At the core of any business success is the skill of individuals working together well and communicating effectively. An ability to understand the need for personal responsibility, even skills as basic as good time keeping, to the ability of independent problem solving is an obvious requirement for any success. For many people, the technical ‘hard skills’ learning has proved successful but their ability to teamwork and communicate easily has been neglected.
A definition found in Wikipedia describes soft skills as referring to the cluster of personality traits, social graces, and facility with language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that mark people to varying degrees. Soft skills complement hard skills, which are the technical requirements of a job.
A recent survey suggests that many large companies feel that most graduates leave university lacking initiative and without the ability to communicate effectively. Nearly half of them believe graduates are not good at making decisions, while a third of these companies are unimpressed by their ability to solve problems or build relationships. Nearly 80% said employees with these “soft skills” would find it easier to move up the corporate ladder.
For many developing successful people, the stumbling block to their continued success lies in something they often feel unable to understand. They are aware of their proficiency in ‘hard’ or technical skills, as these are clear to understand and are measurable. But how can they measure their ability in the field of ‘soft skills’, which in reality are the most difficult and challenging skills for adults with ingrained patterns of behaviour to learn.
The human condition allows that when faced with a stressful situation we will engage in either ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ mode. If individuals are not confident of dealing with a difficult situation and have a genuine lack of self-assurance (rather than arrogance) they are likely to resort to acting aggressively either verbally or physically when ’cornered’. Of course, either of these reactions is inappropriate in the workplace, however, it takes considerable self-awareness and training for the individual to respond more constructively.
So how to address this deficit of soft skills that threatens the success of every business? The shrewd candidate for the very top job will make sure they are independently judged and work on a continuous level to increase their self-awareness and understanding of how they impact on others. The shrewd business owner will ensure that all their staff are trained and aware of these increasingly important skills as competition increases, it is the organisation with the added value that will always win through. We must, as a matter of urgency, address this part of our education with a similar enthusiasm afforded to hard skills learning. Jim Rohn encourages us to ‘work harder on ourselves than we do on our jobs’, an entreaty to consider that increased self-awareness and self-knowledge leads only to greater personal satisfaction and inevitably greater business success.
It might be easy to lay all these issues of lack of soft skills solely at those at the foot of the corporate ladder imagining that we, now further on in our careers, are fully complete and knowledgeable. In truth, we must all, at whatever stage, continue to learn and improve on these skills. Only in continuous education will we be truly aware of how much there is to learn.