Why does business hate soft skills, and how can you turn that into your competitive advantage? So let’s start off with an explanation of what are soft skills.
What Are Soft Skills?
The term soft skills was created by the US Army in the late 1960s and included the social skills necessary to lead groups and motivate soldiers to win wars. The Army realized that these included skills that had not yet been cataloged or fully studied.
The Army defined soft skills as a cluster of productive personality traits that characterize one’s relationship in a social environment. It refers to any skill that does not employ the use of machinery.
Very interestingly, a study based on LinkedIn data shows that soft skills are highly desirable even though companies hate them. Paradoxically, companies are having a hard time finding people that have skills such as creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management. Yet they obstinately refuse to invest in soft skills training for their employees.
Think of soft skills as an umbrella with five basic elements.
Soft Skill Element #1: Communication
The first soft skill is communication. Communication includes listening skills, storytelling skills, public speaking skills, empathy skills, persuasion skills, presentation skills, difficult conversation skills, and managing effective confrontation.
Communication skills are considered soft skills by business, but are essential to business and career success. 4 Essential Verbal Communication Skills For Accomplished Entrepreneurs
Soft Skill Element #2: Emotional Intelligence
The second cluster of soft skills concerns emotional intelligence.The soft skill of emotional intelligence includes emotional self-awareness, emotional self-regulation, empathy, compassion, the ability to receive feedback and criticism, the ability to build consensus, the ability to maintain a non-anxious presence in stressful situations, the ability to motivate others to work, and the ability to manage conflict and resolve conflict as a mediator, and of course tolerance of diversity.
Soft Skill Element #3: Thinking Skills
The third cluster of soft skills are thinking skills. These soft skills include include knowing how to solve problems and knowing how and when to engage in analytical reasoning. These skills also include knowing how to make decisions and understanding the four basic decision-making modalities, and critical thinking skills.
Soft Skill Element #4: People Skills
The next cluster of soft skills are people skills. These include trust, vulnerability, authenticity, transparency, ethics, approachability, patience, integrity.These are attributes that can be cultivated and are essential leadership skills.
Soft Skill #5: Social Skills
And finally, we have social skills. These include the ability to engage in networking, negotiation skills, relationship-building, team-building, knowing how to run efficient meetings, (I’m amazed at how many people do not know how to run efficient meetings), and observing appropriate etiquette.
Sinek’s Two Question Test
When assessing whether or not we’ve got effective soft skills in place, Simon Sinek asks two questions that I think are really useful. The first is to ask any team member, “Who is the asshole in the team?” Everybody will point to the same person. That’s the person who does not have soft skills.
By the same token, ask “Who is the one who will always be there for you or for the team no matter what?” And everyone will point to somebody else.
That person is the natural leader and has probably has a high degree of soft skills.
The point I’m making is that soft skills are essential for career success and business profitability. Yet, over and over, I witness executives rolling their eyes when the subject of soft skills comes up. It is not their favorite topic and they quickly dismiss it to get on to more “important” stuff.
Old Beliefs Are Getting In The Way
As I see it, the problem is that old beliefs are getting in the way.
For example, hard skills were long considered the only skills necessary for career employment. They were generally quantifiable and measurable from an educational background, from work experience, or through interviews.
It was pretty easy to see whether or not somebody was qualified to do a job or not. So success at work seemed to be related solely to the technical ability of completing tasks. And for this reason, employers hired new people based only on their objective competencies, what they had on their resumes for example.
But research studies show why the old beliefs are wrong. Study after study after study shows that 80% of achievements in a career are determined by soft skills and only 20% by hard skills.
One of the problems is that developing soft skills is much more difficult than the development of hard skills. It requires consciously interacting with others to practice the skills and willingness to accept feedback. In addition, it requires a lot of introspection, self-learning, and self-development that can be painful at times as you confront old demons and programming from your past.
Why Does Business Hate Soft Skills?
So why is it that business hates soft skills?
First of all, business believes that soft skills threaten the structures that keep businesses going. Businesses like to have employees come in and do as they’re told and be silent and just work.
The idea that they have emotional intelligence, can think for themselves, have social skills, and are able to solve problems flies in the face of the old command and control mentality that said that only leaders tell workers what to do.
And so there is a strain of thought that sees soft skills as sense revolutionary.If humans are fully liberated to be themselves, they will not longer be controllable or malleable. This frightens business, which thinks it needs control over all inputs, including hearts and minds.
