), collaboration and teamwork (93 percent) and creative problem-solving (92 percent). Clear communication is always needed in any workplace, said Darren Adamson, Ph.D., vice president and campus director for the Colorado University of Phoenix campuses. One of the biggest mistakes that I have observed & in terms of communication in the workplace, one of those is making assumptions that everyone understands what one is trying to communicate, Adamson said. I think that is at the heart of miscommunication. Employees may also be tempted to take comments from others personally, Adamson said. If someone is trying to communicate something and the other person makes it about themselves and not about the problem, he said. A lack of communication is also problematic. Sometimes people just simply don't communicate. Good communication skills are not easy to come by for some folks, said Katrina Blake, division director for Accountemps. Some people are so bad at communication that what they say is not what they mean, Blake said. There is a growing emphasis on teamwork in the workplace according to the survey. Students at the University of Phoenix are graded on their ability to work well in a team setting, Adamson said. A maximum of 30 percent of a student's

grade is derived from team grading, he said, meaning poor teamwork can affect a student's final grade. I think what most employers are looking for right now, they're looking for people that are team players, driven or ambitious, easy to get along with, so easygoing and then (have) good communication, good verbal communication, Blake said. Driven employees are able to see the big picture, she said. Soft skills are necessary for employee retention, Blake said. A lot of times people leave a company because they couldn't get along with someone in the organization. Something like genuine integrity in a potential employee is not always a given, but it is seldom unimportant. I've been hiring people for 40-something years, said Joe Swanson, director of technical staffing at Add Staff Inc. I don't go out and try to find a lot of different things in people. I just look for people who can be themselves. His advice to potential employees is simple. Be yourself in an interview. Don't try to project yourself as someone else. Aptitude and attitude are equally valuable in the office, said Diane Brunson, administrative and accounting director at Add Staff. Communication skills are still at the top of her list, though. The ability to communicate well in person, over the phone and written skills are definitely important, Brunson said. Executives polled in the University of Phoenix survey rated attitude and chemistry and communication and presentation skills higher than work experience or education. Education is still a necessary component, though, Adamson said. Classes at the University of Phoenix include such elements as interactive learning, case studies, role play as well as discussion. Students are required to work collaboratively with one another at the university. Those aren't things you learn out of a textbook, he said of communication and interpersonal skills. Theory is important and interesting, but our students know how to apply the theory.

Employers are attracted to job candidates who they feel are able to roll with the punches and adapt well to change, Blake said. They're looking for team players, just people who can get the job done. I swear to God, nine out of 10 times, companies will go with the candidate with more personality, she said. The hard skills are important, but these soft skills are going to get them in the door. Soft skills you can use SUNIL waited with bated breath in the lobby for the results of the interview. Was the company reasonably impressed with the skills he had to offer? What would differentiate him from the many others who made similar claims? Would he be able to clinch the deal? Sunil didn't have to wait too long. It was a simple decision for the company, as Sunil made the perfect candidate meeting all their requirements. The seemingly inscrutable veneer of success does have its foundation in arduous beginnings. In the quest for professional excellence, technical know-how or functional knowledge is no longer the only thing that matters. The importance of soft skills cannot be overemphasised in an age where so much premium is put on interactivity and communication. It thus goes without saying that if you don't have the necessary soft skills to go with your other qualifications; you might not be able to make it up the corporate ladder easily. Reality bites when nothing else does The quest for acquiring soft skills should begin early. First and foremost, polishing up your act would require you to realise your lack of the skill. You might assume that you don't need to improve. Before you commend or absolve yourself of any faults it is better to ask for an honest appraisal from someone who knows you well enough. Even an honest introspection would help. Making it up as you go

Effective communication skills are something every professional needs to possess. Verbal communication skill includes a one- to- one interaction, presentation/public speaking ability, and good telephonic skills. Written communication would include report writing, business writing and email etiquette. Listening skills are another vital aspect of the art of communication that is often ignored, if not relegated to the background. In your enthusiasm to state your point of view, it is possible that you could be missing out on an important perspective or concern. Learn to give an ear to others, before you suggest your views. All these facets of communication are vital in every business scenario. If you are not comfortable with certain skills, there is always scope for improvement. You can take up formal training through workshops or an informal one through mentoring. Both ways, you need to pinpoint areas that need to be honed and develop the drive to follow through till you attain perfection. In synch for outrageous success The ability to work in a team can add tremendous value to your employability quotient. Interpersonal skills play an important role in this regard. Your ability to understand situations, fill in the missing pieces, connect and coordinate, and enlist the support of others are important parameters. Cultivating an attitude that is empathetic is therefore essential. Make a conscious attempt to steer clear of pitfalls like concentrating only on personal advancement, or having a narcissist approach. Learn to resolve conflicts rationally rather than getting involved in emotional outbursts or `showdowns'. Leading by example Leadership skills in a professional are an added asset to a company. A management degree alone does not ensure you a place among the managers. For instance, when Anita joined her company as a trainee, the manager felt that she had the drive to take the initiative. When all others went about doing their

