Introduction 

The modern workplace has evolved into an interpersonal dynamic with functional employee interactions and dealings recognized as essential to a high-performance and productive environment. In past years, the critical worker skills requirements were hard, whereas the current approach is a balanced use of hard and soft skills.

The practical use of soft skills has a positive impact on workplace productivity, employee retention, and job satisfaction. These outcomes translate into an improved return on employer investment for organizations with a calculated commitment to continually enrich their leadership and employee skill capacity.

If the organizations’ strategic desire is to develop employee soft skills, they need to recognize they are challenging to teach and learn, and their use varies considerably across the professions.

Definitions 

Business success demands that all employees have the necessary training and continually obtain practical experience in hard and soft skills. These skill groups are defined as follows.

Hard Skills

Hard Skills are teachable skills, for example, sciences, engineering, and finance and are typically prerequisites to gainful employment for particular roles and responsibilities.

Hard skills are:

  • Quantifiable human competencies that are straightforwardly defined monitored and measured.
  • Improved with domain-specific training and knowledge-building.

Hard skills – supported by Intelligence Quotient or IQ, the left brain, and are mostly about WHAT YOU KNOW.

Soft Skills

Soft Skills are non-cognitive competencies that represent people’s attributes, personality traits, internal social cues, and communication abilities. They are less tangible, harder to quantify, and problematic to measure.

Soft skills are:

  • Personality-based skills that shape an individual’s ability to interact with other people.
  • Characterize how a person interacts in his or her relationships with other soft skills.

Soft Skills – supported by Emotional Intelligence or EI, the right brain, and mostly about HOW YOU ACT.

For example, soft skills, as used in the office or factory, embrace the acts of listening, presenting ideas, resolving conflict, and fostering an open and honest work environment and all focus on knowing how to build and maintain positive and rewarding relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

Research from the Society for Human Resource Management found that employers care more about soft skills than they do technical abilities like reading comprehension and mathematics.

Worker Soft Skills Qualities

Workers with excellent soft skills generally have well-developed and positive personal qualities such as:

  • Communication
  • Courtesy
  • Interpersonal
  • Flexibility
  • Responsibility
  • Professionalism
  • Integrity
  • Teamwork
  • Work Ethics
A U.S. Army research team first introduced the soft and hard-skill lexicon in 1972. The team observed that a unit’s effectiveness resided not only in having people with excellent equipment skills but also with individuals who could manage and supervise teams, along with other skills.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) vs Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotional intelligence (EI) is something in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigates social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.

EI abilities support:

  • Recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others.
  • Distinguish between different feelings and categorize them appropriately.
  • Ability to use awareness to manage your behavior and relationships effectively.
  • Guides thinking and behavior.
  • Manage behavior to navigate social complexities.
  • Make personal decisions that achieve positive and rewarding outcomes.
  • Ability to understand one’s feelings and provides insights into how emotion influences motivation and behavior.

Employees in past times were told to leave their feelings and emotions at the workplace door. Nowadays, workers with high EI are encouraged to proactively use this highly-valued characteristic to improve collaboration, productivity, and profitability in their work environment. 

The concepts of Emotional Intelligence have been around since the early 20th century, first introduced by Wayne Payne in 1985.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

An Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is a numerical expression of intellectual capacity obtained by multiplying the mental age of the subject, ascertained by testing, by 100 and dividing by his or her chronologic age. The intelligence test a set of problems or tasks posed to assess an individual’s innate ability to judge, comprehend, and reason.

IQ represents human abilities, such as:

  • Visual and spatial processing.
  • Knowledge of the world.
  • Fluid reasoning.
  • Working memory and short-term memory.
  • Quantitative reasoning.

Soft Skills Portfolio

The below graphic contains the soft skills commonly used and valued in the workplace.

Soft skills have a significant influence on the mindset employees bring to interactions with customers, colleagues, and partners. The more positive someone’s attitude is, the better that person’s relationships will be. That’s what enables superior team performance and directs all employees to contribute meaningfully to the organization’s strategy and goals.

According to the 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, companies are:
  • Building and developing teams, focusing on personal relationships and moving beyond digital to build human connections at work.
  • Designing jobs, work, and organizational missions to nurture passion and a sense of personal growth, affording people the opportunity, to add to their personal growth.

The Soft Skills Gap

The fundamental difference between hard skill and soft skills is their acquisition. Workers learn hard skills by taking formal classroom and online courses, self-teaching experiences, and use of the web site and database searching. While hard skills are profession-specific, soft skills such as functional communication capabilities, relational conflict resolution, and self-promotion skills may not come naturally to everyone but are vital in the workplace.

When the employee universe has solid domain skills but an absence of soft skills, there is a soft skills gap. Soft skills are what frame and leverage the necessary hard skills and help the business or agency leverage its job-related expertise to full advantage.

The Wall Street Journal reported that 92% of nearly 900 surveyed executives said soft skills were equally important or more  important than technical skills, yet 89% said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding employees with those soft skills.

