Soft Skills may be defined as “Personal Attributes” that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which are about a person’s skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills are interpersonal and are important for every employee regardless of the position he / she holds in an organization.

Soft skills are described by using terms often associated with personality traits and abilities that can be practiced, but require the individual to genuinely like other people, such as:

  • Empathy
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Good manners
  • Negotiation
  • Sociability
  • The ability to teach etc.

That is why it’s often said that hard skills will get you an interview but you need soft skills to get (and keep) the job. (Source: searchcio.com) 

Are Technical / Job-related skills enough to succeed in one’s job?

Technical and Job-related skills are no doubt a must, but merely possessing them is “Not sufficient” when it comes to progressing up the ladder.

With the traditional style of leadership becoming outdated, professional managers expect their teams to be proactive and communicate openly.

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. While it is essential to be technically sound, however, one should also have the ability to convey the idea to the team members in the simplest possible manner.

Soft skills, therefore, have become equally important for an employee to succeed in any work-place. Further, with the boom in outsourcing of various services across industries in India, many professionals and subject matter experts have to directly deal with their clients based abroad on a regular basis. Their approachability and people skills are what ultimately sustain the contracts their employers have entered into.

Many behavioral training experts say that there are several soft skills that are required in these circumstances. Some of them include:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Team spirit
  • Social grace
  • Business etiquette
  • Negotiation skills
  • Behavioral traits such as attitude, motivation and time management

Do you have these skills? If the answer to this question is “Yes”, good for you. But if the answer is “No”, then you know it is time to approach either a training organization or a training consultant.

There have been many instances where rank holders, professionals with excellent academics and technical skills could not get the job of their choice during campus recruitments or post qualification. The reason for this was their exposure to soft skills or rather the lack of them, should we say? Hence, they could not compete with their fellow students who got better jobs.

Soft skills play a vital role for professional success. They help one to excel in the workplace and their importance cannot be undermined in this age of information, technology and knowledge. Good soft skills, which are in fact scarce in the highly competitive corporate world, will help you stand out amongst a crowd of routine job seekers with mediocre skill sets and talent.

In a survey conducted by The Smyth County Industry Council, a governing body based in the US, the result of which was called the Workforce Profile which found “an across-the-board unanimous profile of skills and characteristics needed to make a good employee., indicated that most of the employers looked for what they called “Soft Skills” in the prospective employees shortlisted and recruited by them. (Source: rediff.com – How to improve your soft skills)

One of the key finding of the Workforce study indicated that the most common traits, mentioned by virtually every employer were:

  • Positive work ethics
  • Good attitude
  • Desire to learn and be trained

CEOs and human resource managers said they are ready to hire workers who demonstrate a high level of “soft skills” and then train them for the specific jobs available. The ever-changing impact of technology has given “Hard-Skills-Only” employees a short shelf life. (Source: rediff.com – How to improve your soft skills)

Some of soft skills mentioned above may further be classified into Corporate Skills, Employability Skills and Life Skills. In some parts of the world like in USA and Australia, soft skills are also known as world skills. (Source: rediff.com – How to improve your soft skills)

Corporate skills

These skills are generally associated with senior to very senior level Management, for e.g. CEO, CFO etc. But if one is familiar with them, one will be in a position to guide his / her boss towards success i.e. working together for a common goal as a team. According to Ira Challef, the Author of the Award Winning Book “Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders”, One can become a Courageous Follower by developing the required soft skills.

Some of these skills include:

  • Strategic Awareness
  • Understanding Funding Streams and Mechanisms
  • Business and Commercial Awareness
  • Information Management
  • Team Building
  • Communication and Persuasion
  • Networking and Public Relations
  • Political Sensitivity
  • Leading Change

Employability skills

These skills have to be learned by every employable graduate including freshers. These skills include team work, communication, leadership, problem solving, flexibility and enthusiasm. Improving one skill helps us to learn one more as they overlap each other.

For e.g. leadership encompasses a number of other skills including cooperating with others, planning and organizing, making decisions and verbal communication. Verbal communication itself involves various means of communication, some of which you may find easier than others — talking over the phone, making a presentation to a group, explaining something to a person with a more limited understanding of the topic for example.

By improving one skill, one may improve upon a number of others. It is in this context that these skills are also known as “Career Management Skills”.

Life Skills

These skills are related to the head, heart, hands and health i.e. highly personal and behavioral skills which reflect our personality and naturally help in personality development. (Source: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/learningandliving/mail/tlsmodel.html)

We manage and think with our head.  Resilience, keeping records, making wise use of resources, planning / organizing and goal setting are ‘head’ related managerial functions.  Service learning, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making and learning to learn were related to our thinking processes, which we manage with our head.

Functions of the heart relate to people and caring. How do we relate to people? We relate to people by accepting differences, conflict resolutions, social skills, cooperation and communication.  The second function we do through our heart is caring.  We care through nurturing relationships, sharing, empathy and concern for others.

We give and work through our hands. Community service, volunteering, leadership, responsible citizenship and contributions to group effort are our way giving back to society.  We work through our marketable skills, teamwork and self-motivation to get the things done.

Living and being comes under the functions of health. Healthy lifestyle choices, stress management, disease prevention and personal safety are our prime concerns for better living. Self-esteem, self-responsibility, character, managing feelings and self-discipline must be practiced without fail for our well-being. In a nutshell, the essence of like skills is share well, care well and fare well.