normal jobs, she ensured that everything else was running smoothly and was able to handle emergencies adroitly. The management also spotted in her the ability to make sound decisions. Good organisation skills accounted for her promotion to head the small group of peers whom she worked with. Learning to serve When learning takes the centre stage, it brings with it a whole lot of add-ons with it. Problem solving abilities are tested and sharpened. Conversely, one should realise that a know-it-all, un- teachable attitude wreaks disaster. Having an insatiable desire to learn is something that keeps a professional alert and open to improvement. While putting into practice what you have learnt, make it a point to have your customer, or user audiences' point of view in mind- this helps you to stay focussed and moving on the right track. Getting into the groove Whatever be your core competency, managing change is another skill that you need to master. Being adaptable is essential at a time when corporate scenarios are constantly changing and evolving. Being able to adapt and adjust quickly thus works to your advantage.

Stemming the tide Managing stress and not buckling under pressure will help an employee be resilient. Managing time and resources effectively also accounts for a lot of professional success. The ability to multitask helps in cases when you have to coordinate a number of activities of your peers or subordinates, as well as take on additional responsibilities as and when the need arises. The new breed of wannabe professionals may have all the qualifications to vouch for them.

However, with stiff competition in the job market, those who are hard working, honest and competent with soft skills to match are the ones who will find a place and keep their jobs, at a time when the shaky economy is trying to steady itself. The growing importance of soft skills at the work place: For decades the focus of management was on the so-called "hard" skills. That is, the emphasis centered on the technical skills necessary to effectively perform within the organization. These skills tended to be more job-specific or more closely related to the actual task being performed. Today, employers crave managers with the critical soft skills. These skills tend to be more generic in nature. In other words, these are skills key to effective performance across all job categories. And these soft skills have come to play an even more crucial role in management positions in today's environment. As the world has changed and the nature of work has changed, the skill set required of managers has changed. Without doubt, for decades the business world placed a great deal of value on traditionally masculine traits for managers. With the increase in the number of women in the workforce for the past two to three decades, more attention has been given to the traditionally feminine characteristics. There was then a move to develop the androgynous manager - one who embraced the best of both the traditionally masculine characteristics and the feminine characteristics. This has evolved today to the recognition of placing more importance on the soft skills. At first considered "soft," some are now referring to these skills as life skills thereby conveying the more global aspect of this skill set. Some researchers have also suggested these skills are really the "hard stuff' of management. In the last few years, survey after survey has been conducted in American businesses. Employers have been asked the skills they want to see in their employees. Time after time the results remain consistent. The soft skills are in demand. Unfortunately, these are the skills that are in short supply today. Topping the list for most American businesses are skills such as communication

skills, interpersonal skills, team player skills, ethics, creativity, an ability to value diversity, responsiveness and a willingness to change.

Communication Skills Peter Drucker, one of the most respected management consultants made these observations about communication: Colleges teach the one thing that is perhaps most valuable for the future employee to know. But very few students bother to learn it. This one basic skill is the ability to organize and express ideas in writing and speaking. Especially in very large organizations this ability to express oneself is perhaps the most important of all the skills a person can possess. Communication skills remain a major concern of many employers today. It is critical every employee (and most especially managers) be able to communicate both verbally and in written form. Management is all. about getting things done through others. Without an ability to effectively communicate, this work cannot be accomplished. Those individuals who are polished in their communication skills are also more effective in getting things done. Technology has somewhat complicated the communication process for many. While disseminating information faster and to a larger number of people, the advanced technologies have changed the way in which communication is conducted in many organizations. Today with the widespread use of e-mail, the traditional chain of command is often not followed in communication patterns. People skip levels in the chain of command to communicate directly with those Who have the information they need. In addition, there has been an entirely new set of etiquette rules (referred to as "netiquette") that reflects the appropriate way of using these new technologies. Perhaps the greatest challenge to using some of the new technologies is the loss of the personal touch. Specifically, the nonverbal component is missing.