Although US graduation rates reaching all-time highs, organizations are finding that recent graduates are unprepared to flourish in the workforce as they lack essential foundational soft skills. Closing the gap between soft skills and those that students leave school with is critical.

Experience supports that it is impracticable to hire your way around the soft skills gap. An effective plan is to embed soft-skills criteria systematically in the staffing strategy and hiring and onboarding policy and process.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report ‘Bridging the Soft Skills Gap’ makes the case for partnerships between the business and education sectors and outlines strategies already being used successfully across the country.

Business Soft Skills Value

Soft skills benefits can be hard to measure, but market research and anecdotal experiences support that it can bring a substantial return on investment to employers while also providing benefits to employees.

The value-add benefits realized by businesses with formal soft skill programs with proactive governance include improved:

  • Competitiveness
  • Collaborative
  • Personal Accountability
  • Productivity
  • Creativity
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Employee Retention

Personal Development Evaluations 

It is personally helpful to review your business outcomes against goals and plans regularly. Personal development evaluations should include the identity of both hard and soft skills in need of improvement and balance in the workplace.

This vital resource management activity can take place through:

  • Personal reflection and introspection.
  • Assessment of role and responsibilities performance.
  • Identity of skill-based limits and weaknesses.
  • Feedback from trusted colleagues and friends: advice and criticism.

Soft Skills Situational Learning

Outlined below are different types of soft skill learning experiences employed at highly-successfully organizations.

Self-Learning 

Use of the self-learning approach requires that learners have a strong motivation to learn soft skills and be able to regularly:

  • Observe colleagues who demonstrate effective use of soft skills.
  • Visualize the successful use of soft skills by fellow workers in real work situations.
  • Practice using soft skills regularly in all available interpersonal interactions and events.
  • Evaluate their learning progress and make adjustments as required.

Apprenticeship

Creating an apprenticeship for humanizing soft skills and attributes is an innovative experience used in activities such as mechanics, carpentry, and electrical repair.

Game-Based Learning

Game-based learning uses the game-playing approach to impart soft skill knowledge and experiences and apply in the virtual digital background. The simulated environment allows workers to learn and practice soft skills in a non-threatening and highly-motivating environment.

Mentoring

Mentors direct and support learners until they’re proficient in targeted soft skills. They coach, demonstrate and provide feedback to the workers on the effective use of soft skills in their work domain.

Team Activities

Team activities follow blended soft skills learning approach with balanced classroom learning, reading, and assignments and an array of hands-on group activities.

The World Economic Forum ‘Future of Jobs’ report on future skills argued, it is human “soft skills” that will become increasingly valuable — skills such as empathy, context sensing, collaboration, and creative thinking.

Soft Skills Primer: Body Language

A high-level overview of a Body Language soft skills learning primer follows.

Body Language is very relevant to all aspects of work, social encounters, and family matters where communications can be seen and physically observed among people.

When we meet someone for the first time, their body language, on conscious and unconscious levels, largely determines our initial impression of them. In turn, when someone meets us for the first time, they form their initial impression of us primarily from our body language and non-verbal signals. Moreover, this two-way effect of body language continues throughout communications and relationships between people.

 The study of body language is known as Kinesics and derived from the Greek word kinesis, meaning motion.

Body language represents a very significant proportion of meaning conveyed and interpreted between people on an unconscious level. Body language research reports that 50-80% of human communications are non-verbal. So, while supporting statistics vary, it is generally accepted that non-verbal communications are critical in how we understand or fail to understand each other, especially in physical one-to-one conversations, and most certainly when interactions comprise emotional or attitudinal conditions.

There are three primary ways in which we use body language signals, movements, and gestures:

  • Direct replacement for our spoken words.
  • Reinforcement of our spoken words, we gesture to emphasize speech.
  • Mirror of our inner emotions and attitudes; people read our faces, body angles, and distance.

Body Language principles encompass:

  • Body language betrays emotions and provides cues to personal communication.
  • Proximity is the distance between people; distance is part of a person’s body language.
  • The way people touch objects, others, or themselves, is informative.
  • Body language makes a lasting impression.
  • Body language can communicate when someone is deceptive.
  • People base their evaluations on body language; this creates more of an impact than the spoken word.
  • We make decisions about people typically within four seconds based on body language and behavior.

Customer Services & Soft Skills

Soft skills such as problem-solving, communications, and dealing with interpersonal conflict do not come naturally and effortlessly to everyone, but they are vital in productive customer-facing activities.

Salesforce reports:

Today, versus past years, there is a broad array of customer touchpoints to master, including face-to-face conversations, phone, email, chat, and social media. In all interactions, the actual behavior of the customer service agent is always on display, and soft skills use, as shown below, is a priority.

  • Active listening
  • Clear Communication
  • Empathy
  • Go the Extra Mile
  • Managing Conflict and Stress.
  • Patience
  • Persuasive Speaking
  • Time Management

The Way Forward

Knowledge Compass consultants successfully help clients plan, develop, and conduct personalized soft skills workshop and learning experiences

Knowledge Compass provides consulting services with the use of an array of Frameworks, Analyses Tools, and Interactions from their Best Practices Consultant Toolbox.