  1. Shanker, Associate Director in Mumbai with one of top 6 accounting and consulting groups in India, says “Attitude is actually only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”. It shows us the readiness of an individual to solve problems proactively and thereby create a healthy and positive work atmosphere within the organization. It reflects on the ability of individuals to take ownership for their actions and lead from the front without giving up when it is needed the most. It also represents an individual’s reaction to situations and his / her ability to look at things in the right perspective keeping in view the overall organizational interest. He says that most of the time, one is able to find people who have “Hard Skills”, i.e. the ability to handle or carry out audits or handle other tasks reasonably well, but many of them lack the “Soft Skills” that the Company is looking for in them to be able to become successful senior level managers”. An employee can develop a ‘Soft Skills” only through continuous training.

Will formal training enhance your soft skills?

Realizing the importance of soft skills, the Director of The Board of Studies of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, as part of its objective to ensure better quality of output from the students in their articleship period, which would assist the principals in a better quality work and as a measure to provide the additional skills and training to the students, had proposed and the Council decided that the General Management & Communication Skills (GMCS) Course, being organized for 15 days for the CA students shall be organized twice during the period of articled training as under:

  • GMCS-I     (15 days)      – during 1st year of articled training
  • GMCS-II   (15 days)    – after completion of 18 months of training but before completion of articled training

GMCS-I Course is essential for the students since it develops effective communication and conversational skills. The inputs on Strategic Decision Making, Articulation Skills, Data Analysis and Research Methodology, Group Discussion and Preparation of Project Report etc. will be beneficial in the initial stage of articled training. (Source: www.icai.org – Announcement for GMCS-I Course (17.08.2012)

There is, of course, a lot of argument as to whether it is possible to enhance soft skills in a few hours of training, especially when one considers the fact that a person has lived with those traits all his life. To this, the answer is harsh but real – a professional who wants to do well in his / her career does not really have a choice.

In the initial years of your career, your technical abilities are important to get good assignments. However, when it comes to growing in an organization, it is your personality that matters, more so in large organizations where several people with similar technical expertise will compete for a promotion.

It has been suggested that in a number of professions, soft skills may be more important over the long term than occupational skills. The legal profession is one such example where the ability to deal with people effectively and politely, more than their mere occupational skills, can determine the professional success of a lawyer.

Training on soft skills becomes all the more relevant in a country like India where the education system does not delve into personality development.

 “Soft Skills” are as important, if not more, than the traditional hard skills to an employer looking to hire regardless of the industry or job type. This offers a great potential to educators and trainers who are seeking to develop training courses that fit and cater to the Industry needs.

Subjects like Accounting, Auditing, Financial Management, Law, HR management etc. can be taught in the classroom and can be studied at home. But not soft skills. Soft skills need to be acquired through experiential learning and cannot be developed by merely reading textbooks. The soft skills one gains will equip the individual to excel in his / her professional and personal life. It is a continuous learning process.

Imbibe Certain Habits in your Everyday Living to improve your Soft Skills

One may consciously try to imbibe the “Habits” given below to enjoy every moment of living.

  • When you wake up in the morning, Pray to the Divine seeking guidance for your purpose, today
  • Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes every day
  • Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip, issues of the past, negative thoughts or things that you cannot control. Instead, invest your energy in the positive present moment. Try to live in the NOW
  • Do not communicate in a manner to provoke others
  • You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree
  • Learn to empathize with others to command their respect. Listen proactively when you need to do so
  • Learn to talk to others in a voice, tone and tenor that are audible and soothing. It should not be aggressive or in a shouting mode.
  • Dress well to suit your profession and to create positive vibes in your workplace.
  • Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
  • Each night before you go to bed, Pray to the Divine and be thankful for what you have accomplished, today.

You can be your own Soft Skills “Trainer”

Having realized the need for developing soft skills in their employees, while many organizations are definitely investing in augmenting their staff’s people skills, here are some inputs for professionals and students who would like to initiate the process themselves:

  1. i. Try and be a part of team activities

Try and participate in as many programs as you can. They could be the programs in your society, or an NGO, or your local youth circle. Try to consciously observe your own behavior in the group and how you relate to others.

  1. ii. Take constructive feedback from your family members or close friends

Identify a few close friends and a few of your family members who can do this for you. Once you get their feedback, try to evaluate the common traits all of them have mentioned. Thus, you can be aware of your strengths and work on improving your weaknesses.

iii. Analyze and find out how well you manage your time

Constantly ask yourself the question – “Can I do more in life? Or is my day already too crammed with activities? As one goes up the ladder in the corporate world, effective time management becomes a very essential part if one wishes to succeed at the highest level.

  1. iv. Introspect on how you react to feedback

In organizations, people skills mostly come into the picture when there is feedback given, be it for an idea, an executed project or a presentation. You are judged by the way you respond to feedback. How do you respond to feedback?

  • Do you get defensive?
  • Do you insist you were right?
  • Do you meekly accept criticism?

Remember, people tend to be judged and stereotyped according to their responses. You will, too.

  1. v. Live consciously

Any organization is manned by people; therefore soft skills are all about how you deal with people and present yourself. Though it may be easier said than done, you may enhance your soft skills by simply being aware of yourself and living consciously.

Conclusion

Soft skills are increasingly becoming the hard skills of today’s work force. It’s just not enough to be highly trained in technical skills, without developing the softer, interpersonal and relationship-building skills that help people to communicate and collaborate effectively.

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal. Nothing on earth can help a man with the wrong mental attitude – W. W. Ziege.

That some achieve great success is proof to all that others can achieve it as well. – Abraham Lincoln

Soft skills are becoming more critical than ever as organizations struggle to find meaningful ways to remain competitive and be productive. Teamwork, leadership, and communication are underpinned by soft skills development. Since each is an essential element for organizational and personal success, developing “Soft Skills” is very important and does matter… a lot!