What’s the value in developing ‘soft skills’ in the workplace?

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Print this page by Genevieve Roberts

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal caught my attention.  It reported that some top business schools in the U.S. are beginning to revamp their curriculum to build the “soft skills” of their graduates.  Sure finance, accounting and marketing courses are still important, but these schools are realizing something that I have been preaching for more than 10 years: Leaders need to be as strong in the areas of behavioral skills as they are in technical skills. 

When you hear the term “soft skills”, it often conjures up the image of something squishy or touch-feely. What does it really refer to?  I liken it to the oil and gas that keeps a car running smoothly.  Sure you can build a fast car with the huge horse-powered engine, and it can run for a while on might, but when the gas or oil run low, the performance suffers.  Managers can lead by positional power or might, but when they apply skills related to building relationships, emotional intelligence, communication and active listening, the performance of their team increases.

Ever have a situation at work where, no matter what you tried, one of your tougher employees has exasperated you?  There can be several reasons why that employee isn’t performing, Learning the soft skills of relationship building and probing in a way that allows the employee to respond without becoming defensive can lead to significant breakthroughs.

I recently had a conversation with a client whose employee had attended our Titan Management University program. As a result of the program, he and the employee had the best one-on-one meeting they have ever had.  The client had struggled in trying to reach this employee. By completing a self-assessment tool; he gained an understanding of his leadership and communication style.  Armed with this knowledge, he took a new approach in communicating with the employee that was much more effective.  His employee responded more positively.  These were techniques and tools that the client had never learned in school or on the job.

So the next time you have a chance to take a class or program focused on building soft skills, I challenge you to take it and watch your relationships with others bloom.

Genevieve Roberts is a partner at the Titan Group LLC in Richmond.

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