Soft Skills Are Crucial for Career Success

I was at a convention in San Diego and decided to take a break from the intensity of the environment to enjoy the spectacular San Diego Bay. As I sat down on a bench overlooking the bay, I noticed a nearby ice cream stand advertising Ben and Jerry’s new flavor, Crème Brûlée. I had to try it. The flavor was as spectacular as the bay. However, in the summer heat, the ice cream rapidly turned from hard to soft. In a most unflattering way, I tried to lick fast enough to keep the ice cream from dripping down my front.
We can make an analogy to hard and soft skills. When I received the ice cream, it was hard. When a new employee is hired, technical skills, or hard skills, are looked at first to see if the candidate can handle the job requirements. However, after being hired, the hard skills can rapidly melt in the heat of interpersonal relationships. The reality and importance of soft skills comes to the forefront. For instance, have you ever been on a team that was sabotaged by one bad apple who turned in their part of the project late, laughed at creative “out-of-the-box” ideas aimed at innovation, or subtly refused to contribute? No wonder the mantra has become hire attitude, teach skill. Our world moves so fast that your product could be obsolete by the time you get “ole Joe” whipped into shape and pulling his load. Soft skills include the capability to communicate and interact with fellow employees in a positive manner. If these skills do not come intuitively, they can be acquired with the proper training and can become part of an individual’s arsenal of people skills. As I have helped individuals build their soft skills, I have been puzzled why they are called “soft” skills. Soft conjures up non-assertive, mushy, and melted – like my Crème Brûlée ice cream cone in the summer heat. Interactions with other human beings are never predictable and can be difficult. It takes creativity to make differing opinions fit on the same cone, much like having a scoop of chocolate mint and a scoop of butter pecan tottering one on top of the other.
In fairness to their importance, soft skills should be renamed Crucial Career Skills. Once mastered, Crucial Career Skills move you rapidly up the ladder of success, permitting you to have greater impact on decisions and allowing you to flex your muscles in formal or informal leadership situations, especially as you move into senior management roles. Technical skills are learned by going to a classroom, either physically or virtually, having information explained, memorizing material or practicing steps, then demonstrating you can perform the actions in a test situation. Crucial Career Skills are often left to be acquired through the school of hard knocks.  This is the worst choice an organization can make because the resulting conflict and miscommunication can take a nasty toll on bottom line profits. Instead of sending employees through the school of hard knocks, organizations can focus on programs that teach the Crucial Career Skills of interpersonal relationships and provide opportunities for application through a variety of reinforcement activities.

Competences in Crucial Career Skills that push success upward are the ability to: 

  1. Listen to understand other points of view.
  2. Engage in give and take behaviors. Memorize the phrase, “That is not my first choice, but I can live with this decision.”
  3. Look deeper into the other person’s personality, education, ethnic background, and previous work experience to gain understanding into their opinions.
  4. Exercise impulse control, a component of emotional intelligence, as you deal with your own feelings and emotions and those of others.
  5. When interacting with others, extend social acceptance, psychological safety and human dignity to each.

As an individual actively work to make these soft skills part of your crucial people skills. You will discover you use them every hour of the day. Once you have mastered the use of these skills, they are portable. You can take them anywhere and as the great motivator, Zig Ziglar said, “See you at the top.”

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