A Definition of Soft Skills that Matters for YOU!

In early 2019, I received a phone call from a friend asking if I had a few minutes for him to run an idea by me. Since Chris Rollins had done as much to train and mentor me as anyone else I could think of in the four years leading up to that point, I jumped at the chance to provide him with any input I possibly could!

I felt a connection with Chris from our first conversation in 2015. We had similar experiences during our corporate careers and both of us really wanted to have an impact on the organizational cultures of the smaller businesses we were working with. And both of us understood just how important effective communication is to building a strong team that achieves great results.

The idea Chris wanted to bounce off of me was a concept of a collaborative book on the DISC Model of Human Behavior, one of the most powerful tools I ever seen for building effective communication into a company’s culture. Having worked through dozens of hours of training with Chris on the topic, I was over the moon about the idea - and then he invited me and Cindy to join the group he was putting together to write the book!

In the opening chapter of Discover Your Team’s Potential, Solving the “Soft Skill” Dilemma, Chris shared something he learned during his time in the United States Army that absolutely stunned me. He wrote:

“Soft skills” is a term initially developed by the military to help determine the difference between technical skills and leadership skills, the latter of which are considered equally (if not more) important than the former. The “soft skills” were often harder to teach because when you are dealing with people, it isn’t always as simple as telling them to “do this” or “do that.” Somehow, along the way, our culture has allowed the term “soft skills” to be thought of as insignificant. Considering that the military began the analysis because they recognized the difference between groups of soldiers achieving victory or defeat often came down to how one group was being led compared to the other, it only makes sense that they decided to devise a system of measuring those leadership skills so that training could be improved in that critical area.”

As we looked at Soft Skills vs Hard Skills recently, I challenged you to consider how measurable soft skills really are when we’re willing to put the same energy into developing them and to clearly define the results we want to achieve by taking action on those skills on a daily basis. It’s only reasonable that we take this type of approach since that’s exactly what we do when we’re trained on any kind of technical skill…

The Oxford dictionary defines soft skills as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” Investopedia explains soft skills this way: “Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person's relationships with other people. In the workplace, soft skills are considered to be a complement to hard skills, which refer to a person's knowledge and occupational skills.” While both are fairly simple, I don’t believe either provides us with anything we could see exhibited through behavior or that would yield tangible results…

We’re about to fix that though! Shortly after Chris shared the story about where soft skills came from, he referenced a study from The Carnegie Institute of Technology (and mentioned in this article on Forbes.com) showing that “85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge.”

If those numbers are even close to being accurate, wouldn’t it serve us all well to have a working definition of what soft skills really are and a clear picture of how to apply that definition to achieve real results? I sure think so...

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