Hi guys! I hope everyone had a great weekend. For the next topic in Skills to Win, I wanted to spend some time talking about soft skills. While we’re in school, or even doing volunteer work at times, the majority of our focus is on developing and improving our technical skills – and rightfully so. Technical skills are extremely important. You need to have the proper training in order to do the job effectively. We hear about this all the time. But what about soft skills? How important are soft skills, and what are they exactly?
Dictionary.com defines soft skills as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude”. I agree with this definition for the most part, but would caveat it that, in my opinion, soft skills are necessary for all forms of employment, and they can depend on acquired knowledge. Soft skills are things like common sense, empathy, proactiveness, a positive attitude, flexibility, the ability to work with others even if they have opposing views. To give a real-world example, a phlebotomist needs be trained to learn how to draw blood correctly. That is the technical skill. What can distinguish a great phlebotomist above a good phlebotomist is that technical training coupled with the ability to get along with other members of the team and the ability to show empathy to their patients. Those are the soft skills. See the difference? It almost takes that technical training to the next level, and again, in my opinion, are necessary for all forms of employment.
Let’s look at teaching. Would you want yourself or your children to have a teacher that cared about test scores, but not whether the students had a real understanding of the material? Many of us can memorize things long enough to get through a test, but may not really understand the material. What sets great teachers apart from good teachers can be their ability to teach the same thing in more than one way and spend enough time as it takes to make sure you understand it, even it if means spending one on one time with you, because they care about you, the person, and not just you, the test score. Does that make sense?
In another field, a soft skill can be bedside manner or the lack of it. I’m sure you’ve experienced this before. You’ve visited a doctor that had the technical training, and the degrees, and experience under his/her belt, but they rushed through your visit, barely answered any of your questions, and didn’t really leave you the impression that they cared about you and how you were feeling. Even though they may have been a good doctor with all the right training, this miss in soft skills can almost take away from that. You may even think twice before scheduling another appointment with them.
Let’s bring it a little closer to home. Tell me if you agree with these… A good cashier is competent; a great cashier is also friendly. A good server at a restaurant takes accurate orders; a great server also makes you feel welcome. See how the combination of soft skills with the technical skills makes a person stand out?
That’s exactly where you want to be. This is the winning combo for any job – the mastery technical and soft skills. I’ll dare say that you can’t be truly successful without both. Your technical skills are what can get you in the door, but that coupled with your soft skills are what can keep you inside and promote you to higher levels.
So, how do you develop soft skills? If you don’t innately have them, can you acquire them? Some might say the answer is easier said that done, but I would say it’s an easy answer, nonetheless: find somebody else that’s good at them, watch them execute, then practice it yourself. Find a person or group of people that are already doing what you want to do, watch how they do it, then actively look for opportunities to practice. And practice often. Try to weave it into your everyday life. Trying to learn to be a team player? Volunteer for team activities and team projects, and practice what you’re learning. Trying to learn to be more empathetic? Practice putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. When you’re listening to someone else, listen fully and without thinking about what your next response will be. This will also help you develop the skill of active listening. Trying to learn to be a kinder person? Start smiling more. Hold the door open for another person. Simply say hello to someone else. We all have to start somewhere. Small changes can grow to make big impacts.
See if you can find a mentor to help you develop your soft skills, but know that your options aren’t limited there. Videos, books, articles, even some TV shows can teach you some of the soft skills you’re wanting to learn. The most important thing to do is to just get started.
Do not neglect the importance of soft skills in your journey to win your dream job. You got this!