The advantages of firming up your soft skills

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Research by the Carnegie Institute of Technology found that 85% of individual financial success is due to soft skills including personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead other people. We look at how improving soft skills can bring advantages to today’s professionals and businesses.

Daniel was doing well in his new role as a software developer, he was hitting all his targets, was never late for work and did everything his boss asked of him. However, at his six-month performance review his managers flagged some relationship difficulties with other members of his team and what they saw as Daniel’s inability to take constructive criticism. He was put on a three-month probation period and told to work on his ‘soft skills’. He was not even sure what they meant or how to go about it.

According to a Bloomberg survey, Daniel’s employers are among an increasing number of organisations that want to hire candidates with strong soft skills, but are having trouble finding them. The most desired but least common skills, according to the survey’s findings, include strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, leadership skills and communication skills.

Problems in the workplace are mainly due to shortcomings in soft skills

While hard skills are focused on your ability to do a job, including technical skills and qualifications, soft skills, sometimes called interpersonal skills, are about how you go about doing that job. They are more nebulous and can be seen as secondary to their hard counterparts but should be ignored at everyone’s peril. They smooth the way for easy relationships, for harmonious negotiations and effective communication in the workplace.

According to Peggy Klaus, author of Hard Truth About Soft Skills – Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner, problems in the workplace, “rarely stem from a shortfall in technical or professional expertise, but rather from a shortcoming in the soft skills arena with personal, social communication and self-management behaviours.”

Soft skills can be taught, learned and measured

So, employers are right to focus on these interpersonal skills and to keep the workplace running smoothly by encouraging improvements. But, how can employees like Daniel work on making their soft skills better?

The good news is that, even for somebody who doesn’t have them naturally, soft skills can be learned. Professional coaching services, like those offered by author and coach Peggy Klaus, can be one place to begin. As demand for these skills increases several certification bodies for soft skills have also emerged. IITTI, for example, is a global, independent certification system for soft skills that provides a way for professionals to showcase their soft skills to employers and for organisations to measure employee progress in this area.

Organisations reap potentially huge benefits of soft skills training

Research by MIT Sloan shows that when employers themselves provide soft skills training this can bring a substantial return on investment, even in roles that may not appear to have much call for them.

The MIT research focused on Indian garment assembly line workers doing very repetitive work in a factory setting, and yet 12 months of training, “focused on communication, problem solving and decision-making, time and stress management, financial literacy, legal literacy and social entitlements, and execution excellence delivered substantial returns.”

The training returned around 250% on investment within eight months, with improved productivity and an ability to perform more complex tasks more quickly accounting for most of the gains, but also improved worker attendance and retention.

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