In Top 10 Soft Skills to Master, I touched on a couple reasons why soft skills are important, but those were just the tip of the iceberg. The more I look at the distinguishing traits of people who are advancing their careers, the more convinced I am that soft skills are more important today than ever before.
Soft Skills versus Hard Skills
“Soft skills” is a term relating to a collection of personal, positive attributes and competencies that enhance your relationships, job performance, and value to the market.
Soft skills include your ability to listen well, communicate effectively, be positive, handle conflict, accept responsibility, show respect, build trust, work well with others, manage time effectively, accept criticism, work under pressure, be likable, and demonstrate good manners.
“Hard skills” are specific, trainable abilities necessary to carry out the professional or technical requirements of a job or occupation.
Hard skills would include knowledge, machine operation, computer procedures, safety standards, financial systems, technical analysis, and sales administration. Unlike soft skills, hard skills are typically easy to observe, quantify, and measure.
Let me give you an example of the two kinds of skills. If you listened to the Super Bowl on Sunday, you would have heard comments made about Walter Payton and the award given in his honor. Payton is remembered as the most prolific running back in the history of American football, but he was also known for his kind, compassionate, and humorous character.
“Sweetness” became Payton’s nickname early in his career, and the announcers mentioned it on Sunday. In addition to his “hard” football skills, his “soft” personality skills won him an enduring reputation.
Soft Skills in the Work Place
More and more corporations around the world recognize that, in order to gain a competitive advantage, they need to make sure their people know how to handle themselves at work and how to relate with their customers and peers.
It’s often said that hard skills will get you an interview but you need soft skills to get and keep the job. It’s no longer enough to be an expert in a field of knowledge. Competition is fierce; it’s your soft skills that make you stand out.
If you’re in sales, soft skills are critical for survival. As a Realtor, 92% of all sellers to whom I presented my services selected me over my competitors. It was my soft skills that were responsible for this success.
Soft skills aren’t just important in the obvious positions that deal with customers. They are important for every person in an organization. Take IT professionals as an example. When they acquire soft skills, better relationships are built between other business units resulting in increased productivity.
Look at the people at the top in your profession and ask yourself, “Is it their hard skills or soft skills that got them to the top?” If you define their personal brand, you will quickly realize that the people at the top of the pay scale are those who excel in their soft skills.
Soft Skills Have Broad Application
Developing interpersonal skills affects all of your life—far beyond your career.
- Your relationship with your spouse, children, and friends will deepen.
- You will attract like-minded people into your life.
- You will gain people’s respect and admiration.
- Your example will teach others how they can be more successful.
- You will feel that you have more control of your life.
In addition to the long list of ways your life will be enhanced, you will be making this world a better place. Never under estimate the impact your positive example can have on people’s lives, both directly and indirectly.
Building Soft Skills
The time you spend developing your soft skills will never be wasted. Even if you change careers five times, the soft skills you learn today can always be used to set you apart in whatever you do with your life.
I want to challenge each of you to start focusing on your soft skills. Here are some simple ways to get started.
1. Start doing the little things you already know you should do. You know many of the things you should be doing to develop better relationships, increase your productivity, and be more responsible. So do them.
2. Become a keen observer of others. If Joe got the promotion over Pete, identify the reasons. When you are drawn to someone, ask yourself why. When you begin to trust someone, pinpoint the reasons. If you received excellent service from someone, think about what this person did that impressed you. There is a lot you can learn by watching others.
3. Start living in a state of awareness. Turn off autopilot and start making conscious decisions as you move through your day, especially when interacting with other people. Positive change begins with awareness.
4. Become a student of personal and professional success. If you have a genuine desire to improve your soft skills, start consuming content on the subject. Most of the content in my book and this blog pertains to your soft skills. Start by reading Top 10 Soft Skills to Master in 2011. Check out my favorite resource—Success Magazine.
5. Be intentional every day. Getting better won’t come without effort. While some of the things will come naturally to you, others will require an intentional effort.
The great thing about building your soft skills is that you can acquire them on your own. Regardless of your background, gender or education, developing your soft skills will make you stand out from the crowd in whatever you choose to do.
To advance your life personally or professionally, you must put an emphasis on developing your soft skills.
About the Author: Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 30 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts. (Todd’s podcasts are ranked #25 in America’s top 100 podcasts and #1 in the personal and development field.)