Interpersonal Skills With the demise of the command-and-control manager, the importance of interpersonal skills has grown. Managers can no longer rely upon their position of power (or their legitimate authority inherent in the position they occupy in the organization). With today's teams being utilized more extensively, the tool that becomes important is the interpersonal skill set (as part of the manager's personal power base). Employees must be able to get along with others. And they must be especially skilled in getting along with others who are not like them. The team environment further enhances this requirement for interpersonal skills. Katz recognized these human relations skills as being one of the three key management skills required for success at all organizational levels. Team Players Interpersonal skills are important in helping one become a better team player. Managers walk an especially thin line. The very people they must cooperate with are also those with whom they compete. That is, managers must be team players and work in cooperation with their peers (as well as their subordinates in many cases). And yet these same peers compete for the limited resources of the organization - financial, physical and human. Being a team player today also means working with a diverse team. And this diversity goes beyond demographic characteristics. For example, it involves accountants working with marketers, engineers, human resource managers and those from many other functional areas. Ethics Employers today seek employees who are ethical - who do the right thing. Employers don't want to hire unethical people and then teach them to be ethical. Instead, they want to bring in those who already understand ethical behavior. With society placing greater demands on businesses to act more ethically and raise their standards of behavior, this can only be achieved through the efforts of

each individual employee. As the behavior of company employees is closely scrutinized, companies need to know their employees are making the right choices. Creativity Those employees who are creative will contribute extraordinary efforts to today's organizations and will help outline the vision for tomorrow's organizations. Companies have learned they can no longer conduct business exactly the way it was con ducted even ten years ago. Today's changing environment requires companies to adapt to the current world. This means employing people who "think outside the box." Rational problem solving is not enough today. Creative problem solving and an ability to identify opportunities is critical in this dynamic environment. Employees who can "think outside the box" and present new solutions to the old problems will be highly valued. Value Diversity A diverse workforce presents wonderful opportunities for companies and for individuals to succeed. It does, however, require that all employees learn to value this diversity and celebrate the differences among people. While it is the tendency for people to surround themselves with others who are just like them, this can be counterproductive. Research has proven heterogeneous groups (as opposed to homogenous groups) are more creative. This diversity, however, must be valued and the actions of people must reflect this. Truly valuing diversity means treating everyone as an individual with unique needs. For managers, this means tailoring rewards to each individual rather than using "one size fits all" rewards. To value diversity then, the manager must begin by getting out of the office, walking around and really getting to know others. Only then can the manager begin to appreciate the differences among individuals

and begin to utilize those unique talents to enable each person to contribute to the organization in their own way. Valuing diversity doesn't just apply to employees. It also means valuing diversity in the organization's customer base. Market segmentation is crucial in today's diverse marketplace. Only by understanding these various markets can the organization be responsive to their diverse customers and their needs.

Fast, Agile And Responsive Organizations have been told repeatedly to become fast, agile and responsive to maintain their competitive position. Employees today must be likewise. All employees should consider themselves as working in a boundary-spanning position. That is, it is the responsibility of each employee (management and nonmanagement alike) to scan the external environment to watch for changes which may impact the organization. Furthermore, as these changes are monitored and recognized, employees must know how to respond. The responses to these changes that must be made within the organization to respond should be clearly thought out and articulated -- and done so quickly. Taking too much time to respond to these changes in the external environment may very well put the organization at risk. Time is of the essence and employees must think fast on their feet. The time horizon for reflection and contemplation grows shorter each year. Willingness To Change Above all else, employees must be ready, willing and able to change. No one can remain wed to the past. This willingness to change means tactfully challenging the status quo. Employees can no longer blindly obey, but rather must question what they do.

The heart of process reengineering is to continually ask if this is the best way to something or if it even needs to be done. Continuous improvement requires that each and every employee be willing to change. In addition, employees must take this one step further and be willing to create some of this change. This goes hand-in-hand with the need for creative people. Employees must constantly search for that "better mousetrap." The Complete Package Many of these soft skills are interdependent. That is, as one skill is developed, one or more of the other skills are also being developed. The true value to the organization is in having the complete package in as many employees as possible. Self-awareness is critical. All employees are responsible for their own career development today. This means every employee must know what they can and cannot do. A complete inventory of knowledge, skills and abilities (referred to as KSAs) should be performed on a regular basis. This should then be compared with the KSAs considered critical to success in the workplace. While many employers feel they can train employees in the technical skills needed to perform the job, there is more concern with the ability to teach the softer skills. Therefore, more companies are seeking job applicants that already possess these soft skills. Employees of the twenty-first century must be committed to the soft skills. And this commitment doesn't begin the first day on the job. This is a commitment that starts even prior to entry in the workforce and stems from the dedication to become a lifelong learner -- constantly updating and revising skills to better meet the needs of the changing marketplace.