While technical skills are indeed very important, they are not enough by themselves to move up the corporate ladder. New models of corporate leadership emphasize more team interaction, both among themselves and with management; meaning that managers expect their teams to communicate well and to be proactive.
Soft skills are very important in business. It is essential to be technically sound, but one should also have the ability to convey the idea to the masses in the simplest possible manner.
With outsourcing becoming increasingly important in many industries, many professionals now deal directly with clients regularly. People skills and personal approachability are what can keep the client relationships which the company has worked so hard to build.
Planning is necessary but execution is also equally important. And it takes soft skills to execute any idea because it involves dealing with people directly.
Behavioural training experts say there are a number of “soft skills" which are needed in today's business climate. These include:
- Interpersonal skills
- Team spirit
- Social graces
- Business etiquette
- Negotiation skills
- Behavioural traits such as a positive attitude, a high degree of motivation and time management skills
Do you possess these skills? If your answer is yes, excellent!
But if your answer is no, then it's time to see a training organisation or a training consultant.
Will this sort of formal training enhance your soft skills?
There is some dispute in the training industry as to whether it is truly possible to produce a large degree of improvement in soft skills in the space of a few hours, particularly when you consider that people's personality traits are deeply ingrained. The answer is a bit harsh but no less true for that - if you are a professional who wants to keep their career on an upward trajectory, then you have no choice but to learn or improve these soft skills quickly.
Near the beginning of your career, it is your technical skills and qualifications which are need to secure good assignments. When you have been on your career path and seek to move up the ladder within an organization, your personality becomes more and more important, especially in large organizations where there may be others who have similar skills to your own vying for the same promotions.
Be your own trainer!
While organisations are putting some resources into the people skills of their staff, there are some steps you can take of you are looking to begin the process of improving your soft skills on your own.
- Take part in team activities: Whether in your church choir, a NGO or in a local community group, get involved.
Observe how you behave in this setting and how you relate to others in the group.
- Ask your family or close friends to write down your best and worst traits.
If possible, have at least five people do this for you.
Look at the traits which all of these people list. This helps you to play up your strengths and work to improve on your areas of weakness.
- How well do you manage your time?
Think. Do you have extra time in your day; or is it already overscheduled with various activities? Time management is vitally important to success in the corporate world.
- Think carefully about how you react to feedback. In organisations, people skills mostly come to the forefront when feedback is given; whether for an idea you have had, a presentation you have given or a project you have completed. You will be judged on how you respond to feedback.
Do you get defensive?
Do you insist that you were right?
Do you accept criticismmeekly?
Remember, people tend to be judged and stereotyped according to their responses. You will, too.
- How good are you at critiquing the performance of others?
While how you respond to feedback is important, how you give feedback to others is equally so.
Are you too aggressive? Are you known as a Pessimist? Do you believe in constructive criticism? Or do you tend to be more of a stereotypical yes-man?
- Live consciously. Any organisation is made up of by people; and soft skills are all about how you deal with and present yourself to these very people.
Soft skills can be improved by being aware of yourself and the people around you and living consciously. While this may take some work on your part, if you wish to advance in your career it is well worth the effort; think of it as an investment in yourself.
This article was written by Michael Horner .
After gaining a degree in Law and a post-graduate qualification at the Bar, he worked in advertising agencies before moving into the outdoor advertising industry where he was the Sales & Marketing Director of two leading firms. He subsequently moved into radio management before setting up M&L Associates 15 years ago.
Michael Horner is the senior partner of M&L Associates and is a leading authority on presentation, negotiation and sales skills.