There’s another strain of thought that says, “Well, we’re just too busy for soft skills,” which means that the business is putting all of its effort into making profit and not investing in its people. It claims to be too busy to take the time out to develop the skills that actually ensure the success of employees and the profitability of a business.
Oftentimes I hear that soft skills are a sign of weakness. This one really gets me. It goes back to the old myth of the rugged individualist. You know, the idea that people out on the frontier had to rely on themselves, had to be tough and strong because it was rough out there. In the more modern terms, the business world is dog-eat-dog and super-competitive. If you’re soft or weak, vulnerable, authentic or have any of these soft skills, you’re going to get exploited and trampled by the competitive maniacs that don’t believe in any of this stuff.
All total BS.
But this is what I hear from business people all the time. Sometimes I’ll hear the excuse that soft skills “keep us from getting things done,” as if getting things done didn’t involve interactions between human beings where there’s conflict, negotiation, where decisions have to be made and where problem-solving occurs.
It’s like businesses put their head in the sand around all this stuff.
I’ve heard other executives complain that soft skills are hard to measure. They really aren’t hard to measure. Think about the cost associated with recruiting an employee, retaining an employee, dealing with turnover, dealing with absenteeism, low productivity, low morale, all of those go right to the bottom of the balance sheet. And they’re easy to measure. The data is there. The problem is businesses are just too lazy to measure. They justify not investing in human development.
I’ve also heard executives say that soft skills indicate the absence of hard work. So, of course, there’s a conflation here. To these people, soft skills means not hard work. No logic to that whatsoever. But because the term uses the word soft, it’s thought to be the antithesis to hard work. Absolutely crazy and insane.
. But they all hide the real reason business hates soft skills: Fear
The Real Reason Business Hates Soft Skills
Many executives are afraid of emotions. Afraid of relationships. Afraid of authenticity and vulnerability. These are alien, scary concepts. And, to master these soft skills requires hard work over time forcing you to look at yourself in ways that will inevitably be painful. It’s just easier for people in power to blow off human development than confront their fear of emotions. 7 Essential People Management Skills For The Rising Business Leader
Organizations have short-term perspectives (usually quarterly or annually) and fail to see that the return on investment in serious soft skills training may take years to develop because it takes years to develop strong leaders.
Organizations fail to measure the intangible costs of low emotional intelligence-high turnover, difficult recruiting, absenteeism, low productivity, low morale, etc. Therefore, they cannot measure the positive change that occurs when leaders are properly trained in soft skills and emotional competency. The truth is organizations are too lazy to find effective ways to measure soft skills, even though the data is present.
Organizations do not think like this: We will invest $50,000 for coaching and training each of 5 upcoming leaders. We will track their progress and development over five years and compare them to their that did not receive the coaching and training. We will measure the development of leadership qualities, emotional intelligence, and the productivity of the groups these leaders lead. At the end of five years, we will have the data necessary to determine if we received value for our $250,000 investment.
How To Develop Your Soft Skills
So how do you develop your soft skills? Well, one way to do it is to take my basic emotional competency course. Check it out and this will get you started on developing all of the soft skills you need to succeed in your career for the years ahead.
The way you develop your soft skills is choose the set of skills you want to develop first.
Let me give you two examples. The first example, let’s say, is managing effective confrontations. Now, nobody has really thought about this as a soft skill, but it’s pretty obvious in this time that confrontations over everything happen every day.
Think about how many times you witness confrontations in the workplace.Tt may be argumentative fighting or it could be passive-aggressive fighting or it could just be strong disagreement. The ability to manage effective confrontations, to make them positive rather than negative, is an extremely powerful skill.
You can learn how to manage effective confrontations. The easiest way to do this is to take a mediation training course offered at your community mediation center. It will take you a weekend or so to learn the skills necessary to diffuse any confrontation.
It’s that simple.
Or how about learning about critical thinking. Supposing that you need critical thinking as a skill. The solution is to enroll in a local community college course on critical thinking and reasoning. It will take you 12 weeks to master those skills, and they will stand you for a lifetime.
Want to improve your emotional intelligence? Well, take my basic emotional competency course and that will solve that problem for you.
The sad truth is that employers, mired in old beliefs, will complain about not having employees with good soft skills and refuse to invest in appropriate and proper training. The good news is that developing soft skills is not difficult. There are courses and trainings available online and within your community that will teach you what you need to know. Don’t let the business negativity around soft skills stop you from becoming your best.